On Saturday night, No. 11 Louisville (19-4) will visit South Bend to play No. 25 Notre Dame (18-5). With only 8 regular season games remaining for both teams, every win is important as March approaches.
The Fighting Irish desperately need a signature win to add to their resumé. Notre Dame is just 4-4 over their past 8 games. Their only clear quality win was a 66-60 victory on the road against then No. 14 Cincinnati (18-5) one-month ago. On Monday, No. 6 Syracuse (19-3) handed the Irish a 63-47 beating. Since, ESPN’s “bracketologist” Joe Lunardi has Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament as a projected 9 seed. The winner of the 8-9 seed matchup would battle a 1 seed, not an ideal situation early in the tournament.
In order for the Irish to get another quality win, they will have to continue to lean on their top scorer and rebounder Jack Cooley. Cooley is averaging a double-double with 14.8 points and 11.3 rebounds per game. His play not only resembles that of former Notre Dame star Luke Harangody, the appearance similarities are noticeable. Regardless, Cooley is a 6’9″ and 246 pound monster that can takeover a game. He has only been held under 10 points twice this season. Guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are also threats offensively. Grant adds 12.7 points and 5.6 assists per game. Atkins has similar contributions with 11.7 points and 6.1 assists. Notre Dame ranks 4th nationally with 17.8 assists per game.
Louisville has won three straight, the last two in impressive fashion over No. 25 Marquette (16-5) and Rutgers (12-9) by a combined 39 points. Lunardi currently has the Cardinals in as a 3 seed. A strong finish and a couple Big East tournament wins could propel UofL to a possible 1 seed.
Russ Smith continues to lead the Cardinal scoring attack with 18.2 points per game. Peyton Siva is adding 10.6 points and a team high 6.1 assists. Big man Gorgui Dieng is the leading rebounder with 9.8 per contest. Chane Behanan may be the difference maker for Louisville on Saturday. Behanan is averaging 10.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, but just 7.6 points and 6.3 rebounds over his last six games. He is due a breakout game offensively.
Life on the road in the Big East is rough. Notre Dame is 13-2 inside the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce. On the season, UofL is 5-2 in true road games and both losses came during a three-game losing streak to Villanova and Georgetown.
Tipoff is at 9:00 pm on Saturday and will be televised on ESPN. This is the first of two match ups between the two this season. Notre Dame will visit the KFC Yum! Center on March 9 to wrap up the regular season.
– UofL has scored 70 or more points in 15 of their 19 wins
– UofL has only averaged 63.5 points in their 4 losses
– Notre Dame has only averaged 57.0 points in their 5 losses
– UofL only allows 57.6 points per game
Louisville 72 Notre Dame 60