UAB 21-11 (11-5 Conference USA)
Under former Indiana head coach Mike Davis, now in his second season at UAB, the Blazers have become one of only two or three teams to legitimately pose a threat to Memphis’ dominance of Conference USA.
The Blazers are coming off a tough loss in the Conference USA tournament semifinal where they fell to Tulsa 70-67.
Despite the loss, UAB has won 12 of its last 16 games and comes to South Bend with a great deal of confidence.
The Blazers are led by senior Robert Vaden who averaged 17.5 PPG and five rebounds. The athletic 6'5" guard/forward is effective off the ball, but can also handle and distribute the rock.
Vaden is part of a trio of Blazers named All-Conference USA, who have over 1,000 career points. Guard Paul Delaney III averaged 16 PPG and three-and-half assists. Forward Lawrence Kinnard added 14.2 PPG to go along with nine rebounds.
Together, they form a potent “Big Three” that poses problems for the Irish both inside and out.
Notre Dame 18-14 (8-10 Big East)
Notre Dame is a team trending very much in the opposite direction. While UAB has won 12 of 16, the Irish lost 11 of the final 17 games, albeit against much stronger competition.
Obviously, for the Irish it all starts with junior forward Luke Harangody. The Irish big man averaged 23.3 PPG and 12 rebounds. He scored in double figures in all but two games this season.
In the post, Lawrence Kinnard will give up some 45 pounds to Harangody and an immeasurable amount of heart and toughness. Not to say he lacks those qualities, but Harangody is a truly special player and has them in abundance.
Even when their big man delivers, which he clearly does virtually every game, the Irish go as their shooting goes.
When Notre Dame’s trio of outside shooters in Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers, and Tory Jackson are hitting their shots, things go well.
All three averaged double figures in scoring this season and the team shot an impressive 40 percent from behind the three-point arc. Most of that however, is thanks to McAlarney’s impressive 113 made three-pointers.
Notre Dame has a perceived depth problem this season. Whether that problem is real or imagined, coach Mike Brey certainly believes it. The aforementioned Irish players each logged over 1,000 minutes this season. The top man after that minutes-wise is senior Zach Hillesland with 750.
No one else on the team has more than 500 though freshman guard/forward Tyrone Nash has come off the bench down the stretch to help some.
The Irish horses were ridden hard and put away wet this season, and that will catch up with them in this one.
If anyone gets worn down or in foul trouble, there isn’t anyone to turn to on Mike Brey’s bench. Even if there is, he probably wouldn’t put them in.
UAB is a talented and well-coached team fully capable of pulling the “upset” in this one. I put that in quotations because I think the Blazers are the better team.
A fired up home crowd at the Joyce Center could give the Irish a lift. ND was 13-3 at home this season, but it’s Notre Dame on St. Patrick’s Day…there are other things to do.
Notre Dame 74