Setting: It’s a Big East battle at the Wachovia Center as Mike Brey brings his Notre Dame Fightin’ Irish (15-5/ 4-3) to the City of Brotherly Love for a conference showdown with Jay Wright’s No. 3 Villanova Wildcats (18-1/ 7-0).
Plot: Notre Dame sits tied for sixth place in the Big East three games behind Villanova. With a loss, the Irish could fall to 10th in the conference.
Sub plot: The Irish defeated DePaul last time out (87-77), but ND has split their last six decisions. Notre Dame continues on the road with a weekend game at Rutgers. Villanova is riding a nine-game winning streak. The Wildcats host Seton Hall next Monday.
Flashback: Last year, Scottie Reynolds scored 23 and added five assists as the Wildcats won at ND, 77-60. Villanova holds an edge in the series 17-14. The teams have split the last four with Notre Dame winning at Villanova in 2008.
Notre Dame has made 29 appearances in the NCAA Tournament—five under Mike Brey. Villanova has earned 30 NCAA berths including last year’s Final Four appearance and Sweet Sixteen bid the previous season.
Foreshadowing: Forty-nine Fightin’ Irish have graduated to the N.B.A. including current players Matt Carroll, Troy Murphy and Chris Quinn. Thirty-eight Wildcats have moved on to the Association . Malik Allen, Dante Cunningham, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Tim Thomas spent their college days playing for Villanova.
Conflict: On paper these two teams have many similarities: Notre Dame scores 80.6 per game while holding opponents to 71. Villanova totals 84.9 and limits the opposition to 70.4. Through 20 games, Notre Dame has a field goal percentage of 48.3 (570-1181). Villanova hits at a pace of 46.6 (534-1145). The rivals appear to play at a similar pace.
Can Notre Dame maintain this pace against Villanova’s four-guard lineup. Despite having four players 6′5″ and under the Wildcats have a rebound margin of 7.2. Notre Dame’s margin is 4.3.
The Irish have shown a two-three zone of late. Against Villanova, Notre Dame will find out if that defense is real or counterfeit.
Scottie Reynolds leads three Wildcats in double figures. The senior guard creates problems for opposing defenses because he can hit from outside (42.4 percent/ 42-99), and he can go off the bounce and attack the rim. If Reynolds has a weakness, it is that he tries to do too much. He averages 3.4 assists per game, but he also turns the ball over 2.7 times. Notre Dame will need to stay patient.
But Reynolds has plenty of help spreading the floor.
Corey Fisher averages 13.1 ppg. The junior has hit 21 of 60 from behind the arc.
At 6′8″, Antonio Pena is the tallest player in Wright’s starting lineup. He chips in 10.7 with 7.5 rebounds.
Reggie Redding and Corey Stokes combine for 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Wright uses 10 player at least 11 minutes per contest.
Taylor King hits 42.6 percent (29-68) from long range. The transfer from Duke also grabs six boards.
As he has throughout most of his career in South Bend, Luke Harangody leads the Irish with 24.7 points and 9.9 rebounds. The senior power forward is not afraid to shoot taking 160 more shots than his closest teammate. Harangody has struggled from time to time trying to expand his role. He averages 1.8 assists but turns over the ball 2.1 times per game.
Notre Dame’s success on the offensive end of the floor relies on how well Harangody can use teammates like Tim Abromaitis. Opposing defenses will collapse on Harangody. Will he take the challenge personally or look to create for teammates?
Abromaitis leads the nation behind the arc at 49.6 percent.
Senior point guard, Tory Jackson dished out 15 assists against Syracuse. Jackson leads the country with an assist to turnover ratio of 4:1.
Tyrone Nash had a double-double against DePaul with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
Ben Hansbrough adds 11.7 points and 3.5 boards.
Brey uses a seven-man rotation with Carleton Scott and Jonathan Peoples coming off the bench.
Resolution: Notre Dame will need to slow down this game. Villanova has too many ballhandlers for the Irish to try an up and down game. If the game is decided at the free throw line, Notre Dame has made (314) more free throws than their opponents have attempted (287). But Villanova is not like ND’s other opponents. The Wildcats are 395 of 524 from the charity stripe.
Notre Dame could be in for a long night. The Wildcats will challenge the Irish off the dribble and create foul problems. Notre Dame’s short bench will be a factor as Villanova stretches its lead late in the game.