Hot times tonight in the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center when Jim Calhoun and his Connecticut Huskies (17—12, 7—9) come a—calling for a Big East battle with Mike Brey’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19—10, 8—8).
A first—round bye is at stake. The Irish possess eighth place and the final bye for the upcoming conference tournament. UConn is lurking in 10th place.
Notre Dame continues to play and win without former Big East Player of the Year, Luke Harangody. UConn recently experienced a resurgence when their longtime coach, Jim Calhoun, returned from a medical leave of absence.
UConn downed Notre Dame 82—70 earlier this season. Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker both had double—doubles in the victory. Dyson scored 20 to go with 10 assists. Walker also dished out 10 assists and scored 11. Stanley Robinson led the way with 22 points.
After taking the last four head—to—head matchups, UConn leads the series 16-6. Notre Dame has won five of nine at South Bend.
Forty—nine Fightin’ Irish have graduated to the NBA, including current players Matt Carroll, Troy Murphy and Chris Quinn.
Twenty—nine Huskies have laced them up in the Association, with the current list including Ray Allen, Hilton Armstrong, Josh Boone, Caron Butler, Rudy Gay, Ben Gordon, Richard Hamilton, Emeka Okafor, Kevin Ollie, A.J. Price, Hasheem Thabeet, Charlie Villanueva and Marcus Williams.
Notre Dame is coming off a week where they won two games over ranked opponents, shooting just under 50 percent (51—of—104) from the field. UConn limits opponents to 38.7 percent. UConn’s recipe is not a new one, as the Huskies have held opponents under 40 percent every year since the 1995—96 campaign.
Once again, UConn is near the top of blocked shots in the nation at 7.9. UConn’s bigs have led the nation eight years running.
The Irish will need to pick their spots carefully. Notre Dame has decreased their number of shots the last two games. This indicates plenty of ball movement and switching sides of the floor. The Irish will need to continue this pattern. Trying to penetrate into the teeth of UConn’s defense without any ball reversal will serve as an exercise in frustration.
Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson combine for an assist to turnover ratio of 2.7:1. Jackson gets into the paint from the top of the key. Hansbrough drives the baseline well and sees the floor for kickouts. The two average over 20 points together. Hansbrough hit three threes in ND’s recent win over Georgetown. A similar result tonight would open up the Husky defense and create lanes.
Tim Abromaitis is third in the nation from long range, hitting over 47 percent from behind the arc. The junior struggled against Georgetown (1—of—9). Returning to familiar confines should help his cause.
Tyrone Nash and Carleton Scott grab just under 10 rebounds a game. They will be called on to do that and then some. The Irish frontcourt will need to stay active on the glass. With the Huskies swatting everything that flies in the paint, Nash and Scott will need to gather what opportunities they can to put points on the board.
Jonathan Peoples and Jack Cooley give the Irish valuable minutes off the bench.
Jerome Dyson leads four Huskies in double figures by averaging 18.5 points per game. Dyson can hurt an opponent in a variety of ways, including from behind the arc by hitting 30 percent (37—of—122) of his shots. He does the bulk of his damage inside the arc, though, driving to the basket and getting contact and finishing.
Stanley Robinson averages over 15 points and slightly less than eight rebounds. Robinson is the heart and soul of the Husky lineup.
As a team, the Huskies have made 754 trips to the free throw line. In comparison, the Irish have only taken 642 from the charity stripe. The Huskies thrive on contact and Kemba Walker leads the way, making 141 free throws. Walker averages over five assists and almost 15 points.
Gavin Edwards and Alex Oriakhi add 16 points and almost 14 boards. The two combine for four blocks a contest.
After getting a boost from Calhoun’s return, UConn came back to reality, losing at home against Louisville.
Notre Dame shot well in their last two games, but the Irish also out rebounded Pitt (31— 21) and Georgetown (26 —15). This trend will need to continue if ND wants to be successful. UConn will not make it easy though. The Huskies have a rebound margin of +3.4.
Notre Dame is at home, which bodes well for their outside shooting. Their best defense will be their offense tonight, as the Irish play ball control and minimize UConn’s chances. In my opinion, Notre Dame makes it three in a row over Big East rivals.