RTC Live: Notre Dame at #2 UConn – Saturday 2 PM ETPosted by nvr1983 on February 26th, 2009
We’re following up Tuesday Night’s RTC Live where Providence knocked off #1 Pittsburgh leading to the first RTC Aftermath with a trip to Storrs, Connecticut, where Notre Dame will attempt to knock off UConn. While the game is significant for the Huskies (a win would mean they would go back to #1), it is enormous for the Fighting Irish. Mike Brey‘s squad remains on the bubble despite winning 4 of their last 5 games (including a 33-point annihilation of a very good Louisville team that played very poorly) after going a month without a win (7 consecutive losses), but a win over Jim Calhoun‘s Huskies would be huge for their NCAA tournament resume and would put them in position to finish 10-8 in the Big East with their remaining games against Villanova and St. John’s in South Bend.
The last time these teams met was on January 24th when UConn came into the Joyce Center and beat the Fighting Irish, 69-61, to end Notre Dame’s home winning streak at 45, which was the longest in the nation at that time. In that game, UConn held Notre Dame to 33% FG and used a 13-1 run in the 2nd half (along with a huge edge at the line–30 attempts compared to 4 for the Irish) to put the game away. Jerome Dyson, who won’t be playing on Saturday as he is out for the year with a meniscal tear, led the Huskies in scoring with 15 points to go with 9 rebounds. Jeff Adrien also had a big game with 12 points and 19 rebounds. Luke Harangody led the Irish with 24 points and 15 rebounds despite playing against Hasheem Thabeet, the likely national defensive player of the year. Notre Dame’s other big scoring threat, Kyle McAlarney, started off hot hitting his first three shots from beyond the arc before going pulling a John Starks-in-Game 7 performance by missing his last 12 shots from the field. Senior guard Ryan Ayers also struggled with his shooting going 1-for-10 from the field in the game.Since that game, which was featured on ESPN GameDay, the teams have gone in opposite directions. The Huskies went on a roll with the exception of their hiccup last Monday against Pittsburgh while the Irish, who were ranked 19th in the nation at the time, lost their next 5 games as part of their month-long 7-game losing streak.
The big match-up in this game will be in the middle where Harangody will be battling Thabeet, who called out Harangody on an ESPN cover in the pre-season (Thabeet later apologized). These two will likely end up on the first team All-Big East squad and on an All-American team. While Harangody dominated Thabeet statistically in the first match-up, Thabeet’s defense disrupted Notre Dame’s attack enough to help the Huskies escape with the win. [Please don’t leave a Chamberlain-Russell comparison in the comment section. This also applies for Michael Lewis-style Shane Battier arguments.] One of the interesting aspects of this match-up outside of the obvious offense/defense contrast is whether Harangody’s outside game can draw Thabeet away from the basket opening up space for Notre Dame to clean up underneath. Unfortunately for the Irish, they don’t have another interior presence on the offensive end. Thus, barring an explosion from Harangody, which he is capable of, the interior match-up will probably end up being a draw with Stanley Robinson and Adrien making up for any statistical advantage that Harangody has over Thabeet because I’m not expecting much out of Zach Hillesland (5.4 PPG and 5.5 RPG) against the Huskies frontline.
That leaves that Notre Dame’s perimeter players with the task of spearheading the upset. One advantage they will have is the absence of Dyson who had a tendency to cause havoc on the defensive end. McAlarney and Ayers (combined 4-for-25 in the earlier match-up) will surely appreciate the extra space that Dyson’s absence will create on the court. If McAlarney and/or Ayers can get hot from beyond the arc, the Irish will have a chance to stay in this game. The task of replacing Dyson’s defensive intensity will fall on freshman sensation Kemba Walker and senior Craig Austrie. While Walker is a good defender he is almost 3 inches shorter than Dyson, which should allow the Irish shooters to get their shots off a little more easily. Austrie isn’t on the same level as Walker or Dyson defensively, but he will be called upon by Calhoun to chase McAlarney around screens at different points of the game. His ability to do so might end up determining the outcome of the game. Tory Jackson will be in charge of bringing the ball up the court and getting it into either Harangody’s hands or one of the Irish’s shooters. He comes into the game with a solid 1.97 assist to turnover ratio and had a solid if unspectacular game in the first match-up. On the other side of the ball, Jackson will have his hands full against A.J. Price who is coming off a career night against Marquette where he scored 36 points (on 8-of-13 3-point shooting) to go with 6 rebounds and 6 assists. I doubt Price will be able to come out with another performance like that on Saturday, but like Walker (season-high of 23 points) and Austrie (season-high of 21 points), he has the ability to have a big game. I am not expecting any of the Huskie guards to have a big game, but they should score around 40 points as a group. If Notre Dame wants to have a chance to win, their perimeter players will need to at least match that output.
UConn has a week-long gap between this game and their showdown at Pittsburgh to end the regular season so they don’t really have an excuse to look ahead (the 6 days after this should be enough time to focus on that one). In the other locker room, the Irish don’t really have the option of looking past any more games this season (as they almost found out last night coming out flat against a bad Rutgers team) if they want to make the NCAA tournament since they probably need to win the rest of their regular season games and have a decent showing in the Big East tournament to ensure themselves a spot. With the loss of Dyson, these two teams match-up pretty evenly on paper (as they did earlier this year before Notre Dame fell apart). I’m going with the Irish in a close game that will decided in the last few minutes. In their last meeting, the Huskies barely survived despite an atrocious outside shooting performance from the Irish because of their poor free throw shooting (15/30). While the Huskies are not normally that bad at the line (68% as a team not including Dyson), I don’t expect the Irish to shoot that poorly from beyond the arc since they won’t have Dyson bothering their shooters. I think a big game from McAlarney (25+ points) along with Harangody’s usual 25 and 15 should be enough to help the Irish pull off the big upset.
Check back here on Saturday afternoon around 1:30 PM when we will bring the game to you live from Gampel Pavillion. The game will be broadcast on CBS, but you can come here for info from courtside about any questions regarding the game or college basketball in general (or the economic stimulus package if the game gets out of hand). We will also be taking your questions and asking the players and coaches those questions. [Yes. We’ll even question Jim Calhoun if necessary.] Their responses and our pictures from the game will be posted as soon as we can get them up after the game (see our recap of Providence’s upset of Pittsburgh for an example).