Night Line: Notre Dame Keeps Winning With Balanced Offensive Attack

Posted by EJacoby on February 23rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The Indiana Hoosiers have been praised throughout this season for having one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. But as IU has begun to sputter of late, a different team in Indiana is proving to be similarly efficient with a variety of offensive options. By thumping West Virginia on Wednesday night, 71-44, Notre Dame has now won nine straight games after yet another versatile offensive attack that was too much for the Mountaineers to handle. Mike Brey’s boys in South Bend remain tied for second in the Big East and are a dangerous matchup thanks to all the different options they can throw at opponents.

The Fighting Irish are Clicking Through Collective Offensive Play (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

The Fighting Irish began this season with much riding on their fifth-year senior star Tim Abromaitis, who was expected to make a run at Big East Player of the Year. But when the forward suffered a season-ending ACL injury on November 25, the entire dynamic of the team changed. It took plenty of bruises — the Irish were just 8-5 in the non-conference — but this team has figured out how to play as a group without Abromaitis. While only six players on the team average 20 minutes or more per game now, each one is capable of being the star on any given night. In fact, during the current nine-game winning streak, five different players have led the team in scoring. Coming into tonight, guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant and forward Jack Cooley were all averaging between 12 and 13 points per game on the year, while emerging swingman Pat Connaughton was averaging 12.6 per contest in his last five games. The other starter, forward Scott Martin, also averages 9.1 PPG in Big East play, giving the Irish a full lineup of capable scorers.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.22.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are a lot of good teams in action on Wednesday, but most of them are strong favorites in their games. The two best matchups of the night are taking place in the Big East and Big Ten.

Here’s the breakdown and what else to watch for:

West Virginia at #17 Notre Dame – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Mike Brey's Team Has Won Eight in a Row and Looks Really Strong (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

  • It seems like every game that West Virginia plays is a toss-up, and this one is no different. The Mountaineers have lost five of their last seven but are coming off a big win at Pittsburgh where they were slight underdogs. They are once again slight underdogs in South Bend to take on the red-hot Fighting Irish. WVU usually plays strong perimeter defense, which will force the Irish guards into running more difficult offense, but will the Mountaineers’ own guards provide enough scoring punch? Truck Bryant has been a good secondary scorer at 16.6 PPG in Big East play, but no other guard averages more than eight points per night. They need someone else to step up to complement Bryant and Kevin Jones. Jones remains a stud this season and you can all but lock up 20 points and 10 rebounds from him. The Mountaineers will try to out-tough the Irish by controlling the boards with their 54.1% rebounding percentage in Big East games, tops in the conference.
  • Notre Dame hasn’t lost in over a month, winning eight straight games and all in impressive fashion. They didn’t look great in their Saturday night game at Villanova, but the Irish still came back from a 20-point deficit and closed out a road game in overtime. Five different Notre Dame players have led the team in scoring during its winning streak, and the offense has been tremendously well-rounded. They can pound the ball inside to Jack Cooley (12.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG), find surging Pat Connaughton from the outside (12.6 PPG in his last five games), or use strong guard duo Eric Atkins (13.0 PPG) and Jerian Grant (12.9 PPG) to make plays. The question will be whether Mike Brey‘s team can execute against WVU’s tough defense or grab any offensive boards against the strong defensive rebounding team.
  • West Virginia is the best rebounding team in the Big East while Notre Dame’s 49.4% rebound percentage is just 13th in the conference. The Mountaineers could control this game if they dominate the boards, but otherwise the Irish should find a much easier time scoring with their diverse offensive sets. Notre Dame is just a three-point favorite in what is expected to be a tight matchup.

#5 Michigan State at Minnesota – 8:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (***)

  • Michigan State has won five straight, seven of its last eight, and looks like a strong candidate for an NCAA #1 seed. Draymond Green is fully healthy and continues to state his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, but it’s the secondary players that have come along. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to improve and has massive upside as a swing forward, while bigs Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix continue to play better and better as the season progresses. The Spartans remain one of the strongest defensive teams in the country and seem incredibly difficult to score on during stretches. There’s no reason to expect anything different against a struggling Golden Gophers offense. Tom Izzo‘s team is peaking yet again in the late stage of the season.
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