Tuesday, March 8, 2011

First Road Win of the Season In Store for the Irish

If there was ever a good time to get a win on the road for Mike Brey and his Fighting Irish, tomorrow would be that day. Both with identical 13-4 records and undefeated at home, the Irish and Wildcats will do battle in Philadelphia at high noon. Even though the Irish haven't faired well against Villanova since joining the Big East (3-11), Notre Dame is ready to unleash the beast from within.

Villanova, which is coming off a horrible loss at last place Rutgers (80-68), is a smaller, but quick team. This game could have the same feel as the Cincinnati or West Virginia games, where the Irish dominated down low. Speaking of Cincinnati, one of the Wildcats' conference losses came at the hands of the Bearcats (69-66).

Sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds is one of the two Wildcat players averaging double figures (17.4 ppg). Forward Dante Cunningham is the other at 10.6. Cunningham also leads Villanova in rebounds at 7.6 per contest. And rebounds is where this contest will either make or break the Irish.

Rutgers collected one more rebound than the Wildcats on Wednesday night (37-36) and that’s typically a bad omen for Villanova. Jay Wright's team is 10-1(.909) this season when it wins the battle of the boards, including 2-0 in BIG EAST action. On the flip side, the ‘Cats are 0-3 in 2007-08 when they are outrebounded (they are 2-1 in games where the rebounds were even). Currently the Irish are SIXTH in the Nation rebounding margin (9.8). ND is 13-2 on the year when they outrebound their opponents and 0-2 when they have lost the battle of the boards. So look for Luke Harangody and Rob Kurz to have a big game on the boards.

The achilles heel for both teams is getting off to a quick start. In the Irish's two road losses in conference play, Notre Dame has started off cold and were hardly in the contest in the second half. On the flip side, slow starts have hampered Villanova of late, as well. On Jan. 12, Cincinnati tallied seven of the game’s first nine points in what became a 69-66 loss. In its next contest, Villanova watched DePaul score nine of the contest’s first 11 points before rallying in the second half for a 76-69 win. Then on Wednesday, Rutgers jumped out to a 16-2 advantage at the 15:07 mark and the Wildcats never held the lead in an 80-68 loss. If ND can add some pressure, dictate the tempo with some good looks to Harangody and some sharp shooting by Kyle McAlarney, the Irish will be in great shape.

The X-factor in this contest will be the play of Ryan Ayers and Zach Hillesland. Both will be counted on for some quality play and meaningful minutes. If Ayers can somehow create some shots, that will take a huge burden off of Harangody, Kurz, and McAlarney. Hillesland once again will be the spark that the Irish will infuse to get it going on both ends of the court.

This is one that could go either way, but the Irish are due a win on the road. Tomorrow will be the day, as Notre Dame will finally play a complete game on both ends of the court as they start a four game winning streak.


Notre Dame 72 Villanova 66

Baseline Bits

~ These two squads each defeated the other on their home court last season: Notre Dame 66, Villanova 63 (Jan. 27, 2007) and Villanova 102, Notre Dame 87 (Jan. 17, 2007).

~ Scottie Reynolds scored 46 points (23.0 ppg) in the two meetings
last season with the Irish, including a 27-point effort in the ‘Cats win
over Notre Dame at the Pavilion.

~ Jay Wright is 3-3 vs. the Irish.

~ Saturday’s contest marks the third ranked opponent the Irish have faced this

~ Notre Dame’s last win against a ranked opponent on the home floor of that opponent
was against Alabama (78-71) when the Crimson Tide were ranked 22nd in the
Associated Press ranking and 19th in the ESPN/USA Today poll.

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