Game 14: at Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Listen/ See: The Jam, But I'm Different Now (video, opens in a new window)
Tip Off: 8:00 PM, Eastern
At
: Notre Dame | Location: Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, IN
TV
: ESPNU | Radio: Bloomberg 1130 | Internet: ESPN3
Opposition blog/ message board: Rakes of Mallow | ND Nation | Leprechaun Legion | Subway DomerBlue and Gold (message board) | Irish Hoops (message board)

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Last year at Notre Dame - St. John's surprises the Irish at home in the last minute.

The St. John's Red Storm have to feel good about what's gone on so far this season. At the top of the Big East and grinding out wins, the fans are coming back on board, the media is taking notice, and the excitement grows a little every day. It's a great time to be a fan.

But in the Big East, it's hard to stay on top for long. There are so many excellent teams, so many styles. The next game against the Fighting Irish is no different. They are offensively crisp, dominant at home, tall, well-coached, talented, and ranked either 14th or 15th in the nation, depending on what poll you use. Despite the hot start by the Storm, toppling the Irish pugilists will be a huge challenge.

Did You Know? St. John's is playing the slowest pace of any Big East team in conference play, at 62.3 possessions per game. That slow Georgetown game may have skewed the numbers, however.

Read below for Storm Warnings, Notre Dame strengths + weaknesses, and Keys to the Game.

Storm Warnings: Notre Dame

Many thought that Notre Dame's basketball team would struggle without the scoring prowess of graduated senior forward Luke Harangody and the steady leadership of graduated senior point guard Tory Jackson. Ben Hansbrough was no lead guard, the freshman Eric Atkins might not have been ready, and no one else on the roster could run the team...

Mike Brey's Irish are proving many people wrong. Hansbrough has produced just like last year - his assist rate is about the same (24.6% of his possessions), he gets free throw attempts (42.5% free throw rate), and he shoots over 40 percent from beyond the arc. The only thing he's not doing is shooting as well inside the arc (43% on 2-pointers, vs 51% last year). He's been a steady hand as lead guard. But the Irish success is a team effort.

Irish Strength: Ball Handling/ Movement. Hansbrough's getting help. ALL of the other regulars are credited with assists on 14% or more of their possessions - meaning that they truly share the ball and work it around for the open shot. 70.9% of their field goals are assisted by a teammate (2nd in Division I). They turn the ball over on 16% of their possessions (8th in the country). It's impressive.

Irish Strength: A Team of Shooters. That ball movement is also really tough to guard, considering that all of the Irish players are excellent shooters. Of the regulars, only big forward Jack Cooley (the one who they will say looks like Harangody) and Tyrone Nash DON'T shoot from outside the arc.

Irish Weakness: Force No Turnovers. The Irish do a good job of defending without fouling, but they also force no turnovers (16.3% of their possessions, 339th in the country). Even when they try to pressure, they're not great at making the other team make mistakes, which can be key in a close matchup.

Irish Weakness: Notre Dame Needs Their Rebounding. In most of their offensively inefficient games - against California, against Gonzaga, and in losses to Syracuse and Kentucky - the Fighting Irish seem to display a lack of offensive rebounding. Perhaps the team struggles against athletic forwards? Moreover, against Syracuse and Kentucky, the Irish allowed a lot of second chance possessions. Syracuse grabbed 43.8% of their available offensive rebounds; Kentucky snagged 32.9%. Extra possessions can cost a team.


Keys to the Game

Get Physical. The Notre Dame offense is predicated on crisp passing and good timing. The defense has to be smart, funneling the Notre Dame players into positions where they can't take the shots they want. And the Johnnies have to clean the glass and keep the Irish to one shot and done. Hansbrough is rough and physical with the ball; Paris Horne and Dwight Hardy have to be more physical in defending him.

Defend the Perimeter. Kentucky, Syracuse, and Wisconsin have all found ways to slow down the Irish shooting - and they key may be length and athleticism, which the Red Storm have up and down the roster. This is a game where Dwayne Polee II could be an x-factor.

Post Activity. St. John's has to get into the paint against the big Irish lineup; the Irish can play 4 players who are 6'7" or taller. But the Red Storm needs to score in the paint, even if that requires drawing fouls. Ball movement and aggressive drives into the post will be key, as always, and Justin Burrell and Justin Brownlee have to put up some points, as will DJ Kennedy.

Extra Possessions. The Red Storm need to find some extended possessions in this game for more scoring opportunities. Via the turnover? Via offensive rebounds? St. John's would be wise to hold on to the ball as well; they're turning it over 18.7% of their possessions in conference play.

Transition Points. St. John's has done a great job getting out in transition to score, and the team has to continue taking advantage of their quickness.

Thoughts? Predictions? Comment below.

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