The Big East Battle of the Catholic Schools is on. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (13-2, 2-1 Big East), coming off an impressive win last night, 73-70, over the University of Connecticut Huskies, will next face the St. Johns Red Storm (10-3, 3-0 Big East) Saturday, January 8th at the Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center (where the Fighting Irish are 10-0 this year). The Johnnies last beat #13 Georgetown Hoyas 61-58.
The Johnnies and The Fighting Irish last played each other on February 14th of last year in a nail biter that saw St. Johns upset Notre Dame 69-68 in South Bend behind D.J. Kennedys pair of three throws with 12 seconds left and Dwight Hardy’s 16 points. Tim Abromaitis led the Irish in scoring with 24 points.
Saturday’s game will be The Irish’s third Big East matchup of the season having downed UConn, bested Georgetown, 69-55 , and fallen to Syracuse, 70-58 in a closely fought contest.
The Johnnies are still unbeaten in the conference (3-0), defeating Georgetown, West Virginia, 81-71, and Providence, 67-65. The Red Storm are off to their best Big East start since 1999-2000 when they started 4-0.
Notre Dame came up big against UConn behind G Ben Hansborough’s 21 points, five rebounds, four assists and F Tim Abromaitis’ 19 points. Freshman G Eric Atkins contributed to the winning effort with 3 steals and five blocks. The defense was clicking on all cylinders having held arguably the best player in the country, Kembo Walker, to 19 points or 8 less than his average of 26.7. The team also protected the ball well with only 8 turnovers.
The Fighting Irish will more than likely stick to the smaller defensive alignment employed against the Huskies. Tim Abromaitis will continue at power forward, shooting guard Scott Martin stays at forward with Ben Hansborough taking his spot at shooting guard and Eric Atkins taking over at the point guard position.
Unfortunately The Fighting irish will once again be without the services of F Carleton Scott against the Johnnies. They will miss his his 11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, and blocked shots. There is no scheduled date for his return from his partially torn left hamstring. Look for Sophomore F Jack Cooley to pick up the slack who though lacking in offensive skills will give the Irish a better interior presence.
The Johnnies this year have a ton of experience led by a group of nine tested seniors who are all aiming to make the NCAA tournament for the first time. On offense the Red Storm are paced by G Dwight Hardy (16.6 PPG, 2.5 APG) F Justin Brownlee (14.4 PPG, 5 RPG, 1 SPG), G-F D.J. Kennedy (11.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG) under the tutelage of first year coach Steve Lavin.
St. Johns tends to lean towards zones on defense that shut down opposing backcourts. In the thriller against Georgetown the Johnnies held the three Hoya guards and leading scorers to 7 of 25 shooting and 20 points or 26.1 bellow their average total. The Hoyas came into the game as the Big East’s best 3-point shooting team at 40.3 percent but were held to 4 of 17 in that area. The Hoyas only scored less than 60 points once since this season against Notre Dame (55).
This could spell big trouble for Notre Dame who had trouble against the vaunted Syracuse zone shooting 42.6 percent (down from 52.5 percent) and only 7 of 21 on 3-pointers. They also turned the ball over 15 times while averaging 10 TOs a game.
Notre Dame has shown its shooting and guard-oriented offense has no answer for a long zone defense. The Johnnies have a below average offense that is ranked 107th in the nation in points per game with 73 and 33 rebounds per game place the team at 274th in the nation in that category. Notre Dame is among the nation’s leaders in points (78.8), rebounds (40.6) and assists (18.3).
The Fighting Irish will fight hard against the zone and will itself to a hard fought victory and prove that a potent offense can prevail over a potent defense. Notre Dame will give coack Mike Brey his 100th regular season victory.