The #7 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (21-4, 10-3 Big East) will square off against the West Virginia Mountaineers (16-9, 7-6 Big East) on Saturday, February 19th at 1:00 PM EST. The Fighting Irish beat the South Florida Bulls in a convincing fashion, 78-55 last week. On Monday the Mountaineers fell to The Syracuse Orange 63-52.
Notre Dame is on a roll. Off to their best start since the 1980-81 season they look to win their eighth straight game and are threatening Pittsburgh for the Big East lead as they are a game and a half back. They are up on Georgetown by one game and Louisville by 1.5 games. The team is poised to take the Big East title and make a run in the tourney. Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey shared this confidence with ESPN. “The vibe around our group, I love. And we're in the mix and chasing down a regular-season title. It's a realistic thing for us down the stretch."
West Virginia is in the middle of the Big East pack ranked ninth and .5 games behind #20 Syracuse. It has lost four of its last seven games and four of their next five opponents are nationally ranked including Notre Dame. It’s a far cry from the team that made the final four a year ago.
Against South Florida Notre Dame was paced by F Jack Cooley’s solid play and a career-high 18 points off the bench. Only averaging 3.8 points a contest Cooley has 28 points and 11 rebounds in his last two road games. He made 15 consecutive baskets before his first miss late against South Florida. F Carleton Scott added 13 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double this season and G Ben Hansborough and F Tim Abromaitis each scored 12 points against the Bulls.
Hansborough (17.3 PPG, 4.1 APG) and Abromaitis (14.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG) lead the squad against West Virginia along with Carleton Scott (11.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and Scott Martin (10.1 PPG) filling out the balanced scoring attack of four players averaging double figure scoring. Five different Fighting Irish have led the team in scoring this season. Hansborough has done so a team-best 13 times.
In a loss to Syracuse West Virginia played the Orange tight until the last 8 minutes when they were held to one field goal and gave up 12 points. The Mountaineers also committed 16 turnovers in the game. West Virginia’s G Casey Mitchell scored 23 points, nailing 7 of 12 from 3 point range, and F John Flowers added 10. They were dangerous behind the arc all night hitting 50% of their three pointers. This could cause a problem for Notre Dame’s poor perimeter defense. The Mountaineers only made 6 of 25 shots from 2 point range however.
Mitchell is the leader of the Mountaineers offense averaging 15.4 points a game. Kevin Jones adds 12.7 points per game and 7 rebounds. G Darryl Brant (10.4 PPG, 3.3 APG) and Flowers (10 PPG, 6.2 RPG) make solid contributions to the West Virginia offense.
The Mountaineers have some juice going into this match-up with home court advantage. It could throw the Irish off though they have proven they can win on the road. The Irish are in trouble if the Mountaineers continue their hot shooting from three point range. The team, however is erratic and will have trouble containing Hansborough and vaunted Notre Dame offense.
Notre Dame 75 West Virginia 63