This week is huge for the Pirates.
I'm not saying it will necessarily make or break their season, but often in Big East play, one loss can easily turn into two, which turns into four, etc... I said last week that Seton Hall needed to nip the lack of team play that marked the end of the USF game in the bud on the Main Line. It didn't happen. As a result, the Pirates are coming off their worst loss of the year, while Notre Dame is coming off one of the biggest wins of the year by any team, knocking off #1 Syracuse in South Bend. Seton Hall hasn't lost at home yet this season, and if they want to keep the two losses from snowballing into something that could make/break the expectations of many for this season, this game and the game on Saturday are paramount in their importance.
Here's what you need to know about Notre Dame:
2011-12 record: 12-8 (4-3 Big East)
All-time series record: 8-17
Last meeting: 2/26/12 (60-48 SHU L)
Right away, you'll notice that the Irish's record in-conference is the same as Seton Hall's, in case you were wondering if there was another reason this game is big. Also, you'll notice the absence of Tim Abromaitis, a preseason First Team All-Big East player who is out for the year with a torn ACL. The last time the Irish came to the Rock, Luke Harangody came down awkwardly and ended up being lost for a few weeks after that. When he went down, Mike Brey (who really doesn't get enough credit for the coaching jobs he's done the last few years) slowed down the tempo, switching to the "burn" offense you may have heard of.
It's the same thing this time around with no Abromaitis. The burn offense seeks to minimize possessions, putting a greater emphasis on execution and shot-making, and for a team missing its best offensive weapon by far, it's been successful. The statistical numbers are like the record for Notre Dame- average in most every category. They are a team that historically is an offensive-minded team that shoots the three well, but they're 13th in scoring and 3-point percentage this year.
The Irish aren't talentless, though. Eric Atkins leads the team in scoring and he's a quick guard out there on the court to whom attention needs to be paid. Jack Cooley (who resembles Harangody almost to a T in physical appearance) is a wide-bodied, strong center who's having a very good year in his first year as a starter. Scott Martin was a big shot-maker for Mike Brey last season, but this year, he's struggling mightily with his outside jumper. Alex Dragicevich and Pat Connaughton (the lone true frosh on this team) are capable shot-makers. Connaughton is a deceptive athlete as well.
The most intriguing player the Irish have is Jerian Grant. He missed last year with an injury, but he's having a very quiet great year. He's right behind Atkins in scoring, hitting 37% from beyond the arc, and leads the team in free throw shooting and (despite standing 6'6") assists as well. He also doesn't turn the ball over, possessing an AST/TO ratio of nearly 3:1.
Against Syracuse, Notre Dame played their best possible game, knocking down their threes with regularity (sort of like the Pirates did to the Orange last season at the Carrier Dome) while holding the then-top team in the nation to a low shooting percentage. I don't think you'll see that performance again from the Irish, but it shows that anyone can beat anyone in the Big East this year. Seton Hall will need to bring their effort because the Irish certainly will.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They enjoy some home cooking. The Pirates are undefeated at home this season, and Notre Dame has always been a markedly different team on the road than they are at home; in South Bend, the Irish are very tough to beat, but on the road, they just seem to play differently. Coming back home (and having a week to prep) is exactly what the Pirates needed following a loss like Villanova was, and if things hold true to form for both teams, Seton Hall should win.
- They come out swinging. Notre Dame is a finesse team, reliant on their shooting touch and pace to out-execute opposing teams. What Rutgers did earlier this season was they came out with a bunch of energy that threw Notre Dame off their rhythm right away. Seton Hall surprised DePaul in this fashion, and if they can do it again, it will benefit their game.
Notre Dame will win if:
- They win the battle behind the arc. The Irish are 13th in the conference in three-point percentage, and 10th in three-point percentage defense. Seton Hall meanwhile leads the conference in three-point percentage and are second in three-point percentage defense. The numbers don't lie- if the Irish can make shots from out beyond the arc, and/or guard against the Pirate shooters, it will be a big stat in the game.
- They take care of the ball. Notre Dame's pace emphasizes possession. By default, that includes not turning the ball over. They didn't do a good job of that against Syracuse, but they generally take care of the ball. Seton Hall has an affinity for forcing steals, so if the Irish want to win, they'd better not turn the ball over 17 times again.