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Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-7, 6-5) @ Seton Hall Pirates (12-9, 3-7) 7:00PM Open Game Thread

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Notre Dame @ Seton Hall, 7:00PM
Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
Television: ESPNU
Radio: 770 WABC
Online: Irish vs. Pirates Coverage

Projected Starting Five: G-Harvey, G-Lawrence, G-Hazell, F-Pope, F/C-Robinson

It's time to see what the Pirates are made of, not taking the first 10 conference games into consideration, of course. At (12-9, 3-7) there's no more talk of must-win games, Seton Hall had those earlier in the season, yet couldn't take advantage. They dropped winnable games at home and on a neutral floor to Temple and Virginia Tech, which would have given them an unblemished 11-0 record against what was perceived by many as a, "soft" OOC schedule. Then came USF on the road in a pivotal contest which would mark Seton Hall's first road win of the year, give the Pirates momentum and a three game winning streak, while setting them up for a chance to go 2-of-3 on the road trip. The Pirates lost at USF and subsequently were swept on their three game road trip, falling to where we now stand at 3-7.

How realistic is it that the Pirates can still find a way to eek out an NCAA Tournament berth? Not very. Tomorrow's contest against Notre Dame marks the first of eight remaining, in which the Pirates must go 7-1 to find themselves back on the bubble. If the Pirates accomplish the nearly improbable task, they'll be firmly back on the bubble with 10 wins. The problem then? The Pirates would likely be sharing bubble real estate with a couple committee favorites in UConn, Louisville and Notre Dame. Instead of worrying about what-if's and what's probable, I would like to see the Pirates take each of the remaining eight, one game at a time. Cliche, but true. There's no need to get worked up over what the Pirates must do, this is a team that hasn't won three consecutive conference games or one game on the road this season. By the way, four of the final six contests are away from The Rock. We're getting ahead of ourselves if we're going to get worked up about a possible 7-1 or even 6-2 finish.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (17-7, 6-5) on the other hand, are firmly on the bubble and need to win tomorrow in order to improve the jockeying that will take place with Marquette, USF, Cincinatti and UConn over the course of the next four weeks. Like the Pirates, ND has struggled with the AP top 25, only defeating one team (No. 8 WVU), while losing their other three contests. Unlike the Pirates, the Irish have at least one road victory, beating USF by a point. Let's not go too crazy as ND also lost at the RAC to Rutgers, a venue where the Scarlet Knights just defeated division-II Caldwell College last night, by eight. Misery loves company.

Led by senior and Big East POY candidate, Luke Harangody (24.5PTS/10.1REB) and the Irish present a couple match up problems for the Pirates. First, who's going to defend Harangody who isn't afraid to step out to the perimeter to hoist away? I'd have to think Jeff Robinson will receive the majority of the work as the 6'6 forward is the best Pirate suited to defend Harangody around the Perimeter. JRob is also strong enough, albeit a bit undersized, to bang away inside with the ND bigs. It certainly won't be a one man effort as I expect Gonzalez to throw multiple looks at Luke, forcing him to hit his open teammate, trusting them to make their shots. If the Pirates can hold Luke to 18PTs or less, I don't think the rest of his teammates will be able to put up enough points to keep up with the Pirates. A task much easier said than done of course, as only Cincinnati has kept him under 19 in Big East play. Next up? The 6'8 forward Tim Abromaitis, who lives from outside, converting at a deadly rate of 49% from 3PT distance. What Pirate will step up to take away the long distance threat from Abromaitis? I'd like to see Robert Mitchell defend Tim for the majority of the game as Stix is the longest perimeter defender the Pirates can throw at him. Can you imagine Hazell receiving that defensive assignment? It'd be a long night for sure. One of these two mismatches that Notre Dame presents will make the Pirates pay, time to pick your poison Bobby. Again, I'd try to contain Harangody while letting the sharp-shooting Abromaitis et al. beat me.

One thing that the Pirates do especially well that usually provides them with an edge against their competition? It's their assist/turnover ratio, currently holding up at 1.4/1.0. Unfortunately, the Irish take care of the ball better, good for first in the Big East with a ratio of 2/1. The other thing the Pirates do especially well? Pick up technicals of course. Seton Hall's discipline, or lack thereof, currently has them positioned first in the Big East with 10T's, sporting a 4T lead over second place Cincinnati. Notre Dame? They're good for 0. Let's see what happens tonight.

The SHU Athletics game preview provides us with a little history lesson:

SETON HALL - NOTRE DAME SERIES

Seton Hall and Notre Dame will meet for the 23rd time in history on Thursday. The Fighting Irish own a 15-7 all-time series lead and have won six straight and nine out of 10 games. The Pirates last victory in the series came at the Meadowlands on Feb. 5, 2003. This game will feature the top two scorers in the BIG EAST Conference, Luke Harangody (24.5 ppg.) and Jeremy Hazell (22.0 ppg.)

ND Athletics previews the contest with a concentration on statistics:


o The Irish are 1-0 at the Prudential Center as Notre Dame handed Seton Hall a 95-69 setback on Feb. 6, 2008.
o Mike Brey is 9-3 all-time against Seton Hall.
o A win tonight would allow the senior class of Tim Andree, Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson and Jonathan Peoples to match the most wins by an Irish class in BIG EAST regular-season play, which has been done on two occasions. This year's senior class is 39-24 to date for a 61.9 winning percentage. From 2000-04, the Irish finished 40-24 (.625), while Notre Dame was 40-26 (.606) from 2004-08.

Piratz of PirateCrew.com, previews the Notre Dame game, killin' it with the stats as always:

Both the Pirates and Irish prefer to win shootouts. Neither is renowned for the type of consistent, physical defense that characterizes the top teams in this conference. However, their approaches to scoring are vastly different:

*For Notre Dame, scoring points starts with exceptional ball movement (Big East leader in assists per game) and includes great perimeter shooting (.379, 5th-best).

*For Seton Hall, scoring comes from a decided turnover advantage (+4.60 per game is the best in the conference) leading to a greater amount of possessions, as well as the ability grab offensive rebounds (4th best at 14.8 per game, 7th best offensive rebound percentage).

After winning consecutive games against two other bubble teams, Notre Dame is firmly back on the bubble as they prepare for battle with Seton Hall. CW of Rakes of Mallow begins to break down the Pirates:

They're led by the inside-outside combination of Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope, a talented duo that's going to give the Irish all kinds of trouble. Hazell's a rangy 6'5" guard scoring 22 a game, while Pope's averaging a double-double and two blocks, meaning that securing the paint is going to be incredibly important.

I think Seton Hall fans are more concerned with containing Luke Harangody than the their Irish faithful counterparts who may be worrying about the Hazell/Pope combo. We'll be looking for JRob to slow down Harrangody, tough task, good luck.

Coming close is not an option, writes Tom Noie, in regards to Notre Dame stealing one in Newark:

The Pirates once fashioned themselves NCAA tournament material but are on a three-game losing streak. The Hall has to be wondering right now, which leaves the door open for Notre Dame. A veteran team goes into downtown Newark and wrestles this one away. Coming close cannot be an option. Time for that "Road Dawg" attitude, once a staple of Brey's tourney teams at Notre Dame, to return.

I sure hope The Hall is, "wondering," right now. They've got a ton on their minds to wonder about. First on their mind should be focusing on making an NIT push.

As always, Let's Go Hall!