March 13, 2012

Scouting the Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Record: 22-11 Overall (Ranked #23 in the country) (#7 seed in the NCAA Tournament)

Notable Wins: Syracuse, West Virginia (2x), Marquette, UConn, South Florida (2x), Seton Hall, Detroit

Notable Losses: Cincinnati, Missouri, Gonzaga, Indiana, UConn, Georgetown, Louisville, St. Johns

Starting Personnel

#0 Eric Atkins - 6'1 sophomore PG: Third in scoring at 12.2 points a game in over 38 minutes per game. Atkins is second on the team in assists and is shooting 37% from three point range.

#22 Jerian Grant - 6'5 sophomore SG: Second leading scorer averages 12.3 points in over 36 minutes per game. Grant shoots 35% from behind the three point line and leads the team in assists and steals.

#24 Pat Connaughton - 6'5 freshman SF: Averages 6.9 points with 4.5 rebounds while shooting 35% from three point range. Connaughton has been starting since midway through the season.

#14 Scott Martin - 6'8 senior PF: Stretch forward averages 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 35 minutes per game. Doesn't shoot a great percentage but is capable of knocking down jumpers, posting up, or putting it on the floor.

#45 Jack Cooley - 6'9 junior C: Leading scorer at 12.4 points per game also leads in rebounds at 9 per contest. Cooley shoots over 60% from the field but struggles at the foul line. Cooley emerged as one of the top big men in the Big East late in the season with some key performances down the stretch.

Bench Personnel

#12 Alex Dragicevich - 6'7 sophomore SF: Another great shooter, he averages 6.8 points in 21 minutes a game.

#32 Joey Brooks - 6'6 junior SF: Only plays 10 minutes a game but shoots over 40% from deep.

#25 Tom Knight - 6'9 junior PF: Averages 3 points and 2 rebounds in limited minutes as backup post.

Note: Notre Dame has been without leading returning scorer Tim Abromatis, a senior forward seeking another year of eligibility, due to injury. In the two games he played this season Abromatis averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds.

Xavier Defensive Keys

-Guard the three point shot: Four of the five Irish starters can really shoot the ball from deep, as can their sixth man. As a team ND is shooting over 33% from deep while making just under 7 per game. This is a familiar trend for the Musketeers as several teams in the A10 rely on the three point shot and use forwards that can step out and shoot it. Andre Walker will draw another stretch forward in Scott Martin and that matchup defensively for Walker should go a long way towards determining the outcome. The difference between most three point shooting teams and Notre Dame is the size of the Irish. Xavier will really have to do a good job rotating to make up for those extra inches when contesting long jumpers out of penetration or the pick and roll.

-Wear them down with pressure: Coach Brey doesn't use his bench very often and despite the time off to prepare for the tournament Xavier will still feel the need to pressure the bigger, but slower, Irish team into fatigue. Notre Dame only turns the ball over 10 times per game on the season, while averaging a solid 14.5 assists. If Xavier can force the Fighting Irish into 15 turnovers that could make a difference in the outcome of the game in favor of Xavier. With starting guards Grant and Atkins playing an average of 37 of 40 minutes, in a game that probably will come down to the final two minutes, the fatigue level of the Irish backcourt will absolutely be a factor.

-Cooley vs Frease: It's no secret that Notre Dame loves to shoot the quick three point shot. However, one of the most important defensive keys to preventing that is to eliminate the production of their lone post presence, Jack Cooley. When Cooley can't get going offensively then it is hard for Notre Dame to create good looks from deep as they have no inside presence to keep the defense honest. Cooley likes to overpower his way around the basket but will be likely facing a taller and stronger opponent in Kenny Frease. The abilities of Frease to stay out of foul trouble while not allowing Cooley to set up in the paint will be hugely important in what could be Frease's final game.

Xavier Offensive Keys

-Push the tempo: The Fighting Irish are an average defensive team that yield 61.5 points per game, but do a good job in holding opponents to just 41% shooting. Like many Big East teams the strength of their defense is in the half court. Look for Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons to get the ball on the outlet pass and try and score before the defense is set up. For a Xavier team that has been inconsistent in executing half court offense, instead relying on Lyons and Holloway to make tough, contested shots, the ability to score in transition with easy layups could really throw Notre Dame back on their heels.

-Make their size a weakness: While ND certainly has a size advantage, and superior length, they cannot run with the Musketeers in the full court game. Settling for jumpers with a team that doesn't really shoot it all that well just plays into the hands of the Fighting Irish; if the Musketeers are able to put pressure on the rim and make the Notre Dame defenders do a good job guarding the ball (whether they're in man or zone) then Xavier should be able to create high percentage shots.

-Crash the glass: Despite their size Notre Dame isn't a great rebounding team; In fact their margin for rebounding this season actually favors opponents at -0.5. Xavier isn't the greatest rebounding team but the effectiveness of Travis Taylor, Dez Wells, and some other frontline players on the glass has been above average on the offensive end of late. With fatigue being a factor in the short Notre Dame rotation, and their only big man Cooley being conscious of foul trouble, look for the forwards of Xavier to hit the boards as hard as they can looking for second chance shots when jumpers don't fall.

Overall: This is a game that will probably be won based off of results from individual matchups when Notre Dame has the ball. Xavier will have to be at their best defensively by rotating to prevent the open three and by stopping Cooley in the post. Offensively expect ND to play some zone and some man but to try and force Xavier into shooting jumpers; the Irish do not want Xavier guards to get out in transition or have a chance to drive the ball. With Notre Dame using limited depth and playing at a controlled pace that makes fatigue a factor and if Xavier can finally get consistency out of their bench they will gain the upper hand. Being the #10 seed, compared to the #7 seed of Notre Dame, the Musketeers will be slight underdogs but have the personnel and style to beat Notre Dame. The NCAA tournament is always an enigma, so anything could happen.

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