From someone who has seen all UL games and the majority of ND games this year, I wanted to provide some thoughts. Obviously, my moniker is ND affiliated, but my heart lies with the Cards.
As many of you know, we typically don’t fare well up in South Bend. Most teams over the last five years haven’t either. ND has the stigma of being world-beaters at home, and usually plays well below that level on the road. This year has been a bit different. Being great at home is no different (they’re undefeated), but they’ve played much better away from the JACC. True, ND has gotten spanked on the road at St. John’s and Marquette, but note that those games were played without perhaps its most versatile player in Carleton Scott. Scott is a 6-8 SF who can regularly make threes, can block shots, and can crash the boards. A poor man’s E5. But I think he’s probably the best NBA prospect the Irish have. Also, Marquette shot 12-17 from 3, and SJU has several good wins at the Garden this year (see Gtown and Duke). The other two losses (Cuse and UK) were actually closer games than the final scores suggest (ND had second half lead vs Cuse, and was down by 5 with 3:00 left vs UK), but ND ran out of steam in the last five minutes of those two road games (yes, playing UK in Louisville is a road game).
But this year’s ND team has a lot of experience (all five starters have been playing D-1 basketball for at least four years), can shoot the ball, and doesn’t turn the ball over. To be effective against ND, Louisville will need to shoot the ball well, take care of the basketball, and limit second chance points. I’d like our chances a lot more if Rock were playing, but we definitely need a great game from Siva, and it would help to have the good C. Smith and PK for this game. Lord knows we haven’t had much luck shooting the ball up there, so hopefully it’s our turn for some hot shooting.
I don’t know why Ben Hansbrough isn’t the front-runner for BE POY at this point. He single-handedly beat Pitt in the last five minutes, and is averaging 19.3pts for an 8-3 BE team, predicted to finish 9th. He makes the team go, and PK will have his hands full. Four words of advice: make him go left. Ok, enough about ND.
I actually feel pretty good about this game for some reason. Maybe it was Mike, but I thought I read somewhere that Pitino said in a presser that he really wanted this game, and thought we could win. But seeing how we performed vs UConn and Gtown on the road gave me a lot of confidence. I think ND will slow down this game, and will want to keep the score in the 50s, low 60s. Not our forte, but we scrapped and had our chances to win last Monday in a similar game.
My keys to victory:
-Protect the ball; we need to keep our TOs below 10, because possessions will be precious.
-Run when we can; we don’t have the most prolific half-court sets, so getting on the break and getting some open looks will be vital if we want to knock down some 3s.
-Rebound the basketball. Getting killed on the boards played huge roles in most of our losses (Drexel, Nova, UK). Ensure ND doesn’t get multiple shots because that might mean we’re defending for a minute or a minute and a half each possession.
-Don’t lose the game at the FT line. We aren’t a great FT shooting team, but ND is. And they do a great job of getting to the line. So this means we need to defend without fouling, and make sure we can hit a decent % (75) of our FTs.
-Don’t lose the game in the first half. I think we’re a gritty team. We’ve shown we can make second-half comebacks, but sometimes we just run out of steam (Nova, Gtown). When we make our second half run, it would be nice if it were to extend the lead, rather than even up the game.
-Being down by 5 at the half. I’m not sayin’, I’m just saying.
Here’s to hoping we get it done. Our last four losses have all been followed by at least two wins, and in each of our 3 game BE mini-series we’ve started 2-0, so let’s keep the streak going.
Prediction: Irish 61, Cards 64