Well, we get to see for ourselves if Notre Dame is overrated, as CBS Sports reporter Matt Norlander believes. The 9-0 Irish head to Newark to take on the also 9-0, top-ranked, defending champion Villanova Wildcats. We know that Brey loves his team, ‘Nova is pretty darn good, and Bill Raftery is on the call. What’s not to like? Let’s get to it.
Five Things to Know About ‘Nova
1. Just like Brey loves to have old teams, ‘Nova starts three seniors and two sophomores. Seniors, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are their studs, and anyone who watched last year’s tournament knows what those two can do. Jenkins and Bonz have strikingly similar games, which should make for a hell of a battle. Whoever gets the best of it, may determine the outcome of the game.
2. Phil Booth has missed the last six games with knee soreness, after having surgery in the offseason. Still no word on if he is going to play on Saturday. Here’s a good article on what Booth means to the ‘Cats.
3. If you don’t want to read that article, Wright has a 7-man rotation without Booth. This may be one of the few games that the Irish have a depth advantage. Although, we all know that Brey is likely going to shorten the bench for this one in an effort to steal one.
4. Wright will go to Jenkins at the five at times, setting up the possibility of two very small teams out there for a good chunk of the game. I’d expect a lot of the lineup with Bonz and four guards, especially since Pflueger is going to be on Hart as much as possible.
5. Villanova’s best win is at Purdue, by 3. They struggled a little bit with LaSalle on Tuesday, but that’s not surprising in a Philly ‘Big Five’ battle. While they unquestionably are good, I wouldn’t anoint them as the favorites to repeat in April just yet.
Ten Stats to Impress Your Buddies
1. The Bonz has six consecutive double-doubles, after 17/14 on Tuesday night against Fort Wayne. His five assists were a nice bonus, and he has added the step-back three to the repertoire. He’s going to need a seventh straight double-double, at least, for the Irish to get the W on Saturday.
2. Though he is averaging almost 17 a game, Beach is struggling with his jumper. He is getting open looks, but is only hitting 36% from deep. Last year, he hit 44% of his threes. When he finds his shot (and he will), this team could be very, very scary.
3. ‘Nova’s top three scorers (Hart, Jenkins and Jalen Brunson) all shoot at least 43% from behind the arc. Pretty sure that defending the triple is going to be a major part of Brey’s game plan.
4. It is well-documented that the Irish average the fewest turnovers per game in the country. But two impressive contibutors to that stat are T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger. Through nine games, Gibbs has a 4.8-1 assist/turnover ratio, and Pflueger has ZERO turnovers in 161 minutes of action. Two young guys off the bench who play D, don’t turn it over, and are shooting a combined 48.5% from three…Brey cannot ask for much more than that.
5. Jack Nolan is leaning toward calling Matt Ryan the “Rifleman,” which is fitting, as Ryan now is averaging a three-point attempt every 2.9 minutes. He’s also shooting it at 48%. Keep chucking it Matt (and Jack, I love the nickname).
6. I’ll keep beating this dead horse until they start missing, but the Irish also lead the country in FT shooting at an insane 85.9%. In the last three games, the Big Four (Bonz, Beach, Stove, Farrell) are 51-52 (98.1%) from the stripe.
7. Jalen Brunson, ‘Nova’s point guard, had 26 in the win over LaSalle. When Fort Wayne made their late charge on Tuesday, they were giving the ball to whatever player Farrell was guarding, with great success. Farrell is going to have his hands full with Brunson, who is a bull taking the ball to the bucket.
8. Vasturia: 51.5% FG / 96.8% FT / 46.2% 3PT. That’s phenomenal, and we need to enjoy it while we can, because all those numbers will surely drop a little. It is also important to note that Stove drew the assignment on FW’s Bryson Scott, who went 0-10 on Tuesday. While Rex is the defensive stopper, Stove can still get it done on that end of the floor.
9. Against the Mastodons, Austin Torres played just one minute, and was immediately pulled after missing yet another easy layup. Interestingly, John Mooney received three late first half minutes and grabbed two offensive boards, including this follow slam to end the half:
10. Some other nuggets per UND.com…
Brey is 7-6 against Villanova, including three straight wins. He and Wright both started at these schools in 2001, and have had some excellent battles.
The Irish are going for win #12 against a top-ranked opponent. UNC was #1 in the Coaches Poll when ND knocked them off at home last year.
As head coach of the Irish, Brey is 7-4 against defending National Champions, including two wins over Duke last year.
CBS, Noon EST/11 a.m. CST
Open: ‘Nova -5. Current: ‘Nova -6.5
While ‘Nova is an almost unanimous #1, and the Irish are labeled “overrated,” these are two basketball teams with extremely similar DNA. Let’s quickly compare each position.
1 – Farrell v. Brunson – advantage ‘Nova
2 – Vasturia v. Hart – slight advantage ‘Nova
3 – Beachem v. Bridges – advantage Irish
4 – Colson v. Jenkins – push
5 – Geben v. Reynolds – slight advantage ‘Nova
Bench: (Pflueger/Gibbs/Ryan) v. (DiVincenzo/Paschall/Booth?) – advantage Irish
Doesn’t look too one-sided, does it?
To come out of Newark with a win, the Irish need big games out of their studs. Call me nuts, but I think they get it. Beach rises to the challenge against top competition, just like he did in last year’s NCAA Tournament…and Bonz continues his ascent to stardom with 23 points and 13 rebounds.
Irish 78 Villanova 74