The Irish sure don’t get to savor that Top 5 ranking, as they head to East Lansing for the marquee matchup of the ACC/Big 14 Challenge. Before we get to Sparty, it’s important to recognize that this is only the second time in over 25 years that Notre Dame has been ranked in the Top 5. Those years in the ’90s under MacLeod were rough…
Sure, rankings mean nothing in November. However, it’s a cool milestone for a program that has steadily developed from being lost in the shadows of football, to what some may now argue has turned Notre Dame into a basketball school.
Now, let’s see if they can stay there. The Irish are certainly playing with house money after knocking off the Shockers in Maui. Doubling down with a win in the Breslin Center would be a statement win announcing Notre Dame’s presence as not only a contender to get to San Antonio, but also to compete for a national title.
Five Things to Know about Sparty
1. The first thing that jumps off the page about Michigan State is that they held UNC to 45 points on Sunday. Yeah, you read that right…45. I’ve been watching college hoops a long time, and I don’t remember UNC ever scoring less than 60 points against anyone not named Virginia.
2. Miles Bridges is the goods. He’s been dealing with an ankle injury early in the season, which has kept his numbers down. Bridges has special athleticism and can shoot it. Here’s a little of that athleticism.
3. We talked about Wichita’s stockpile of bigs in the Maui preview…Sparty may be equally deep up front. Nick Ward is a stocky big like Shaquille Morris, and averages 14 a game. Jaren Jackson is a 5-star stud, averaging 10 and 8. Xavier Tillman is another freshman, and a large human (6’8, 260). Then, Izzo throws some old, solid defenders at you off the bench in Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter.
4. Tum Tum Nairn a) has been in college for 25 years; b) is not an offensive threat but will pester Matt Farrell for 20-25 minutes. He doesn’t start anymore, as Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston have developed into a steady backcourt in their sophomore season.
5. OH, Michigan State has the dude from Superbad too (no, not McLovin).
Ten Stats to Impress Your Buddies
1. Can T.J. Gibbs continue his streak? In Games 1, 3 and 5, he has put up 20+. In Games 2, 4 and 6, he hasn’t reached double figures. For the Irish to pick up a road W, Gibbs probably doesn’t need to get to 20, but it sure would be nice to see this trend continue.
2. The Irish shot 38.4% from deep last season. They’re at 43.2% to start the year, helped by Gibbs at 53.3% and Farrell at 42.9%. John Mooney has given the Irish some nice offense off the bench, and with that funky looking jumper, has knocked down 5 of 8 triples.
3. Bonz has four double-doubles in his first six games, and has scored 20+ points in 11 of his last 16. I talked about this in the Wichita recap, but his 25 and 11 seemed underappreciated. Bonz v. Bridges might be the best individual matchup of the season to date.
4. One area where the Irish have regressed so far…at the foul line. ND is hitting 74.4%, down from an unsustainable 80% in 2016-17.
5. D.J. Harvey is going to be very good, but like most freshmen in Brey’s system, he’ll have to be at least responsible on defense in order to get 20+ minutes. Harvey barely played in the second half against Wichita, which is fine. Think he will need to give the Irish a spark off the bench tonight.
6. Sparty has been pretty careless with the ball early, averaging 17 turnovers a game. I’d be surprised to seem them get close to this number, as the Irish aren’t known for forcing TOs in droves.
7. Speaking of turnovers, Farrell turned it over 10 times in Maui. His assist to turnover ratio is at 1.73, down from 2.15 last year. Look, Farrell has been phenomenal. Let’s just take care of the ball a little better.
8. Izzo’s teams are always a force on the boards, and that certainly would seem to be a clear advantage for Sparty. The Irish were -3 against Wichita, which is certainly acceptable. If they are getting demolished on the glass, it won’t be a fun night in the Breslin Center.
9. ND and Michigan State met in the 2014 ACC/Big 14 Challenge in South Bend, with the the Irish winning in OT, 79-78. Two current Irish players got PT off the bench in that game, but it’s not the two that you would think.
Marty and Torres played a combined 30 minutes, as Zach Auguste was an absolute trainwreck on defense that night.
10. I wouldn’t worry about a letdown. The last three times ND beat a Top 10 team, they won their next game. While a loss certainly is possible, I’d be shocked if the Irish laid an egg.
ESPN, 7 pm EST / 6 pm CST
Sparty is damn good. Sweeping Wichita and Michigan State in back-to-back games would rival the wins over Duke and UNC in the 2015 ACC Tournament. The Irish will be in this late with a chance, but will fall just short.
Michigan State 73 Notre Dame 68