Thursday, January 31, 2008


January 31, 2008

Providence College is next up to try and end Notre Dame's long-standing home win streak. The Irish have won 31 straight games overall at the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center and 12 in a row in Big East play. That streak is on the line tonight when the Irish welcome the Friars, who only have one true road win on the season. That one win was impressive as PC won at UConn earlier this month.

Here are the local media preview stories on the game:

Finding His Inner Ballhog (South Bend Tribune)
Brey, ND Fear Friars (South Bend Tribune)
In the Big East, Hosts Unfriendly
Game Preview: PC @ Notre Dame (Providence Journal)
Back Home, The Irish are Rarin' to Go (P-J)

With the Friars their success is usually determined by how their perimeter shooters connect from long range. Brian McKenzie, Jeff Xavier and Dwain Williams like to set-up shop beyond the three-point line and let them fly. Each is a very dangerous 3-pt marksman thay needs to be forced to put the ball on the floor before launching. Their threat of the 3-pt ball opens up lanes for Weyinmi Efejuku to attack the basket and Geoff McDermott to bang away at the forward position. Providence struggles greatly at the post position with Randall Hanke, Jonathan Kale and Ray Hall splitting the time in the post, but they struggle rebounding and, for th emost part, fail to take advantage of the opportunities to score with the strong perimeter shooters.

Notre Dame is led by the inside/out duo of Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney. The bullish sophomore forward Harangody should find lots of success against the soft middle of the Friars. Harangody is a master at establishing post position and he is much too physical for Hanke inside. Kale will battle back, but the array of post moves and strong hands possessed by Harangody will keep him scoring on anyone the Friars use. The lack of offense run through the post by PC also limits the potential for Harangody to pick up fouls.

On the outside McAlarney has been red-hot for the Irish. As he has been prodded to shoot more by coach Mike Brey, the junior guard has averaged over 18 PPG in six Big East contests including games of 32 against UConn and 30 at Villanova last Saturday. He is complimented in the backcourt by lightning quick point guard Tory Jackson whose skills allow McAlarney to concentrate on being the long range bomber that Mike Brey loves.

Rob Kurz is also the perfect compliment to Harangody inside as he can step away from the basket to shoot the ball. He handles and passes the ball extremely well for a power forward and does the little things that frees up Harangody to do what he does best. The wing position is being split by Ryan Ayers, a strong shooter, and Zach Hillesland, instant energy. Hillesland was inserted in the starting line-up last weekend in place of Ayers and have the Irish a jolt from the beginning.

Notre Dame is an 8-pt home favorite tonight. They will need to keep the Friar 3-pt shooters marked throughout the game and ride the inside/out combination of Harangody and McAlarney. The Notre Dame depth is definitely a question mark, but they have not been tested deep on their bench very often. The Irish home win streak should stay intact tonight...

NBE Blogger Prediction: Notre Dame 82 Providence 73


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Friday, January 25, 2008


January 26, 2008

You have to believe that Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats will be breathing a little fire on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats looked like a team on the rise after wins over DePaul and a road win at Syracuse the week before, but a resounding loss at previously winless (in Big East action) Rutgers pulled the rug out from beneath of the Wildcats.

Notre Dame is a team that is facing similar questions. The Irish have been unbeatable at home and have league home wins over West Virginia, Connecticut and Cincinnati already this season, but the road has been a different story. The Irish have lost by 26 at Marquette and 19 at Georgetown (it was not really even that close). Those two games (and it is January 25) are the only two true-road games the Irish have played all season. They have also lost to Georgia Tech and Baylor on neutral floors, but have a victory at Madison Square Garden over Kansas State to their credit.

On their home floor, this game is a near 'must-win' for Villanova and it will not be easy. The Irish feature bruising big man Luke Harangody in the middle and Villanova is unlikely to have anyone available (Casseim Drummond is injured) to combat his size and physical nature. Villanova will counter with quickness and effort from Antonio Pena and dante Cunningham, but neither is a vital cog in an offensive system that is predicated on guard play.

Luckily for Villanova, their guard play is strong and led by starters Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, along with Malcolm Grant and Reggie Redding off the bench. Reynolds struggled with his shot (5-19) in the loss to Rutgers and will have to rebound on Saturday. Malcolm Grant is a new generation 'microwave' and he heated up quickly against Rutgers, scoring 23 points in just 18 minutes before fouling out. Grant seems to be a last gasp option and he has rescued them before, they need to find a way to get him, Reynolds and Fisher to effectively score together.

The Irish have been contemplating some potential line-up changes to give Mike Brey' sclub a little better from the start of the game. The two most likely candidates because of their subpar games on the road seeem to be Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers. I find it hard to believe either would start the game on the bench as Jackson will be needed against the Villanova pressure defense and Ayers is from the Philadelhia area and they really need his confidence to be intact.

Rob Kurz is also making a return trip to his home area, so the Irish will put forth a strong effort. The will likely attempt to see how far Harangody can carry them, in games like West Virginia and Cincinnati, they found out he could carry them a long way. However, the road has been a different story for the Irish and even a big game from Harangody will be tough to equate into a victory.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Villanova 77 Notre Dame 74


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Tuesday, January 15, 2008


January 15, 2008

The Cincinnati Bearcats wake up this morning tied for 1st place in the Big East conference standings with a 3-1 record in conference play. Already with wins over Louisville, Syracuse and Villanova, Mick Cronin and his squad will look to add Notre Dame to the list of victims.

Mike Brey and his club return home after being pasted by Marquette in the Bradley Center on Saturday, 92-66. Saturday was the first road game of the season for the Irish, who have been dominant at home. They will look to get back on track tonight and move into a tie atop the conference standings.

Here are the local media previews on tonight's game:

Long Road Just Beginning (Cincinnati Enquirer)
Despite Start, Cronin Guarded (Enquirer)
From Stout to Big Drought (Chicago Tribune)
Match-up: Cincinnati @ Notre Dame (Chicago Tribune)

Notre Dame started Big East play with home wins over West Virginia and Connecticut, stretching their Joyce Center win streak to 30 games. The win over UConn was the team's 10th straight victory. They had a chance to seize control of the conference when they headed to Milwaukee to face Marquette, but the Golden Eagles showed the Irish how tough life is on the road in the conference, handing them a 92-66 loss.

Cincinnati is one of the few conference teams with an 'unexpected' road win. The Bearcats opened the Big East conference schedule with a win at Louisville. The Bearcats have shown that win was not a fluke by protecting their home court with wins over Syracuse and Villanova last night and have earned a surprising 3-1 record in conference play.

The Bearcats will certainly have their hands full in the lane with Notre Dame sophomore big man Luke Harangody. The 6'8, 250 lb power forward is averaging over 24 PPG and 13 rebounds in his three Big East contests. Harangody is an ox in the paint and uses nearly flawless fundamental post moves to score against players of all sizes in the paint.

Harangody is aided by a very capable inside/out game with Kyle McAlarney, a junior sharp-shooter, and a senior power forward Rob Kurz who takes some rebounding and post scoring pressure off.

Cincinnati's start has been ignited by the hot-shooting of Deonta Vaughn. The stocky sophomore is averaging almost 23 PPG in the first four conference contests and was voted the Big East Player of the Week in our latest Big East Bloggers Power Poll after averaging 27 PPG in wins over Syracuse and Villanova.

The Bearcats like t keep the score in the lower 60's and point guard Jamual Warren controls the tempo and allows Vaughn to play off the ball in a role to score points. Mick Cronin uses several freshmen in the mix, including Rashad Bishop and Anthony McClain, but the Bearcats also got a big lift from Alvin Mithcell in their win over Villanova, adding another weapon to th emix.

The oddsmakers really like Notre Dame, making them a 12-pt favorite. The Irish score a lot of points on their home floor, but this is the first defensive-minded team that will be paying them a visit. However, coming off the lopsied loss, look for the Irish to be after it themselves on the defensive side and the comforts of home should cure any of their shooting woes that hit on Saturday.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Notre Dame 77 Cincinnati 63


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Friday, January 11, 2008


January 12, 2008

One of two marquee match-ups in the Big East on Saturday afternoon pits the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame against the Marquette Golden Eagles at the Bradley Center. Notre Dame is one of just two conference unbeatens left, but this is their FIRST true road game of the season. They have played 10 home games and four neutral site games, so venturing to the Bradley Center is a tough first road test for ANY team.

Here are the local media previews on the game:

Small fries Staple of Marquette Diet (Chicago Tribune)
Marquette Basketball Preview (Post-Crescent)
MU Has Sizable Challenge (Journal-Sentinel)
McAlarney, Irish Set for Road Test (South Bend Tribune)

Marquette has won their first two home contests in Big East play, blowing out a short-handed Providence team and escaping a fiesty Seton Hall squad when they might have been looking ahead to this match-up. Marquette also lost in their only conference road game at West Virginia.

In their last two games, the Golden Eagles struggled mightily against zone defenses. West Virginia tripped them up by mixing in a triangle and two defense and Seton Hall used several types of zones that kept Marquette on the perimeter, rather than attacking the basket.

One word of caution, if you decide to pack in the zone, make sure you know where Dan Fitzgerald is, especially if he makes his first shot or two. Fitzgerald hit four three's to account for all 12 of his points against SHU, including a dagger with 10 seconds left to clinch the 61-56 victory.

I expect Notre Dame to definitely follow the defensive script set by SHU and WVU and go zone against MU. Notre Dame really does not have the perimeter depth or speed to match-up man to man for 40 minutes, but they do have the size advantage to rebound effectively out of that defense.

Kyle McAlarney lit up UConn in ND's last win for 32 points. He has also accumulated 14 assists in two conference games, turning it over just once. However, on Saturday, one of the nation's top defensive guards, Jerel McNeal, will be shadowing McAlarney's every move. Do not expect McNeal to give any good looks up easily on his home floor.

In ND's win over West Virginia, the Irish showed they could prevail without a big game from the perimeter as Luke Harangody bulled his way to 29 points and 16 rebounds. He should be able to find success against a small-ish Marquette frontline. Harangody struggled against the size of UConn (5-23), but he shoud find this one a little more to his liking.

This is going to come down to how well Marquette solves the Irish zone. They also need to create a tempo in their favor with pressuring defense on the ball. This will also make it difficult for the Irish guards to easily feed Harangody inside. With a lot of attention focused on Harangody, you can not forget about Rob Kurz either.

Playing their first true road game is a tough task to ask a team to pull out a win in the Bradley Center. I think it will be a very good game, especially once Notre Dame finds their footing in the different environment, but the adjustment will leave them with too tall of a defecit to climb. The Marquette ball pressure from Dominic James, McNeal and a very deep stable of guards will limit ND's effective perimeter attack.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Marquette 73 Notre Dame 66


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Friday, January 04, 2008


January 5, 2007

Capping off our first Saturday of conference action will be Notre Dame and Connecticut in what should be a very good game in a great atmosphere on the Notre Dame campus in South Bend. Both teams did what they had to in their opening conference games and now they will try to put a stamp on their contending status in the first week of play.

Connecticut earned a road win with a 98-86 win at Seton Hall behind Jerome Dyson's 27 points. Unlike against Seton Hall, the Huskies will have to contend with an inside horse that will put some pressure on the UConn bigs around the basket.

Notre Dame held serve at home with an impressive win over West Virginia Thursday night. Luke Harangody dominated the paint against WVU with a 29-pt, 16-rebound performance. He will find the competition stronger (in Jeff Adrien) and taller (in Hasheem Thabeet) against Connecticut than he did against the Mountaineers.

For the Irish, they will need to take better care of the basketball. Against WVU, Tory Jackson did score 12 points, but turned the ball over 6 times in 24 minutes. The Irish had 20 turnovers as a team. Kyle McAlarney did a better job distributing and taking care of the ball, but against UConn they will need him to be able to make shots as a beneficiary of Jackson's ability to break down the defense. The UConn guards, Dyson and AJ Price, are capable of putting a lot of pressure on the ball defensively, so this is a match-up to watch.

For Connecticut, they need to stay in control. Jim Calhoun wants his team to push, push, push on offense, but against SHU they seemed to get into a contest where they were more concerned about running and forgot to play defense. Notre Dame will unliekly be able to turn the game into such a ragged affair, but Connecticut also needs to realize where their advantages are and try to go to the boards and score inside.

Notre Dame needs to be dialed in from 3-pt range in this game. McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Rob Kurz all hit the long ball at a very high percentage and they will need to be knocking them down to draw the Husky defenders out of th elane to isolate Harangody inside. Harangody uses excellent foot work and technique inside that he could find the Huskies in foul trouble if he is given space to operate. But, if ND is not making UConn come out of the paint, Harangody could struggle against the bigger Huskies.

I am not sure why, but I see Connecticut stealing a game on the road in this one. I just think their size inside is going to make things very tough on Harangody and they have enough athleticism to cover the 3-pt shooters of the Irish. It probably will come down to the last few possessions, so the maturation of the Huskies will dtermine if they can win this or lose it. I am thinking they have enough improvement to come up with an impressive win against a good Notre Dame team.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Connecticut 80 Notre Dame 78


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Thursday, January 03, 2008


January 3, 2008

Notre Dame enters Big East competition on an 8-game winning streak and that streak will be put to the test against Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Here are some of the media articles previewing tonight's game:

It's the Real Deal for Irish, Mountaineers (South Bend Tribune)
Huggins Young Mountaineers Provide Challenge for Irish (Chicago Tribune)
WVU Looks to End Losing Ways Against Irish (Parkersburg News)
City Friendly Place for Huggins (Journal Gazette)

A very interesting conference game for both West Virginia and Notre Dame to open Big East play with. Playing at home, the Irish have been picked as the 2-pt favorite by the oddsmaker. The match-ups between the two teams are very tough to seperate and find a team that is clearly better.

For the Irish tonight, it is all going to start inside. The one area they should have a decided advantage is in post offense with sophomore Luke Harangody in the post. The 6'8 bull is averaging nearly 18 points and 9 rebounds a game. He plays very well on both ends of the court and has a fellow forward in senior Rob Kurz that compliments him well. While Harangody has been nicknamed 'Bam-Bam' by Irish fans for his physical style in the paint, Kurz utilizes more skill with a deft shooting touch out to the 3-pt line (48% on 3's this year) and is an excellent passer and ball-handler for his size. Adding 14 PPG and over 7 rebounds, whiler leading the Irish in blocked shots, shows he is not afraid to mix it up either.

On the perimeter the most important keys tonight could be the shooting of juniors Ryan Ayers and Kyle McAlarney. We all know WVU will rely heavily on 3's, but so does ND and Ayers (26-51) and McAlarney (37-86) have already combined for 63 made three-pointers at a 46% clip. With lightning-quick point guard Tory Jackson penetrating the defense, having a pair of sharp-shooting wings setting up for the longball keeps the offense flowing effeciently for Mike Brey's squad.

On the West Virginia side the Mountaineers have four players who consistently score night in and night out: Alex Ruoff (16.1 PPG), Joe Alexander (15.9 PPG and a team high 6.8 rebounds), DaSean Butler (13 PPG) and Darris Nichols (11.3 PPG). The Mountaineers are still a team that does not turn the ball over often and they do provide more of an effort on the boards than recent editions under John Beilein. Coach Bob Huggins is running a similar offensive philosophy that the players grew into under Beilein, but he is instilling his toughness on the boards and on defense, but it is still an area that could possibly be exposed in the Big East.

Notre Dame, along with Georgetown, has played the easiest schedule to date in the Big East. The only major conference schools they have faced have been Kansas State, Baylor and Georgia Tech, none of which have an RPI among the Top 50 in the nation. The Irish also dropped two of the three games, beating Kansas State at Madison Square Garden.

West Virginia has beaten Duquesne and Winthrop among top 50 RPI squads, but have lost their only two contests against major conference foes (Tennessee and Oklahoma) in very tight contests. Tonight will represent a different atmosphere for both teams and a change in intensity as both teams need to start off on the right foot, otherwise the questions will begin to arise about their gaudy OOC records.

With the extra pressure of conference play, I am going to lean the way of the team that will be playing more in their comfort zone, making the 3's fall easier, having the crowd behind them and, also, the Irish have a decided advantage in the paint which will allow them to buckle down and get some baskets the easy way when they need them.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Notre Dame 74 West Virginia 68


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