Thursday, February 21, 2008


February 21, 2008

Notre Dame puts their 34-game home win streak on the line Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Panthers come to town. The Irish barely escaped the RAC last weekend with a win over Rutgers their last time out. Pittsburgh will look to like their wounds inflicted by the drubbing Marquette put on them last Friday night.

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

Critical Couple Facing Panthers (Tribune Democrat)
Irish 34-Game Win Streak at Home More than Just Luck (Post-Gazette)
Pitt, No. 21 Notre Dame Finally Set to Battle (Tribune-Review)
Pitt Prepares for Notre Dame (Tribune-Review)
Irish Sophomore Loses Anonymity (Journal Gazette)
It's Nice to See You Again, Pitt (South Bend Tribune)
Rebounds Will Tell Story for ND-Pitt (South Bend Tribune)

Believe it or not, this is the first meeting between Pitt and Notre Dame since opening the 2006 Big East season against one another. That game was won by Pitt 100-97 in 2OT when Ronald Ramon hit a late-game three to give Pitt the lead. Ramon scored 12 in that contest and Sam Young (15), Levance Fields (11), Tyrell Biggs (4) and Keith Benjamin also saw action for Pitt. Luke Zeller (11), Kyle McAlarney (3), Rob Kurz (6), Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers saw action for the Irish in the marathon contest.

Both of these teams match-up fairly well with one another. Neither is the most athletic in the conference. Of course, when discussing the Irish, the inside/out combination of Luke Harangody and Kyle McAlarney dominate the discussion. What has been key for the Irish is the rest of the roster has accepted and grown into their roles in support of their star duo.

Harangody will be matched in a battle of bruisers with DeJuan Blair. Harangody has the experience and the solid footwork and fundamentals to score in the paint on just about anyone and he shoudl get his opportunities against Blair. The Pitt freshman should also be able to be productive, but if he finds himself in foul trouble against the effecient Harangody, Pitt will be in trouble trying to stop the likely Big East Player of the Year inside.

Where Pittsburgh could make life difficult is while guarding McAlarney. In the three Irish league losses, Harangody still has managed to average nearly 25 PPG and 13 rebounds, monster numbers for the sophomore. However, McAlarney is at just 10 PPG, but more importantly for the opposition, shooting just 11-37 from the floor and averaging just 2 assists against 3.3 turnovers a game in their losses.

A key for the Irish is the ability of Tory Jackson to use his quickness on each end of the floor to exploit the Panthers. Jackson can hound the ball on defense and break down the opposition with the ball in his hands, leading to kick-outs to McAlarney on the perimeter or dishes to Harangody for easy buckets. While McAlarney seems to be the barometer for the big wins, Jackson may be the ultimate key fr future Irish success, including on Thursday.

Pittsburgh is not a deep team because of the injuries they have faced and word that Levance Fields has been limited in practice since the Marquette game does not bode well for the Panthers. Fields played 20 minutes in the loss to the Golden Eagles, but apparently suffered an additional foot injury in the game. The injury is not related to the broken bone, but is with the same foot. Having Fields get healthier would have been a huge lift for Pitt in the match-up with Jackson, now Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin will be once again asked to carry a heavy load on both ends of the ball. The seniors are definitely capable, but the minutes seem to be catching up with them.

Pitt's biggest advantage is probably at the forwars position where the need a big game from Sam Young. The athletic but sometimes enigmatic Young will be matched up against ROb Kurz, a very solid player that can take advantage of any mental lapses Young might suffer. If Young is on his game and motivated from start to finish, he has the ability to carry the Panthers to a win against nearly anyone in this league, especially if Blair is out of foul trouble and the guards give some support from the perimeter.

Both teams are not likely to go more than 7 or 8 deep, Pitt could get a lift if Fields can give more minutes, but the Panthers will use four freshmen in that rotation while the Irish will not turn to any newcomers. That experience is tough to overcome on the road.

However, there is just something that leads me to believe the Irish home win streak is in jeopardy in the near future. Pittsburgh's losses have come against teams that like to pressure the ball with their athletic guard line-ups (although, it does not explain the loss to Rutgers). The Irish will not be as aggressive defensively as Marquette, UConn, Cincinnati or Villanova was with the Panthers, so, Pitt might be able to find some comfort and coming off that bad loss, they should be plenty motivated. The pressure of the home win streak can sometimes be a distraction and a source of added pressure...call me crazy, but I think it ends in a classic battle of two very good teams.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 74 Notre Dame 71



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