Opponent: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Conference: Big East
Last Five: 2-3
Venue: Joyce Center, Notre Dame,Indiana
TV: ESPN 2
Notre Dame is the third ranked team UC has played in the last four games. It is also the third away game in the same stretch. The previous two, road trips to Villanova and Syracuse resulted in the first two losses of the season the Bearcats. Going to the Joyce Center is never an easy trip for anyone, and it has been particualarly rough on UC since joining the Big East. In two trips UC has been demolished twice, 83-65 last season, and 91-74 back in the 2007-2008 year.
The MO for the Irish is seemingly the same as it has always been, they get strong guard play from Ben Hansbrough who is the lead guard, Freshman Eric Atkins, a rare elite recruit for Mike Brey, is nominally the point guard, but Hansbrough spends quite a bit of time on the ball in the half court in the few games I have caught. So while Notre Dame has some good guards they play inside out. The two main cogs in the Irish machine are Tim Abromaitis and Tyrone Nash. Nash plays more of a traditional post role than Abromaitis, who can play that game but is a serious threat to stretch the defense to the three point line, he has taken 99 threes on the year and is hitting at a little under 40 per cent.
From the perspective of the Bearcats the marked man has to be Abromaitis. He is a really tough match up for the UC bigs. Darnell Wilks is probably the player best suited to match up with him on the defensive end. But the problem with playing Wilks for his defense is that you have to live with his offense where he is shooting a robust 38 per cent from the field and a sparkling 19 per cent from three. So in all likelihood Cronin will put Thomas on Abromaitis, where he will promptly pick up 2 fouls in roughly 5 minutes and be relegated to the bench for long stretches for the rest of the night.
On the defensive end of the court the Irish don't do much that is noteworthy. For the most part their defense is right in line with the national averages in the respective categories. Not to high or low on either end of the bell curve, the one exception to that is steal percentage where they rank 326th out of 345 schools. They just don't produce turnovers in any sort of meaningful way.
This game should be a contrast in styles. On the one hand you have Irish who play an aesthetically pleasing brand of offensive basketball and just sort of wing it on defense. On the other hand you have UC who plays a rigidly structured brand of defense with the full court pressure and the crisp half court rotations, and on offense UC basically plays pick up basketball. This will be a close contest to be sure. Some within Bearcat Nation have been calling for this to be an impending blowout in the wake of the Cuse performance. I don't really see it that way at all, the contrasting styles of play will keep this close to the final whistle. In the end I think that is ultimately a winnable road game for UC, something that is exceedingly rare in the Big East. I think the Bearcats can notch the win in this game, but I am still up in the air about whether or not they will get the job done.