Peyton's Place?

Atkins/Grant bested Siva last January

Notre Dame faces two major obstacles in its quest for an upset win tonight over No. 11 Louisville: the Cardinals defensive pressure, and its orchestrator on offense, long-time Irish foil Peyton Siva.

Mike Brey's Irish are annually among the nation's best at protecting the basketball. They're likewise generally near the top tier in ball distribution, assisting on more baskets than most, often relying on unselfish, crisp ball movement to take down more athletically gifted squads.

When they struggle, there are generally too many turnovers, coupled with a lack of movement and cutting to break down a defense, it generally leads to contested jump shots and ultimately, defeat.

Tonight in South Bend, the nation's No. 2 ranked team in terms of defensive efficiency will take the court.

It's not the Irish.

"The first thing we have to do is make some shots. You don't want to thoroughly over-analyze," said Brey of his team's offensive struggle Monday at Syracuse. "You have to make some shots over the top of a 2-3 zone to have success against a team the plays it a lot. I think you have to make 8-plus three (point shots)."

Like the Orange, Louisville plays a 2-3 zone, though not before its guards heavily pressure opposing ball-handlers.

"The one thing you have to deal with first is the ball pressure and two small guards that get up under you and really pressure the ball in the back court," said Brey of Cardinal guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. "That's my first concern as we prepare for Louisville, but once you get it across half-court, you're dealing with their zone.

"When we're good against these guys (in past matchups), we were very, very patient. And I'd like us to be more patient, but that's really a challenge because they rev you up with their full-court pressure.

"Can we downshift (after breaking the pressure)? We did that in the Yum! Center," said Brey of his team's double overtime win last January at Louisville. "We could not do it in Madison Square (Garden) and thus they jumped on us. We turned it over early and our guards were never as confident as they needed to be."

That mid-March 2012 defeat to the Cardinals was unique in its totality. Most matchups between the teams bring out the best in both. Six of nine contests prior to last year's 64-50 Irish defeat included overtime -- eight extra sessions in total.

"I can't put my finger on it. (Louisville head coach) Rick Pitino or I before the game, one of us usually says, 'How many do we want to play tonight? 1-2-4? (Overtimes). Its like a running joke when we're recruiting in the summer. There's been great games. Hard played, kids really competing, and I expect it to be that way on Saturday night, but I can't put my finger on why it goes like that."

The Deciding Factor(s)

Brey noted earlier this season his junior backcourt of Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant (a redshirt-sophomore) might be the nation's best.

Unfortunately they've been arguably the second-best backcourt on the Joyce Center Floor in three of the team's last four home contests (Connecticut, Rutgers, and Georgetown) and struggled mightily in their last outing.

Tonight's twosome of Russ Smith and the omnipresent Peyton Siva will again test Brey's boast.

"They control things, no matter who we play," said Brey of his backcourt. "They were disappointed in how they played and disappointed in how they turned the ball over (eight combined vs. the Orange). I know that sticks in their craw.

"They have to be good, and we have to be receivers for them against pressure, but they have to confidently drive gaps and confidently step up and shoot it."

Confidence isn' a problem for their counterparts. Smith ranks seventh in the conference in scoring (16.2) while Siva is second in assists (6.5), fourth in steals (2.0), and first in breaking down a defense with penetration.

"This guy's the hardest guy to deal with on a ball screen when he's on a good flow and confident," said Brey of Siva. "The ball screen defense is such a key with him and we were great down the stretch in the Yum! Center (in last year's win). We couldn't handle him (in the Garden), he was zipping down our gut."

The teams have split their last four meetings with Siva struggling (relatively speaking) in Cardinals losses, producing a combined 17 points, 12 assists, and 9 turnovers. He's conversely dominated the Irish in victory, accounting for a combined 28 points, 16 assists, and just three turnovers, along with a whopping 13 rebounds.

"We have to give him different looks: hard showing, flat showing (by help defenders vs. high screens). They don't stroke it from outside so you're able to jam the lane a little bit more than when they had (Kyle) Kuric and (Mark) Marra," said Brey of the Cardinals graduated shooters. "You can jam the lane with some help and that's where he does some damage when he gets in (the lane).

"Its funny we talked about really being good on our ball screen defense," said Brey of a game last week. "And (assistant coach) Martin Ingelsby got me back to earth saying, 'That wasn't Siva we were dealing with.'"

It will be tonight.

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