Contrasting styles and skill sets will do battle tonight as the short-handed Irish encounter the unique length and athleticism of the No. 8 West Virginia Mountaineers.
Tip-off is set for 8:00 (ET) and will be televised by ESPNU.
At a Glance
- Losses: Northwestern (Chicago Classic) and Loyola Marymount; at UConn
- Best Win: UCLA (5-7) or Providence (8-5)
- Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: home vs. LMU (7-7)
- Losses: at Purdue
- Best win: Marquette and at Seton Hall. Mississippi out-of-conference.
- Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: None
Pre-Game Roster Note
According to a report published by the South Bend Tribune and long-time team beat reporter Tom Noie, Irish redshirt-junior forward Carleton Scott has reportedly taken “an indefinite leave of absence.” Noie’s report, gleaned from a conversation with a spokesman for the University, stressed that the leave is in no way related to academic issues or a violation of team rules.
to read more from Noie on the pending Scott situation.
Meet the Mountaineers
Former Kansas State and ex-Cincinnati head coach Bob Huggins is 61-24 in his third season at the helm at his alma mater and ranks fourth among active coaches with 651 career victories.
The Mountaineers unique defensive versatility presents a problem for the Irish today and for the rest of the conference throughout the Big East season. As Marquette coach Buzz Williams mused before the teams’ matched up before the New Year: “West Virginia has 10 guys that are six-feet eight or taller…”
Though Williams used hyperbole, the point remains, and Huggins has indeed fielded a five forward starting lineup of like-sized athletes this season. As a result, the Mountaineers switch every screen defensively as each player is relatively the same build and possesses quick feet.
- West Virginia’s de facto “big men” are sophomore Kevin Jones and senior Wellington Smith. Smith stands 6’7” 245 pounds and remains a consistent, though unspectacular contributor inside, averaging between 4.8 and 5.2 points over the last three seasons, while grabbing just under four rebounds and sending back a blocked shot or two per contest in 21 minutes of action. Huggins knows what he has in Smith and makes use of the senior’s talents limited game.
Jones has blossomed after showing promise as a freshman off the bench last season, scoring in double figures in each of West Virginia’s 13 games, while averaging 15.7 points and 7.7 boards. He’s connected on better than 61 percent of his shots from the field, using his 6’8” 250-pound frame to carve out position in the lane. The sophomore possesses a soft touch outside, hitting 16 of his 35 attempts from beyond the arc this season. Jones will be a tough matchup for Harangody as the latter must avoid foul trouble at all costs if the Irish are to have a chance tonight in South Bend.
- The Mountaineers’ most talented player is sophomore Devin Ebanks, a 6’9’ 219-pound forward (future NBA swingman) with an advanced mid-range game, excellent ball handling and passing skills, and top-tier rebounding ability above the rim (he had 18 rebounds vs. the Irish in last year’s Big East tournament matchup won by the Mountaineers). Ebanks finishes with authority and (now for the really bad news) plays with a great feel for the game, playing the entire 45 minutes of an overtime battle with Seton Hall without committing a turnover. On paper, the Irish do not have a matchup for Ebanks Saturday night.
- West Virginia’s top returning player from last season is 2009 second-team All Big East selection Da’Sean Butler. The 6’7” 230-pound “small” forward has performed as a double figures scorer for nearly four seasons of conference play, averaging between 30 and 33 minutes per contest since his sophomore season of 2008. He currently leads the team at 16.5 points per game while contributing six boards and 3.5 assists. Butler somehow hoisted 600 shots from beyond the arc last season (hitting 35 percent, also his career average) but has reigned that freewheeling style in a bit this season, hitting 53 of his 214 bombs to date.
- Butler, who had a 43-point night prior to the teams’ first meeting last season, struggled a bit vs. the Irish and the best defensive effort of the season by graduated swingman Ryan Ayers, hitting just 5-17 shots and 2-10 from beyond the arc. He bounced back in the teams’ Conference Tournament matchup, hitting 3 of 5 from long-range though was again just 6-17 from the field overall (West Virginia won both games).
Expected to start at point guard is sophomore Darryl “Truck” Bryant. The Brooklyn native averages just over 21 minutes per contest (9.8 points and 3.5 assists) but has occasionally ceded his starting spot to 6’7” junior forward John Flowers. Expect Bryant to start in an effort to help control the penetration of Irish guards Tory Jackson and Ben Hansbrough.
- In addition to Flowers off the bench, Huggins brings junior point guard Joe Mazzulla to run the offense for 10 minutes per contest and the extremely physical Cam Thoroughman. At 6’7” 240 pounds, Thoroughman will be used to bother, foul, and bang Harangody incrementally tonight. Look for a scuffle between the two over the course of the contest.
Mazzulla missed most of last season with a shoulder injury; an unfortunate occurrence that nonetheless opened the door for Bryant and allowed the then-freshman to flourish as the Mountaineers improved drastically over the course of the season.
Junior-college transfer Casey Mitchell (6’4” 225 pounds) has seen his court time decrease over the last four outings but should see 8-10 minutes of action as well.
The Last Time
West Virginia defeated the Irish twice in 2009, winning 79-68 in mid-February in Morgantown and then prevailing 74-62 in the Big East quarterfinals last March. Harangody accounted for 53 of Notre Dame's 130 combined points in the two meetings.
Stats and Streaks
Though it would rank as only a mild upset on the college basketball landscape, don’t expect a victory from the home team tonight. The athletic talent and team depth gap was exacerbated by the (at least one game) loss of the 6’7” wiry Scott.
Head coach Mike Brey had two months to prepare solidly-built freshmen Joey Brooks, Mike Broghammer, and Jack Cooley for an emergent seventh-man role (or the somehow continuously frowned-upon eighth-player presence in his lineup). Now one or all will need to contribute on the boards and defensively for the Irish to stay close tonight.
Notre Dame is a different team at home – a self-confident group that continues to fight regardless of the situation or scoring margin. Look for a solid contribution from the backcourt duo of Jackson and Hansbrough; a renewed sense of urgency from the road-weary Peoples (0 points in the two-game swing away from South Bend) and plenty of points (and 25-30 field goal attempts) from Harangody.
But the key to tonight's contest is the junior forward duo of Tyrone Nash and Tim Abromaitis. If the Irish can receive a quality scoring (not only shooting, Abro needs to get to the free throw line) night Abromaitis and 30-32 minutes of rebounding, hustle, and smart play from Nash, they could stay close and consequently pull-off the upset. Positives from the untested and under-prepared three-man freshmen crew of Brooks, Broghammer, and Cooley would provide a major boost.
I just can’t shake the bad vibes and timing of Scott’s leave…
West Virginia 82 Notre Dame 73