The last time UConn played Notre Dame, the football team was preparing to get blown away by South Carolina's SEC speed, this blog was still in its old home (without the SBNation curse) and UConn was thought to be the 10th best team in the country. Obviously things have changed a lot since then.
Tonight's matchup features two teams desperately fighting to stay on the right side of the bubble. Most predictions still have UConn in the dance and the Irish just barely missing the cut, so whoever wins tonight should be able to breathe just a bit easier going forward. As for the loser? Let's just say you do not want to be the loser.
Back on Jan. 2, the Huskies beat the Irish 82-70 in Hartford, thanks to Stanley Robinson's 22 points and 16 rebounds, plus 10 points from one-game-wonder Charles Okwandu. Kemba Walker was still an out of control youth (6 turnovers). The Irish were led by erstwhile player of the year candidate Luke Harangody, who, like always, destroyed UConn, putting up 31 points.
Harangody is expected to miss tonight's game with a knee injury, but that might not wind up hurting the Huskies. Hit the jump for more.
The game: UConn (17-12, 7-9 Big East) at Notre Dame (19-10, 8-8 Big East)
The place: Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center, South Bend, IN
The time: 7 p.m.
The media: TV: ESPN; RADIO- WTIC 1080-AM, WOR 710-AM (in NJ)
The Vegas favorite: Notre Dame, by 2
Series history: UConn leads, 16-6.
Last meeting: UConn 82, Notre Dame 70 (Jan. 2), part of a glorious day where the UConn men won, the women destroyed Seton Hall and the football team dismantled South Carolina, all at the same time. Women's hockey won too.
State of the Huskies: Uncertain and worrisome. After a three-game winning streak that included wins over two top-10 teams, the Huskies looked like they were finally back on track. Then they played Louisville. All of the Huskies bad habits kicked in and the team looked like it forgot what was working. Instead of letting Kemba Walker run the show, Jerome Dyson became a ball-swallowing black hole and the Huskies lost a heartbreaker on Senior Day.
A win tonight will right the ship and should leave the Huskies feeling very confident as they head to South Florida to wrap up their season. A loss probably moves UConn back to the wrong side of the bubble and will make winning at least one game in the Big East Tournament a necessity.
So, tell me a little bit about the Fighting Irish: Like I mentioned before, Notre Dame's senior leader Luke Harangody is not expected to play. In theory, that should work in the Huskies favor, but it looks like the Irish are playing their best basketball of the season without Harangody. The team is 2-2 since he sat out, but one of those losses was an OT loss at Louisville and their two most recent games were wins over Pittsburgh and Georgetown. Gulp.
Reports indicate that since 'Gody went down, the Irish have been trying to slow down the tempo of their games and play a lot from the perimeter. Neither of those things sound good for the Huskies who have repeatedly shown that A) They can't defend the 3 to save their life and B) Their best chance to win comes when a team tries to run against them. In Harangody's abscense, the team has turned to Connecticut's own Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough, little brother of you know who.
The preview: We start, as is custom, with a look at the Four Factors, courtesy of KenPom.com
|Off. FT Rate
|Def. FT Rate
According to these numbers, this one might as well be a tossup. UConn is a much better defensive and rebounding team, but Notre Dame's offensive efficiency numbers are off the charts. If the Huskies can't step up the perimeter D and this becomes a shootout, forget about it. The one thing that gives me some hope is that Notre Dame is one of the worst teams in the country when it comes to forcing turnovers. UConn, of course, can turn the ball over like nobody's business, so let's hope ND's weakness allows the Huskies to self-correct a bit.
The Joyce Center is a tough place to win on any night, and tonight is the Irish's Senior Night. Still, as we saw on Saturday, Senior Night is no guarantee of a victory or even a great performance. Both teams desperately need this game, and though the Louisville game has made me gun shy, on balance, I still really like what the Huskies have done the past two weeks. This is a good team. It is a better team than Notre Dame. Tonight they just need to play like it. As Ater Majok would say, I DONT SEE WHY NOT?
UConn 79, Notre Dame 75