CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 18: Scott Martin #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish passes against Brett McKnight #23 of the Akron Zips in the second half during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the United Center on March 18, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Current record: 7-4 (0-0 Big East)
Current RPI: 226 (IU is #27)
Current Sagarin: 157 (IU is #10)
Current Pomeroy: 81 (IU is #14)
2010-11 record: 27-7 (14-4), lost to Florida State in second round of NCAA Tournament
2010-11 RPI: 9
2010-11 Sagarin: 11
2010-11 Pomeroy: 15
Pomeroy scouting report
Series: IU leads 47-21
TV: 4:30 Saturday, ESPN2
Blog:One Foot Down
This year's non-conference schedule is something of a return to tradition for IU. This will be the 69th meeting between the Hoosiers and the Irish, more than against any non-conference opponent, followed by Kentucky (55) and Butler (50). All three of those teams are on IU's schedule this year. Can you guess IU's fourth most common non-conference opponent? I'll be surprised if anyone guesses it. I certainly wouldn't have. See answer below.* IU and Notre Dame played nearly every year from the late 1940s through the early 2000s, but the series has fallen victim to a number of factors (Mike Brey expanded on this a bit on an interview on the Dan Dakich show this week). First, the IU-ND game traditionally has been played midweek during the week after Thanksgiving, a slot now occupied by the Big Ten-ACC challenge. Second, for whatever reason, Mike Davis was not a big fan of the series. Third, prior IU administrations bogged the series down with conditions--trying to finagle a football game out of the arrangement, and even proposing a two-for-one deal, according to Brey. Finally, I don't think there has been much clamor among Notre Dame fans for resumption of the series. At least among the hardcore ND hoops fans that I know, there isn't a ton of nostalgia for seeing 50 percent of the Joyce Center crowd dressed in crimson. The Irish currently are on a two-game winning streak in the series: ND defeated IU 88-50 in Maui in 2008, Tom Crean's first season (and first loss at IU) and beat IU at Assembly Hall in 2004-05 (ND's first win in Bloomington since 1973) in what was one of the more depressing performances of the Mike Davis era. IU has won eight of its last 10 against ND, yet both of ND's wins were at road or neutral venues. That's something to consider for tomorrow, I suppose.
In 2010-11, Notre Dame enjoyed its most successful season since the Digger Phelps era, earning a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but was upset in the second round by Florida State. This team bears little resemblance to last year's team. Of the top five scorers on last year's team, four are gone, either to graduation (Ben Hansbrough, Tyrone Nash), injury (Tim Abromitis tore his ACL a few weeks ago and is done for the season), or an ill-advised decision to go pro (Carleton Scott). Only Scott Martin, who began his college career at Purdue and was Robbie Hummel's high school teammate at Valparaiso, and sophomore guard Eric Atkins, were major contributors last season.
As noted, ignore Abromitis. He is out for the season. That leaves Atkins, who is a dangerous three point shooter, and sophomore Jerian Grant (he would be called a redshirt freshman but ND doesn't use such classifications), who was a high school classmate of Victor Oladipo at DeMatha High School in suburban DC (Mike Brey also is a product of that legendary program and recruited Oladipo). Scott Martin suffered a concussion against Maine and missed ND's most recent game, but is expected to play tomorrow. Martin, however, has been struggling offensively, and is shooting only 35 percent from the field and 26 percent from deep. Freshman Pat Connaughton has played well in his first year, and Jack Cooley and Tom Knight have seen increasing minutes down low.
ND's relative struggles offensively are bad news, because the main knock on Brey's program has been the quality of the Irish defense, even for the best of ND's team. ND has been one of the most consistently excellent offensive teams in the county in recent years. ND has ranked in the top 25 in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency for the last 6 seasons. This year, ND is #59 without having hit the meat of its schedule, and that is not good for ND. One of the most consistent struggles for ND over the years has been perimeter defense, and this year is no exception. ND opponents are shooting 36 percent from behind the arc, and combining that reality with IU's 45.8 percent shooting from behind the arc (#2 nationally) and the difficulty that Cooley and/or Knight will have guarding Cody Zeller one on one, and this game certainly has the makings of a three point barrage for IU. On the other hand, while ND isn't shooting as well as is typical, the Irish continue to take very good care of the ball. ND has been in the top 10 in offensive turnover percentage for each of the last 4 seasons, and is #7 this year. On the other hand, IU ranks #12 nationally with a 26.8 defensive turnover percentage. This will be an interesting strength-versus-strength matchup to watch.
Overall, IU has every objective reason to feel good about this game. The Irish would seem to have a number of defensive matchup problems (Watford and Zeller in particular seem to be difficult for ND) and aren't at their usual level offensively. On the other hand, the intangible factors are somewhat scary. How will IU recover from its best win in years? None of IU's players have ever been on a ranked team. IU's play has been remarkably steady (only the Butler, NC State, and Kentucky games were in doubt with 10 minutes to go), and that can't last all season, can it? While IU can and should win, it's not hard to construct a scenario (Zeller in foul trouble, lax perimeter defense that leads to an Irish three point barrage, cold shooting by IU) in which this is loseable. As I said a few days ago, it's really fortunate for IU that this game was not Tuesday or Wednesday. Still, if IU is ready to play then IU should be able to improve to 10-0 for the first time in 22 years.
* Kansas State. IU has played the Wildcats 31 times, although only once since 1985. IU and K-State played every year from 1951-1970, and resumed the series for another six years from 1980-1985. The only matchup in recent memory was in Maui in 1998.