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Notre Dame-St. John's Preview

NOTRE DAME VS. ST. JOHN’S
Where: Madison Square Garden (19,786), New York City
Rankings & Records: No. 20/20 Notre Dame (14-2, 2-1 Big East); St. John’s (9-7, 1-3)
Time/TV: Today at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2
Last Meeting: This is the 39th all-time meeting between the two schools, with Notre Dame holding a 20-18 advantage in the series, which dates back to 1959. St. John’s earned a 61-58 victory at home on Feb. 25, 2012, the last time these programs played.

Notre Dame Notes
Connecticut snapped Notre Dame’s 12 game win streak and a 17-game home win streak last Saturday with a 65-58 victory at Purcell Pavilion, and now head coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish will try to regain momentum at a venue that hasn’t been kind in recent years, at least in regular-season play. Notre Dame has dropped their last four games against St. John’s at Madison Square Garden going back to Jan. 23, 2007. The Irish are 4-6 overall against the Red Storm at MSG in regular-season play and 1-1 in Big East tournament action.

Over their last four trips to Manhattan, Notre Dame hasn’t shot better than 43.5 percent from the field (2009) or higher than 33.3 percent from behind the 3-point line (2007). The Irish are a combined 20-for-90 (18.1 percent) from behind the arc in those most recent four visits to the Garden. No Irish player has connected on more than two triples in a game there since Collin Falls’ five makes in a 71-68 loss on Jan. 23, 2007. Last season’s venture to MSG featured the most abysmal effort from deep, when Notre Dame made just 4 of 31 attempts. The Irish rank first in the Big East and ninth nationally with a .418 3-point percentage this season.

The squad’s 14-2 start matches the best start in Brey’s 13-year tenure in South Bend. The Irish also began the 2002-03, 2006-07 and 2010-11 seasons with 14-2 records. A victory over the Red Storm would bump Notre Dame up to 3-1 early in league play, which would be the seventh straight season with three victories in its first four Big East contests.

At 19.1 total assists per game and a 1.82 assist-to-turnover ratio, Notre Dame ranks second nationally in both categories. Notre Dame is shooting 50.8 percent from the floor this season, which ranks fifth nationally and leads the Big East.

Probable starters:

Jack Cooley The senior forward (15.1 points and Big East-best 11.1 boards per contest) ranks fourth nationally and first in the conference with 10 double-doubles this season. He is also 18-for-22 (.818) from the free throw line in the last five games.

Eric Atkins The junior points guard (11.6 ppg) is second in the Big East in assists per game (7.1) and seventh nationally and second in the league in assist-to-turnover ratio (3.65). He’s coming off a season-high 18 points against Connecticut

Jerian Grant The junior guard (12.6 ppg) is sixth in the league with 5.2 assists per game and has made his last 12 free throw attempts.

Pat Connaughton The sophomore guard (8.9 points and 4.6 boards per game) had 30 assists in 34 games as a freshman last season. He’s up to 44 assists this year in 16 outings. He had a 1.25 assist-to-turnover ratio last winter, but has improved that to 4.00 this season.

Scott Martin The sixth-year senior guard is averaging 9.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He’s 10-for-15 (.667) from 3-point range in the last three contests. He was 4-for-7 at Cincinnati after going 6-for-7 versus Seton Hall. The six made treys were a career-high total and a season-best total for the Irish. He was 0-for-1 against Connecticut on Saturday.

Off The Bench
Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid and senior center Garrick Sherman are combining for over 16 points and five rebounds in nearly 17 minutes of action each per contest.

St. John’s Overview
St. John’s and head coach Steve Lavin have lost four of their last five, including two straight at home against Rutgers (58-56) and Georgetown (67-51).

The Red Storm is averaging 67.9 points per game (13th in the Big East) has allowed an average of 66.6 (12th) and is the worst free-throw shooting team in the conference at 61.4 percent. In its last two defeats, St. John’s is a combined 21-for-43 at the charity stripe. What St. John’s does well is block shots (league-best 8.6 per game), thanks in part to Big East Rookie of the Week Chris Obekpa’s (6-foot-9 forward/center) 82, which is already a school single-season record.

Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison (20.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game) and freshman forward JaKarr Sampson (13.6 points and 6.8 boards) lead the Red Storm.

Outlook
The Fighting Irish rank seventh nationally in fewest turnovers per game (10.5), and are 27-for-47 (.574) from beyond the arc in the last three games. Six different Irish players have posted a team-high point total in the last eight games, making it difficult for opponents to key in one just one or two guys.

Notre Dame opponents are shooting just 39.5 percent from the floor this season, even after Connecticut shot 50.9 percent (27-53) Saturday. That was the first time an Irish foe shot above 50 percent from the floor this season. The Irish are going to be hungry to get back on track after a clunker vs. the Huskies, as well as to break whatever tether has held them back at Madison Square Garden in recent years.

Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 67, St. John’s 59.

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