NOTRE DAME VS. VILLANOVA
Where: Wells Fargo Center (20,056), at Philadelphia, Penn.
Records & Rankings: No. 23 Notre Dame (18-8, 10-3 Big East); Villanova (11-14, 4-9)
Time/TV: Saturday at 9 p.m. EST on ESPNU/ESPN3
Last Meeting: The Irish won last season's only meeting, 93-72, in South Bend.
Notre Dame Notes
The Fighting Irish currently are tied with Marquette for second in the BIG EAST standings and are on a seven-game winning streak. Notre Dame has won its last three road games and is 4-2 overall in conference games away from Purcell Pavilion. The Fighting Irish are 6-10 all-time at Villanova. Notre Dame's last win at Villanova was a 90-80 decision on Jan. 26, 2008.
A victory Saturday would match Notre Dame's best start in the Big East since joining the league in 1995-96. The 2000-01 Irish team was 11-3 and finished 11-5 when the league consisted of a 16-game schedule.
The Fighting Irish defense ranks first in the Big East after surrendering just 58.7 points per game. That includes a stifling effort from the perimeter, where Notre Dame has held opponents to just 25.1-percent shooting from behind the arc, which is tops in the conference.
Jack Cooley — The Junior forward produced his third straight double-double with a career-high tying 22 points and a career-high 18 rebounds Wednesday against Rutgers. Luke Harangody was the last Irish player to accomplish such a feat back in 2009-10. Cooley is averaging a double-double in conference play with 14.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
Eric Atkins — The sophomore point guard is second on the team with 12.8 points per game. He is shooting 39.8 percent (37-for-93) from 3-point range and is coming off a career-high eight assists (no turnovers) Wednesday vs. Rutgers.
Jerian Grant — In his first season, the sophomore has posted three 20-plus point efforts and has scored in double-figures a team-best 21 times this season, including in each of the past seven games. He leads the team with an 81.3 percentage from the foul line.
Pat Connaughton — The high-flying freshman has thrived on the offensive and defensive glass and from behind the 3-point line. Connaughton is averaging 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, shooting 36 percent from deep.
Scott Martin — Having taken on average over a charge per game, the fifth-year senior has found his niche on the defensive end. He has logged 22 steals and 12 blocks thus far and is averaging nine points and 5.7 rebounds per game.
Junior points guard Maalik Wayns, who suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee in a Feb. 7 win over Providence, did not play against South Florida Wednesday night and is listed as doubtful. He was leading the team by a significant margin with 17.8 points per game. Sophomore guard James Bell suffered a sprained left ankle in the second half of Wednesday night's 65-51 loss to USF and is expected to miss the next two games.
The Irish have a great opportunity on the road to take advantage of a Villanova squad missing two starters. Notre Dame has scored 60 or more points only once on the road in Big East play this year — a 67-65 double-overtime victory at Louisville on Jan. 7. The Irish have been slow out of the gate in recent weeks but have finished strong in the second half. They’ll need to get out to a quicker start Saturday so they can settle in and make Villanova play the slow and frustrating brand of basketball that has served the Irish so well.
Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 67, Villanova 58.