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Notre Dame-Louisville Preview

NOTRE DAME VS. LOUISVILLE
Where: KFC Yum! Center (22,000) in Louisville, Ky.
Rankings/Records: No. 24/24 Notre Dame (23-7, 11-6 Big East), No. 8/6 Louisville (25-5, 13-4).
Time/TV: Saturday at 4 p.m. EST on CBS.
Radio: Sirius channel 123, XM channel 190 and streaming live at UND.com.
Last meeting: Notre Dame and Louisville collide for the second time this year after the Fighting Irish claimed a 104-101 victory in five overtimes in South Bend back on Feb. 9. The teams have played 31 times and the Cardinals lead the all-time series with an 18-12 record.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino has guided the Cardinals to a tie at the top of the Big East standings heading into the final regular-season contest Saturday against visiting Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Notes
The Fighting Irish are tied with Syracuse and Pittsburgh for fourth place in the Big East standings heading into Saturday’s regular-season finale. Louisville is tied with Georgetown and Marquette for first place. Notre Dame topped Louisville 67-65 in double-overtime in its last trip to the KFC Yum! Center, but the Irish are 2-9 all-time on the road against the Cardinals.

Louisville has emerged as Notre Dame’s greatest Big East rival, with the two teams having needed at least one extra period to decide the outcome of five of their last six games against each other. Six of the last eight games and seven of the last 11 contests have gone beyond 40 minutes. Last month’s epic marathon at Purcell Pavilion was the longest regular-season game in Big East history.

The Irish were dead in the water in the closing minutes of regulation until junior guard Jerian Grant poured in 12 points in under a minute to extend the game. Having already secured a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament, Notre Dame, with a little help, still has a chance to finish among the top four and net a double-bye straight to the quarterfinals.

After being ejected for sparring with St. John’s Sir’Dominic Pointer in the closing minutes, freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid is suspended for Saturday’s game. Notre Dame will have to find a way to offset the loss of Biedscheid’s 6.8 points in 14.7 minutes per game.

Probable starters:

Jack CooleyThe senior forward has put up an astonishing 19 double-doubles this year (fourth nationally) and ranks seventh in the country in rebounding (10.7). Cooley is shooting 55.3 percent from the floor. He’s averaging 13.8 points per game.

Eric AtkinsPerhaps still sweating from the last game against Louisville, when he played 60 of 65 minutes, the junior point guard is coming off arguably the most complete game of his Irish career. He scored 15 points, dished out seven assists and turned the ball over once vs. the Red Storm, and is averaging 11.8 points and six assists per game.

Jerian GrantThe junior guard has hit his stride late in the year and has registered 21 points in each of the last two games. He knocked down 5 of 6 triples against St. John’s and is averaging a team-high 14.6 points per game in conference play. His 5.9 assists per outing are fourth in the Big East.

Pat ConnaughtonThe sophomore guard/forward has been steady with 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as a second-year starter.

Tom KnightIn 11 starts (all in conference play), the senior forward is chipping in 6.9 points and 4.3 points per game.

Off The Bench
Bigs Garrick Sherman (senior) and Zach Auguste (freshman) have combined for 10 points and six rebounds per game this season. Freshman forward Austin Burgett might see a few minutes in the absence of Biedscheid if needed. He’s taken just five shots this season in 2.5 minutes per contest.

Louisville Overview
The Cardinals, in the hunt for a share of the Big East regular-season title, hope to send seniors Mike Marra, Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng out on a home-court high note on senior night. Louisville has won six straight games. Head coach Rick Pitino notched his 300th career victory Monday with a 67-51 win over visiting Cincinnati.

Ranked second nationally in steals per game (10.8) and 19th in scoring defense (58.0), Louisville leads the league in scoring (73.6), paced by junior guard Russ Smith’s 18.4 points per game. Dieng is second behind Cooley in rebounds per contest (10.0).

Outlook
Notre Dame’s defense has been flat-out dominant lately, having held three of its last four opponents to 42 points or fewer (Pittsburgh 42, Cincinnati 41, St. John's 40). Those three teams shot a combined 3-for-33 from 3-point land. St. John’s scored the fewest points ever in a Big East game against the Irish.

What Notre Dame needs to do with postseason play approaching is put together a complete offensive effort. The Irish scored just 20 first-half points against the Red Storm before shooting a blistering 68 percent (17-for-25) from the field and 5-for-6 from behind the arc in the second half. Mike Brey’s squad is rebounding at an incredible clip, including a plus-44 margin over the last four games.

Morgan’s prediction: Louisville 68, Notre Dame 65

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