NOTRE DAME VS. CINCINNATI
Where: Fifth Third Arena (13,176), in Cincinnati
Rankings & Records: No. 21 Notre Dame (13-1, 1-0 Big East); No. 14 Cincinnati (13-2, 1-1 Big East)
Time/TV: Monday, Jan. 7, 6:30 EST on ESPN2.
Junior guard Eric Atkins and Notre Dame will be facing one of the better guard trios in the country at Cincinnati tonight.
The two teams met in early January last year too in the Queen City, with the Bearcats snapping a three-game losing streak to Notre Dame with a 71-55 victory The Irish never led and scored only 21 points in the first half.
Notre Dame is 8-4 all time in the series against the Bearcats, including 5-3 since 2005 when Cincinnati joined the Big East. Head coach Mike Brey is 6-3 against them — but Notre Dame has lost three straight on the Bearcats’ home floor.
This game was moved down to a 6:30 time slot on ESPN2 so that it wouldn’t be going on at the same time as Notre Dame’s national title matchup with Alabama in football.
Notre Dame Notes
Notre Dame opened its Big East campaign last Saturday with a 93-74 home victory against Seton Hall, the most points it has scored in a game this season. Brey saw his team shoot 57 percent from the field (61 in the second half), and hand out 25 assists compared to just eight turnovers. Notre Dame is tied for first nationally with North Carolina in assists per game (19.9) and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.83 per game).
Notre Dame’s current winning streak of 11 is one short of the most under 13th-year head coach Brey during the 2006-07 season. A win tonight would make it 14-1 — the best ever under Brey in his first 15 games.
Jack Cooley — The senior power forward posted his 10th double-double (second in the country) last weekend in 15 games, and there probably isn’t a finer offensive rebounder in the country. His 15.5 and 11.4 points per game are both team highs.
Jerian Grant — The leading scorer against Cincinnati had a slow start Saturday before recovering. He is second in scoring (12.2) and assists per contest (5.5)
Eric Atkins — Ninth nationally in assists per game (7.4) and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.12), the junior point guard knows when to shoot and when to distribute. He scored 14 first-half points against Seton Hall last Saturday, and in the second half he mainly created for others, finishing with 10 assists to complement his 17-point total.
Pat Connaughton — The 6-5 sophomore wing typically produces the kind of quality all-around effort he did against Seton Hall: Eight points, five rebounds, four assists with sound ball movement and defense.
Scott Martin — The sixth-year player’s shooting clinic against Seton Hall (6-of-7 from three-point range) improved his percentage beyond the arc to 50 percent (27 of 54).
Off The Bench
Freshman Cameron Beidscheid, a 6-7 wing, hit his first two three-point attempts in his Big East debut while playing 24 minutes. Center Garrick Sherman totaled 17 minutes against the Pirates while also totaling six points.
The first road Big East game for Beidscheid will be particularly intriguing.
Seventh-year head coach Mick Cronin last year led the program to a 26-win campaign, a runner-up finish to Louisville in the Big East Tournament and advanced to the Sweet 16.
After starting league play this year with an impressive 70-61 win at Pitt, Cincinnati was jolted with a 53-52 loss at home last Saturday to St. John’s. Fifth-year senior guard Cashmere Wright scored 23 points and spearheaded a late rally attempt with a couple of threes, but a missed shot by Titus Rubles with six seconds left sealed the outcome.
The backcourt with Wright (14.9 points per game) and Sean Kilpatrick, who leads the team in scoring (17.9) and rebounding (5.8) at 6-4, 221 pounds, might be the best in the Big East. JaQuon Parker (11.3 points per game) rounds out “The Three Amigos” at guard. They set the pace in the up-tempo attack. Brey is laying down a huge challenge to his own talented backcourt with Atkins and Grant.
“… This is our first true road test against guards who can really drive and shoot it, and they really will guard us,” Brey said. “It will be an atmosphere that will be charged.”
Beyond the “Big 3”, nobody else at Cincinnati averages more than 19.5 minutes per game. The starting lineup is rounded out with the 6-7 Rubles (7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds per game) and 6-10 Cheikh Mbodj (5.1 points and 5.5 rebounds per game).
Ten players average at least 11.4 minutes per game for Cincinnati.
With a win at Cincinnati we can see Notre Dame moving into the top 10 this month and becoming a viable Big East title contender. They still could be even with a loss.
The one-point loss at home to St. John’s on Saturday makes winning this game imperative for the Bearcats. Losing two in a row at home in league play severely hurts your outlook. Will the Bearcats be extremely sharp and focused, or with they play tight and press too much against a poised, veteran Irish team that has been shooting lights out the last three games with a .598 field goal percentage?
We think there might be some positive mojo at Notre Dame right now with the women just defeating No. 1 Connecticut and football playing for the national title.This one is purely from the heart even though Cincinnati needs the win more. The head says Cincinnati by six, but ...
Somogyi’s Pick: Notre Dame 67, Cincinnati 64.
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