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Notre Dame-Pittsburgh Preview

NOTRE DAME VS. PITTSBURGH
Where: Petersen Events Center (12,508), Pittsburgh
Rankings & Records: No. 25 Notre Dame (20-6, 8-5 Big East), No. 20 Pittsburgh (20-6, 8-5).
Time/TV: Today at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN.
Last Meeting: This will be the 58th meeting between the two programs and the Irish lead the all-time series 30-27. Notre Dame has won that last four straight, the last being the Big East Conference opener for both teams last season.

Jack Cooley and the Irish take on a deep Pitt program also looking to keep pace with league leaders down the stretch

Notre Dame Notes
After falling at Providence (71-54) Saturday, its largest margin of defeat this year, Notre Dame enters tonight’s contest tied for fifth place with Pitt in the Big East Conference standings. The Fighting Irish are 11-17 all-time at Pittsburgh. The Irish are 78-41 (.655) in conference regular-season play over the past seven seasons, which ties Pitt for the third-best record in the Big East over that span.

The Fighting Irish have five games remaining on their league regular-season schedule. Since the 2006-07 season, Notre Dame has gone 23-7 (.767) in its final five games of the conference slate. Notre Dame is shooting 48.0 percent from the floor this season, which ranks 13th nationally and is second among all Big East squads.

The winner will remain in position to contend for one of the top four spots and a double bye at the league tournament next month in New York City. The loser will fall to seventh place and be just a half-game ahead of Cincinnati (19-7, 7-6), Villanova (16-10, 7-6) and St. John's (15-10, 7-6), which are tied for eighth.

Probable starters:

Jack Cooley The senior forward ranks third nationally in double-doubles (18), fifth in rebounds per game (11.2) and ninth in field-goal percentage (.584). He is second in the Big East in rebounding (11.0), first in offensive rebounds per game (4.1) and third in field-goal percentage (.535). Cooley has scored in double-figures in 24 of 26 games this season and is averaging 14.6 points per game.

Eric AtkinsThe junior point guard is third in the Big East in three-point shooting percentage in league games (.444) and is averaging 12.5 points and 4.7 assists per conference game.

Jerian GrantThe junior guard is averaging 13.8 points per game in league play and has led Notre Dame in scoring in three of the last four games.

Pat ConnaughtonThe sophomore guard is averaging 8.7 points and 4.6 rebounds per contest.

Tom KnightIn seven Big East starts this season, the senior forward is putting up 6.5 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Off The Bench
Senior center Garrick Sherman is contributing 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid is averaging 7.5 points and freshman power forward Zach Auguste is chipping in 3.8 points and 1.9 rebounds per game.

Pittsburgh Overview
The Panthers have won seven of their last nine games and are coming off a 79-69 loss at No. 18 Marquette. Senior guard Tray Woodall leads Pitt with 10.9 ppg and is the seventh player in school history to reach 1,000 points and 500 assists in a career. Junior forwards Lamar Patterson (6-5) and Talib Zanna are evenly contributing nearly 21 combined points and 10 rebounds per game.

The Panthers have five players averaging at least 4.2 points per game off the bench for one of the deepest rotations in the country.

Outlook
Notre Dame is 31-1 (11-0 this season) when shooting 50% or above from the field, 51-2 (14-0 this season) when outrebounding its opponent and 54-5 (17-1 this season) when leading at halftime.

The Fighting Irish rank 11th nationally in fewest turnovers per game (10.9). From three-point range, Notre Dame has shot 43.9% in the wins and 22.2% in the defeats. Notre Dame ranks first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.64) and Pitt is second (1.58). Pittsburgh is 17-1 this season when outrebounding its opponent.

Cooley will need to have one of his best games of the year, Sherman and Knight will have to give more on both ends and the Irish simply have to improve from behind the 3-point line to have a chance of ruining Pitt’s 200th game at the Petersen Events Center. Pitt prides itself on defense and not putting opponents on the foul line (16 attempts per game) often.

Morgan’s prediction: Pitt 68, Notre Dame 63

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