NOTRE DAME VS. SOUTH FLORIDA
Where: Purcell Pavillion (9,149), at Notre Dame
Rankings & Records: No. 24 Notre Dame (15-4, 3-3 Big East), South Florida (10-8, 1-5).
Time/TV: Saturday at noon EST on BEN.
Radio: UND.com, Sirius/XM channel 85.
Last Meeting: This will be the 11th meeting between the two programs, with Notre Dame holding a 9-1 lead in the all-time series. The Fighting Irish last played the Bulls in the Big East Championship in New York City — a 57-53 victory in overtime in the tourney quarterfinals.
Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid might get his first career start Saturday in place of Scott Martin
Notre Dame Notes
The Irish have lost two consecutive games and three of their last four. To make things worse, the team is without sixth-year senior starter Scott Martin indefinitely because of unmanageable left knee pain. Head coach Mike Brey expects Martin to be out for 2-3 weeks at the very minimum, but is moving forward as if the veteran guard is done for the season.
Martin’s production all but disappeared over the last four games, but Notre Dame must find a way to make up for his season averages of 7.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. He ranked fourth in the Big East in 3-point field goal percentage (46.3). His leadership and consistency on the defensive end will be the hardest areas to compensate for the Irish.
The squad’s biggest issue over the last two weeks has been miserable shooting across the board. The Irish have connected on 27.7 percent of their 3-point attempts over the last four games after leading the league (41.5 percent) prior to the loss to Connecticut on Jan. 12. Still, Notre Dame leads the league in field goal shooting percentage (.498) and 3-point percentage (.393) heading into Saturday’s game against the Bulls.
Jack Cooley — The senior forward is avearging 14.8 points and league-best 10.6 rebounds per game. His .594 shooting percentage ranks second behind Georgetown’s Nate Lubick (.622).
Eric Atkins — The junior point guard has been good for 11.9 points and 6.5 assists (third in the conference) per game. He’s shooting 49.7 percent from the floor (15th in the Big East). His 1.8 steals each game rank eighth in the conference.
Jerian Grant — The junior guard 12.5 points and 5.3 assists (sixth in the Big East) per outing.
Pat Connaughton — In his second year starting, the sophomore guard is posting 9.4 points and 4.6 rebounds on average this season.
Cameron Biedscheid — In what might be his first career start for the Irish, the freshman forward has added 7.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 17.2 minutes per game.
Off The Bench
Senior center Garrick Sherman has seen limited action recently and did not play against Georgetown. The Irish hope the big man can regain his form. He’s capable of offensive outbursts, but because of dwindling minutes based on mediocre performances in January, his averages have dropped to 7.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per outing. Senior forward Tom Knight has been good for a bucket per game and freshman forwards Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett have combined for nearly four points per game in just over nine combined minutes per game.
South Florida Overview
The Bulls are the third-best team in the Big East when it comes to defending the 3-pointer, allowing the opposition to make just 29.2 percent of their attempts from deep. South Florida is last in the league in rebounding margin (negative-4.2), second to last in blocked shots (3.1), assists (12.3) and steals (6.4) and last in scoring offense (61.6).
After a 61-58 victory over Georgetown on Jan. 19, USF lost on the road, 55-47, to Seton Hall Wednesday. Bulls head coach Stan Heath’s group is in a similar situation as the Irish — desperate to see his it make more open looks — and hopes better rebounding can help overcome some woes from the field.
Redshirt junior forward Victor Rudd, senior guard Jawanza Poland and senior forward Toarlyn Fitzpatrick are all averaging just less than 11 points per game, with each pulling down at least five rebounds per contest.
There’s no better place to thaw out than South Florida, and the Irish shot 55.7 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from behind the arc in their last trip to Tampa in a 78-55 victory back on Feb. 12, 2011.
Notre Dame has been wildly inconsistent at the foul line, making 11 of 18 attempts (61.1 percent) in a loss to Georgetown, operating at an 88.2-percent clip in a win over Rutgers, making 14 of 17 shots (82.4) in a defeat at St. John’s and a 4-for-7 effort (57.1) in a home loss to UConn.
Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 66, South Florida 62.