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Notre Dame-St. John's Preview

NOTRE DAME VS. ST. JOHN’S
Where: Madison Square Garden (19,786), in New York City
Records & Rankings: No. 20/18 Notre Dame (20-8, 12-3 Big East); St. John’s (12-16, 5-10)
Time/TV: Saturday at 12 p.m. EST on ESPN2/ESPN3
Last Meeting: Last season, the Irish won, 76-61, at home on Jan. 8 and lost at St. John's, 72-54, just over a week later.

Notre Dame Notes
This will be the first of two road games in a three-day span for the Fighting Irish, which are coming off a 71-44 whipping of West Virginia in South Bend over the weekend. Notre Dame will play at Georgetown on ESPN's Big Monday.

Notre Dame is tied with Marquette, which plays WVU tonight) for second in the Big East standings, and has secured at least a first-round bye in next month’s Big East Championship at MSG.

Notre Dame's current nine-game win streak is the longest league win streak in program history and is the third longest for an Irish team under 12th-year head coach Mike Brey. The 2006-07 squad put together a 12-game win streak, while the 2007-08 team rattled off 10 in a row.

Prior to the nine-game rampage through the league, the Irish were allowing 64.4 points per game. Since the loss at Rutgers on Jan. 16, Notre Dame has surrendered just 55.7 points per game. Notre Dame limited its last nine opponents to a combined 25.9 percent (36-139) from three-point range and leads the league in scoring defense (58.5).

Jack Cooley The junior forward is first among all Big East players in shooting percentage for all games (.621) and league games (.619). He is 38-for-52 (.731) from the field in the last five games. He ranks second in the conference with 10.4 rebounds per game and is averaging a league-best 4.6 offensive rebounds per Big East contest. Cooley is swatting 1.6 shots per game and is averaging 12.2 points per game.

Eric Atkins Averaging 39.5 minutes per game, the sophomore point guard has been superb in guiding the Irish offense. He’s scoring 13 points and registering four assists per game.

Jerian GrantComing off a big-time effort against the Mountaineers, which included 8-for-11 shooting from the field and 4-for-5 from 3-point range, the redshirt sophomore is coming into his own for the Irish, pacing the team with 13.1 points per game. From the wing, he’s averaging a team-best 5.3 assists in league play and 80.8-percent shooting from the foul line, also a team high.

Pat Connaughton Connaughton ranks 11th among all Big East players with a .390 3-point percentage. He drained 7 of 12 on Jan. 18 in a 20-point comeback at Villanova. It was the third time he had scored 20 or more points this season. The freshman is averaging 7.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

Scott MartinThe fifth-year senior is averaging 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. His defensive leadership has carried the Irish through many rough stretches this season. After struggling with his shot the first half of the season, the veteran is playing with much more confidence and is looking for his own scoring opportunities.

St. John’s Overview
The Red Storm has taken its lumps breaking in a starting lineup that consists of five freshmen. It’s believed to be the first all-rookie starting group at St. John’s since the 1927-28 season. Notre Dame will be the 11th top-25 team head coach Steve Lavin’s youngsters have faced this season. St. John’s is 0-10 against ranked opponents.

Queens native Moe Harkless is a tough matchup. The 6-8, 208-pound swingman had great range offensively and length on defense. He’s averaging 16.1 points per game in Big East play. Shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison is putting up 18.7 points per contest and is shooting 41 percent from behind the arc.

Outlook
The Irish are 5-6 all-time against St. John's inside Madison Square Garden, including a 1-1 mark in the BIG EAST Tournament. Notre Dame has dropped its last three contests against St. John's inside Madison Square Garden. The last Irish win over the Red Storm in that facility was an 89-62 triumph on March 5, 2004.

Though Notre Dame’s defense has paved the way for such a tremendous run, the Irish are still looking for a full 40-minute effort. But Brey has gotten the most out of his team in the second half as of late, allowing WVU and Villanova to combine for just 11 field goals over the last 20 minutes.

Notre Dame has won its last four road games. It’s the best run away from Purcell Pavilion since they captured five straight during the 2000-01 season. Notre Dame ranks third in the league with a .719 free-throw percentage (all games) and has made more free throws (419) than their opponents have attempted (408) this season.

Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 75, St. John’s 64.

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