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Notre Dame-Rutgers Preview

BIG EAST CHAMPIONSHIP


NOTRE DAME VS. RUTGERS
Where: Madison Square Garden (19,786), in New York
Rankings/Records: No. 24 Notre Dame (23-8), Rutgers (15-15).
Time/TV: Today at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN2.
Radio: Sirius channel 123, XM channel 190 and streaming live at UND.com.
Last meeting: Tonight’s second-round matchup marks the 33rd meeting between the two schools dating back to 1984, and the Fighting Irish have a 19-13 all-time record against Rutgers. Notre Dame edged the Scarlet Knights, 69-66, in South Bend on Jan. 19.

Notre Dame Notes
The sixth-seeded Irish earned a first-round bye in what is the last Big East Championship as we know it. The 31st edition of the tournament is the swan song, with seven Catholic institutions breaking away next season and forming a new Big East. Notre Dame, along with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, will join the ACC, and the remaining members of the current Big East, with some new editions, will carry on under a new name.

The Irish have advanced to the Big East semifinals each of the last three seasons (five times in all) but have never played in the Saturday championship. Notre Dame is 9-17 all-time in the Big East Championsip, and the only other time it was a No. 6 seed was in 2005, when it lost an opening game to No. 11 Rutgers, 72-65.

The current senior class (95-39) needs two more victories to become the winningest class in school history. The group that played from 2007-11 posted a 96-42 record.

Freshman forward Cameron Biedscheid is back in the rotation after being suspended for the regular-season finale against Louisville for a fight with St. John’s Sir’Dominic Pointer on March 5.

Probable starters:

Jack CooleyThe All-Big East First Team senior forward is fourth nationally in double-doubles (19), tied for sixth in rebounds per game (10.6) and eighth in field-goal percentage (.582). Cooley is the only player in the country to rank in the top 10 of each of those categories. He’s averaging 13.6 points per game.

Eric AtkinsThe senior point guard is averaging 38.4 minutes per contest this year and 11.7 points and 5.9 assists per game.

Jerian Grant The junior guard, a second-team all-conference selection, has scored in double-figures in 15 of 18 Big East games this season and is averaging 13.4 points per game.

Pat ConnaughtonThe sophomore guard/forward has put up 8.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game this season.

Tom KnightThe senior forward is 18-of-29 (.620) from the field in the last five games. He is averaging 6.6 points and 4.1 rebounds in conference play.

Off The Bench
Freshman forwards Cam Biedscheid and Zach Auguste are contributing 6.8 and four points, respectively, per game. Senior center Garrick Sherman is averaging 6.9 points and 3.3 rebounds per outing.

Rutgers Overview
The 11th-seeded Scarlet Knights have won two games at the Big East Championship just once (1998) since joining the league in 1995-96 and are 7-13 all-time in the tournament. They’re coming off a 76-57 win over No. 14 seed DePaul, their largest margin of victory ever in conference tournament play.

Redshirt junior forward Wally Judge recorded a double-double with 20 points (9-of-9 from the field) and 10 rebounds on a night when the Scarlet Knights shot 61.1 percent (33-of-54) and outrebounded the Blue Demons 36-20. Judge’s effort from the floor matched a league tourney record, joining Boston College’s Craig Smith (2005) and Villanova’s Ricky White (2001), both of whom also went 9-of-9 in a game.

Myles Mack had 15 points against DePaul. The league’s leader in 3-point percentage (45.7) made 3 of 5 attempts from deep in the win.

Outlook
Rutgers came back from a 13-point deficit in the second half at Purcell Pavilion to make it a one-point game late, but the Irish held on when sixth-year senior Scott Martin took a charge on Eli Carter (20 points) in the final seconds. The Scarlet Knights pounded the Irish in the paint (40-26) back in January and outscored Notre Dame 18-6 in bench points.

Biedscheid was 0-for-3 from the field en route to zero points, Sherman, who was in head coach Mike Brey’s doghouse at the time, did not play, and Knight contributed all six points off the bench. Since then, Knight moved into a starting role, and Sherman and Auguste have been much more involved and productive.

The winner moves on to face No. 3 seed Marquette (23-7) in Thursday’s quarterfinals.

Morgan’s prediction: Notre Dame 58, Rutgers 52

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