#13 Notre Dame (12-3, 3-1)
pays a visit to Freedom Hall to face #21 Louisville (11-3, 2-0) in a
marquee television game Monday night. The question is, will Samardo Samuels
answer the call to defend Luke Harangody, the 6'11" big man for the Fightin'
Irish. Rick Pitino has gone on the record praising Samuels: "[Samardo
Samuels] is a very hard worker. He's doing a fine job of learning how to
pass out of the post. His biggest weakness is defensive rebounding."
However, a look at the numbers shows that Harangody should have a field day
with young Samardo. The key to the game will lie in the matchup of big men,
and at first glance it appears that Notre Dame should have the advantage. If
Samuels gives Notre Dame second chance points, the Irish will almost
certainly cash in the extra opportunities.
Just in case Notre Dame fans out there had gotten comfortable seeing their
team in the top 10-15 in the polls, look out! The Irish face No. 1
Pittsburgh, No. 5 Connecticut, No. 10 UCLA, No. 11 Syracuse, Nos. 18
Marquette and Villanova, and No. 23 Louisville again... and that's all in
the next five weeks.
Luckily, the Irish have the talent to win at least 4 or 5 games in that
stretch. This is probably the best team in Notre Dame history. Luke
Harangody (25.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg) is coming off of 8/23 for 30 points against
Seton Hall, proving that even if he's well-defended, he can get to the line
and find ways to make hit shots count. The 6'8" Harangody is talented and
always gives 100% effort, an attribute that Louisville would be hard-pressed
to match. Kyle McAlarney (17 ppg, 46% from 3PT), a 6' guard with an
outstanding stroke should be able to open the floor for Harangody to get
some good looks. Tory Jackson (12 ppg, 5 assists per game) should be able to
control turnovers in Notre Dame's favor-- a positive turnover margin could
make all the difference in the final analysis.
Samardo Samuels is going to see two premier big men tonight, in Harangody
and senior teammate Luke Zeller (6'11" center). Samuels must match their
intensity and play his best game of the season. Thus far, Samuels has been
mediocre due to foul trouble and simple mistakes on the floor--a good
example of this was the Kentucky game, where Patrick Patterson owned Samuels
and put him on the bench with foul trouble. Samuels is averaging nearly four
fouls a game and has often gotten beaten and yielded easy baskets to avoid
giving fouls. So how can Louisville compete with the Irish front court? Earl
Clark, a likely 2009 NBA lottery pick, leads the team in scoring at 13.6 per
contest, and he looks like the better bet for the Cardinals so far. In fact,
the most interesting matchup for NBA scouts will be Clark and Harangody--both
are likely lottery picks in the Spring. Can Clark showcase his talents
against the Notre Dame front court? If so, it gives the Cardinals hope in
this game and for the entire conference schedule.
On a related front court note, Terrence Jennings, a 6'9" freshman for
Louisville, has only averaged 7 minutes per game this year, but he's
Pitino's fourth front court guy and will see bigger minutes tonight. It's
unlikely that Pitino can afford to leave Samuels on the floor if he gets 2
fouls in the first half or picks up a 3rd personal early in the second half.
Outside of Samuels and Clark, Louisville doesn't have anyone who stands out,
numbers-wise. They have a plethora of talented guards but not one that
scores a lot on a game-by-game basis. Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, and Jerry
Smith will have to play well tonight and protect the ball--Louisville has
been a sloppy team at times these experienced guards must take intelligent
shots and take the pressure off of Samuels inside.
Louisville has been a puzzling team this year--three losses to UNLV, Western
Kentucky, and Minnesota, a disappointing list of defeats for a team that
garnered numerous Final Four predictions before the season. By contrast,
Notre Dame can write off two of their losses as North Carolina and Ohio
State on the road and the Irish also defeated Texas in the non-conference
schedule. Over the past three seasons, this has been an even match up, with
Louisville winning 2 of 3, including the most recent meeting. This year, the
Irish should be able to steal one on the road in Louisville, but it will be
a tight contest.
Winner: Notre Dame Margin: 2-4 points