12 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (24-5) at 16 Louisville Cardinals (23-6)
KFC Yum! Center, 7:00 ET, ESPN2
The first ACC meeting between these two storied rivals figures to be a burn burner. Coming off a dominating performance over Florida State (won, 81-59), the Cards are looking to gain much needed momentum heading into tournament play. With the recent dismissal of Chris Jones, many different players are starting respond appropriately for Coach Rick Pitino…at the ideal time.
Montrezl Harrell, Wayne Blackshear and Terry Rozier are all beginning to take the reigns of the team and play their best basketball of the season. But while they are starting to hit their stride, one can argue the Fighting Irish are a lot closer. Jerian Grant ant the Irish have already secured a double-bye in the ACC Tourney but it’s important for them to continue to make statements against conference opponents, especially following a rough loss to Syracuse (65-60) last week.
The key to this game will be how effective Harrell plays on the interior and the guard matchup: Grant & Demetrius Jackson v. Rozier & Quentin Snider. At times, Jerian Grant is every bit of the highly-tauted Conference Player of the Year candidate and NBA Draft prospect most declare him to be. Other times, he looks disengaged and struggles to get the offense going. Tonight, he and Jackson (with his driving ability) must make a point to get Zach Auguste established early and find Pat Connaughton for open looks.
Same goes for Rozier, who now has added responsibility in the wake of Jones’ dismissal. The lightning-quick guard has to push the pace against a ND squad who prefers a slower, grind it out style. If he can get into the lane and out in transition early, there will be many easy buckets for Harrell (avg. 15.4 points, 9.3 rebs), Blackshear and the rest of the supporting cast. Snider might not contribute much in the box score but he needs to play with enough poise and confidence to make plays against the experienced Irish.
Though the Cards will be hyped in on their excellent home court, expect Grant to set the tone and pace the Irish to another, impressive conference victory on the road.
Jerian Grant: Projected Top D.O.G.
Your Fighting Irish…
G Steve Vasturia (ND) & F/C Chinanu Onuaku (LOU)
Steve Vasturia has the capability of changing games with his outside jumper. Coach Mike Brey will definitely need to be creative to get him a few open opportunities against such a physical defense. But if he does, expect 10-12 points and three triples.
A couple of years down the line, NBA scouts will be breaking down the door to get a look at Onuaku, a highly active freshman big. But right now, he’s gaining confidence both on the block and protecting the paint down low. He’s key if the Cards have any chance at making a deep postseason run.