Head coach: Rick Pitino (12th year at Louisville)? - 654-239 overall record in 27th season; 300-111 at Louisville. Led Providence to a 25-9 record in 1986-87, taking the Friars to the Final Four. Returned to the Final Four with Kentucky six years later - after a stint in the NBA with the New York Knicks - and then claimed the 1995-96 national championship with a 34-2 record. After serving as head coach and team president of the Boston Celtics, he returned to the college game, taking Louisville to the Final Four four years later. He did it again last year, and then fell to eventual national champion Kentucky.
You should know: That since Louisville’s 104-101 five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9, the Cardinals have won six straight. Only one of those six victories has been by single digits. Louisville has defeated St. John’s by 14, South Florida by 18, Seton Hall by 18, DePaul by 21, Syracuse by five and Cincinnati by 16?The Cardinals enter the day in a three-way tie with Georgetown and Marquette for first place. A victory over the Irish, coupled with a Georgetown loss to Syracuse, would give the Cardinals the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament?Notre Dame and Louisville have gone to overtime an incredible five of the last six games, six out of eight, and seven out of 11?Louisville leads the series, 18-12. Notre Dame and Louisville have alternated wins and losses each of the last seven meetings. Louisville defeated the Irish eight straight from 1989-2006. The Irish had a five-game winning streak over the Cardinals from 1958-87. A victory by Notre Dame today would give the Irish their first-two game winning streak over the Cardinals since that five-game streak?Notre Dame’s 67-65 double-overtime victory over Louisville last season was its first win against the Cardinals in Louisville since 1958.
Top players: The team’s leading and most consistent scorer - and sometimes most erratic shooter -- is 6-foot-1, 165-pound junior Russ Smith, who is averaging 18.4 points per game. Smith leads Louisville in three-pointers with 44. He also leads the team in steals with 63 and is shooting .829 from the free-throw line, including a 13-of-16 effort in the double-overtime loss to the Irish. Overall, however, he is shooting just .403 from the field. He was 4-of-19 against Notre Dame.
Joining Smith in the backcourt is 6-foot-0, 185-pound senior point guard Peyton Siva, who will be motivated to atone for his 1-of-6 effort against the Irish in February when he fouled out in overtime. Siva, who can play recklessly himself, has turned in an impressive 177-to-83 assist-to-turnover ratio. He averages 9.8 points per game and is second to Smith in steals with 61. Siva is prone to shooting slumps, as evidenced by his lackluster performance against the Irish. He also was 0-of-9 versus Syracuse. But he’s the catalyst of the explosive Louisville offense. He is an outstanding free-throw shooter at .887 (63-of-71), although he doesn’t get to the charity stripe frequently (2.4 attempts per game).
Chane Behanan, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound sophomore, is a physical force up front for the Cardinals. He’s averaging 10.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, including a team-leading 92 offensive caroms. Since his 56-minute, 30-point, 15-rebound performance against the Irish, Behanan has scored just 46 points in the last six games. He remains a liability at the free-throw line where he is converting? .518 (59-of-114). Behanan made just 4-of-9 from the line against the Irish and is 8-of-19 since.
Behanan teams with 6-foot-11, 245-pound junior Gorgui Dieng from Senegal to help form a potent frontline. Dieng only averages 5.5 shots per game and scores at a 9.9 rate. He also averages 10.0 rebounds (85 offensive) while accounting for nearly half (58) of Louisville’s blocked shots. Dieng scored 17 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 52 minutes of action against the Irish. He scored 23 points on 10-of-11 shooting against Seton Hall on Feb. 23.
Wayne Blackshear, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound sophomore, averages 8.3 points per game while ranking third on the squad in three-pointers with 36. He’s tailed off recently, converting just 2-of-17 from beyond the arc since the Notre Dame game.
Picking up the pace for the Cardinals is 6-foot-6, 200-pound junior Luke Hancock, who has upped his scoring average to 7.1 points per game. Since scoring 22 points against the Irish, he has converted 12-of-21 three-pointers to take over the team-lead in conversions from beyond the arc with 45 - one more than Smith.
Montrezl Harrell averages 5.5 points in just 16.7 minutes per game. The 6-foot-8, 235-pounder has an impressive 50 offensive rebounds, but is shooting just .468 (22-of-47) from the free-throw line, including 2-of-11 in his last seven games.
Kevin Ware, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound sophomore, and Stephan Van Treese, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound junior, combine for another six points per game.
Prister’s take: Since Notre Dame’s five-overtime victory over Louisville, the Cardinals have been on fire, mainly against the bottom-feeders of the Big East. But also included in there is a victory over a fading Syracuse squad while positioning themselves for at least a share of the Big East crown with a victory today over the Irish.
The motivation is strong for the Cardinals on Senior Day. They’re still kicking themselves for blowing a late lead against the Irish while allowing Jerian Grant to score a remarkable 12 points in the final minute to send the game into overtime.
Particularly motivated will be a guy like Peyton Siva, who had a miserable shooting game while fouling out with just two points. Look for him to really push the pace in the Yum! Center. Russ Smith, his 4-of-19 shooting performance against the Irish notwithstanding, has remained a consistent scoring threat for the Cardinals, and he’s money from the free-throw line. The Irish do not have a good match-up for powerful Chane Behanan, who should be turning in more performances like the one he had against the Irish a month ago.
It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame approaches this game philosophy-wise because Mike Brey is now talking about unleashing his guards and allowing them to attack and push the tempo early in the game. That could prove to be a disaster against the Cardinals’ tempo, which can be break-neck, particularly at home. It’s up to Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant to find that delicate balance between taking advantage of their own athletic skills and controlling the pace.
Once again, it likely comes down to how Notre Dame’s complementary pieces contribute to the cause on the road, and the Irish won’t have suspended freshman Cam Biedscheid contributing double-digit minutes off the bench. Although he hit two key three-pointers in the first half at Pittsburgh, Connaughton is a combined 0-of-10 from beyond the arc in recent road games against Syracuse, Providence and Marquette.
Look for Grant, Atkins, Connaughton, Jack Cooley and Tom Knight to log heavy minutes. Garrick Sherman seems to be reverting back to his inconsistent level and may not see much time. Zach Auguste was outstanding (15 points, five rebounds, three steals, two assists) in his last road game against Marquette. Notre Dame likely won’t go much beyond a six-man rotation in this game. Freshman Austin Burgett could see some time in Biedscheid’s absence.
The Irish need to get off to a fast start, which has been problematic as of late. Notre Dame has trailed at halftime in four of the last five games, including a 14-point hole at Marquette and an eight-point deficit at Providence.
If the Irish can be in contention at halftime and not allow the tempo to get away from them, they’ll compete to the end for the victory. But Louisville wants revenge as well as at least a piece of the Big East title. It’s difficult to anticipate a victory in the building where the Cardinals are 7-1 in conference play this season. No overtime game this time.
Pointspread: Louisville by 12
Prister’s Prediction: Louisville 74, Notre Dame 60
Prister’s record: 24-6 straight up; 13-14 vs. points