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February 15, 2012

Preview: Rutgers @ No. 23 ND

Untitled Document

Game 26: Rutgers (12-13, 4-8) @ No. 23 Notre Dame (17-8, 9-3)
Date: Feb. 15, 2012
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Place: Purcell Pavilion; Notre Dame, Ind.
TV: ESPNU

Conference: Big East
Nickname: Scarlet Knights
Location: Piscataway, N.J.
2010-11 record: 15-17 (5-13 Big East)

Head coach: Mike Rice (2nd year at Rutgers) - 100-61 overall - 73-31 in three years at Robert Morris; 27-30 in second year at Rutgers. Took Robert Morris to the NCAA tournament in his second and third years with the Colonials.

You should know: That Rutgers has lost five of its last six games since defeating Notre Dame, 65-58, in Piscataway, N.J., on Jan. 16. Meanwhile, Notre Dame has won its last six, including victories over No. 1 Syracuse and No. 15 Marquette…The Irish hold a 17-13 advantage in the series, including a 10-2 mark at home. Notre Dame has defeated the Scarlet Knights seven in a row at Purcell Pavilion by an average scoring margin of 12.0…Mike Brey is 11-6 against Rutgers…Notre Dame's six-game Big East winning streak is the third longest since the Irish joined the conference in 1995-96. A victory over the Scarlet Knights would equal last season's seven-game Big East winning streak. The Notre Dame record is eight set during Brey's first season at Notre Dame in 2000-01…Notre Dame's last two home victories - over Marquette and DePaul - have been its two highest scoring Big East games of the season. The Irish tallied 76 against the Golden Eagles and 84 against the Blue Demons after starting their current six-game winning streak by slowing the pace.

Top players: The Scarlet Knights are led by 6-foot-2 freshman Eli Carter, who enters tonight's game averaging 13.8 points per game while leading the team in three-pointers made with 42 (and a .344 shooting percentage from beyond the arc). Carter scored 24 points in the Feb. 4 loss at Louisville.

Another freshman, 5-foot-9 Myles Mack, comes off the bench for the Scarlet Knights, but logs starter's minutes. Mack averages 10.2 points per game and is second to Carter in three-pointers with 36 (and a .346 percentage). Mack tossed in 22 points in the Jan. 25 home loss to DePaul.

Gilvydas Biruta, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore from Lithuania, is scoring at a 9.4 clip while snagging 5.4 rebounds per game. He paces the team in offensive rebounds with 60. He is joined up front by 6-foot-6 junior Dane Miller, who averages just 6.9 points per game (shooting .496 from the field), but rebounds at a 6.2 clip. Miller has 51 offensive rebounds and leads the team in blocked shots with 46.

Jerome Seagears (7.4 ppg., 3.0 rpg.), a 6-foot-1 freshman, and Mike Poole (6.9 ppg., 3.3 rpg.), a 6-foot-5 sophomore, are key contributors in Rice's youth movement.

Austin Johnson, a 6-foot-8, 255-pound junior, averages 5.0 points per game while shooting .495 from the field. Derrick Randall, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound freshman, is a part-time starter averaging 2.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game.

Rice has turned to 6-foot-9 freshmen Kadeem Jack and Greg Lewis for minutes off the bench. Malik Kone, a 6-foot-5 freshman, has been sidelined with a right knee injury.

Mike Brey on Rutgers: "When you look at personnel, they're a tough match-up for us. Rutgers' speed across the board, their big guys moving their feet - Miller, Biruta - we were three steps behind the whole night (on Jan. 16). Some of that was our doing, but Rutgers' personnel is a difficult match-up for us, and that's one of the things I'm concerned about…We've got to be smart about how we change defenses, and certainly how we control tempo…

"Their speed bothered us. We couldn't guard them. They were too quick, one through five. I just felt we were two or three steps behind. When we went to the media timeouts, our body language was more of frustration than the poise I've seen lately. We really need to talk about that and look at that."

Pre-game analysis: Rutgers caught the Irish at a good time in mid-January. The Irish were coming off a home loss to Connecticut, and the RAC never has been an easy place for Brey's teams to play.

Rutgers was hot that night from the three-point line (7-of-15), which hasn't been the case in its last six games. In fact, the Scarlet Knights have converted 38-of-111 (.342) from beyond the arc since that game, which coincides with their .337 shooting mark from three-point range in Big East play this season.

If the Irish can control Rutgers' speed and the tempo of the game, not to mention its three-point shooting, they should notch their seventh victory in a row and eighth consecutive against the Scarlet Knights at Purcell Pavilion.

When Rutgers is off, they're not very good. They're 13th in the Big East in field-goal percentage (.414), 15th in free-throw percentage (.652), 15th in rebounding (32.2) and tied for 14th in assists per game (12.3). Their turnover-to-assist ratio for the season is 372-to-319.

Rutgers is 1-6 on the road in Big East play, including two-point losses to South Florida and Georgetown, an 11-point loss to Providence, a 12-point loss to Louisville, and a 24-point loss to West Virginia. Its only road conference victory came by 23 against Pittsburgh, but that was all the way back on Jan. 11.

Notre Dame needs to turn this into a half-court game, which is not a Rutgers strength. The Scarlet Knights want to speed up the Irish. Notre Dame has shown the ability to play at a faster pace when necessary in recent victories against Marquette and particularly DePaul. But that's not a good route to take in this one.

Notre Dame has rebounded well at home - an area where Rutgers can be lacking - and has limited foes to just .308 shooting from beyond the arc (No. 1 in the Big East).

Irish guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant are a much more consistent duo today than they were four weeks ago. Scott Martin has found a rhythm to his game and a role that fits his skill set. Jack Cooley is one of the hottest players in the Big East after earning conference Player of the Week honors. Pat Connaughton and Alex Dragicevich have played their best basketball at Purcell Pavilion.

A hot Irish are catching Rutgers at a good time to avenge the Jan. 16 loss, and Brey's teams have a solid track record of defeating repeat opponents to whom they've lost in the first match-up.

Controlling tempo will create doubt on the road for the youthful Scarlet Knights, and should put the Irish in the right frame of mind as the favorite for the second straight game. The Irish will be motivated to play well in their first game after cracking the top 25.

If Notre Dame can limit Rutgers' outside shooting, which they've done against all but DePaul in its last six games, the Irish will keep the momentum rolling. Just don't expect it to be a real pretty game.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 8
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 68, Rutgers 57
Prister's record: 15-10 straight up; 7-12 vs. points



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