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January 30, 2013

Preview: Villanova @ Notre Dame

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Head coach: Jay Wright (12th year at Villanova) - 372-222 overall - 122-85 in seven years at Hofstra; 250-137 in 12th year at Villanova. Took Hofstra to the NCAA tournament in each of his last two seasons with the Flying Dutchmen. Also led Villanova to the Final Four in 2008-09 with a 30-8 record. Made an Elite Eight appearance in 2005-06 and two Sweet 16 trips (2004-05, 2007-08).

You should know: That tip-off for Wednesday's game has been moved from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 ET…The Wildcats became the first unranked team to defeat top five opponents in back-to-back games since Ball State in 2001. Villanova defeated No. 5 Louisville, 73-64, and then knocked off No. 3 Syracuse, 75-71, in overtime…Villanova had been wildly inconsistent through the first 18 games, losing three in a row in November (Alabama, Columbia and LaSalle), followed by a 10-point win at Vanderbilt and a 15-point loss at Temple. The Wildcats then went on a seven-game winning streak, including wins over St. Joseph's (who defeated Notre Dame in overtime), and St. John's and South Florida to open Big East play. Then they lost three in a row at Syracuse by 11, at home to Pittsburgh by 15, and at Providence by three. Another common opponent between Notre Dame and Villanova was Purdue. The Irish easily defeated Purdue in Indianapolis by 13 while the Wildcats defeated the Boilermakers in overtime, 89-81…This will be the 35th meeting between Notre Dame and Villanova with the Wildcats holding an 18-16 lead. Notre Dame lost eight straight to Villanova from 1996-2002. Since 2004, the Irish hold a 6-5 series lead. Since Notre Dame joined the Big East in 1995, Villanova has a 6-3 edge in games played at Purcell Pavilion.

Top losses: Maalik Wayns (17.6 ppg., 3.8 rpg.), Dominic Cheek (12.5 ppg., 3.9 rpg.)

Top players: Villanova's balanced attack is led by 6-foot-7, 260-pound sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston, who is averaging 13.0 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Pinkston has scored in double figures in 15 out of 20 games, including 26 points against St. John's, 20 versus Providence and 19 against Delaware. He is third on the squad in offensive rebounds with 36.

Freshman Ryan Arcidiacono, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder, has helped compensate for the loss of Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, who combined for 122 three-pointers a year ago. Arcidiacono - whose three-pointer with 2.2 seconds left sent the Syracuse game into overtime - is averaging 11.7 points and 3.3 assists per game. His 41 three-pointers pace the Wildcats, although he is converting just .313 of his attempts. He scored 32 points on 7-of-13 shooting from three-point range against St. John's. Subtract that game and he is a .288 shooter from beyond the arc. Arcidiacono is converting .830 (73-of-88) of his free-throw attempts. He scored 25 points in his second game in a Villanova uniform, and 18 against Purdue.

Darrun Hilliard, a 6-foot-6, 205-pound sophomore, is the third Wildcat in double-figure scoring at 10.8. He scored a career-high 25 points in Saturday's victory over Syracuse, and had 22 against Purdue. Hilliard is Villanova's No. 3 threat from beyond the arc (24-of-73, .329).

Back-to-back three-pointers by 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior James Bell in overtime helped propel the Wildcats to victory over Syracuse Saturday. Bell is second on the team in three-pointers with 34 and is shooting .378 from beyond the arc. He scored 15 points each against Monmouth, Vanderbilt and Purdue.

The Wildcats boast plenty of size in 6-foot-10, 255-pound senior Mouphtaou Yarou, 6-foot-11, 220-pound senior Maurice Sutton, and 6-foot-11, 245-pound freshman Daniel Ochefu.

Yarou averages 8.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. His 46 offensive rebounds lead the team. Yarou has played his best basketball in Villanova's two games against Syracuse. In the first one, an Orange win, he had 11 points and 14 rebounds. Saturday, Yarou had 14 points and 16 rebounds in 40 minutes of action.

Sutton, who averages 5.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game, leads the Wildcats in blocked shots with 28. He's shooting .516 from the field, but did not play against Louisville and logged just three minutes against Syracuse.

Ochefu averages 4.2 points and 4.6 rebounds in less than 19 minutes of action per game. His 38 offensive rebounds rank second on the squad behind Yarou.

Achraf Yacoubou, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore, averages 4.2 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.

Prister's take: With their exceptional size, the Wildcats are capable of playing volleyball on the offensive backboards if the Irish don't provide Jack Cooley with some help. The loss of Scott Martin is particularly significant tonight as Villanova's 236 offensive rebounds are spread out among several players. That being said, it's time for the Irish to regain their home-court advantage, which has slipped away from them in recent games against Connecticut and Georgetown.

Villanova is coming off huge victories over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse. Prior to that, Villanova had lost three straight, including a 15-point home loss to Pittsburgh and a three-point loss at Providence.

This is not a very good shooting Villanova team. They convert just .339 of their three-point attempts and five of the top nine players in the rotation are shooting less than 42 percent from the field. They compensate with a defense that has come up with 147 steals (more than seven per game) and a big, deep lineup that - like most Big East teams - boasts more athleticism than the Irish.

Scratching out a victory at South Florida Saturday was a big step for the Irish. It hardly registered on a national scale, but righted the ship in their first full game since Martin was sidelined indefinitely with a knee injury. Tom Knight stepped up and scored 17 points with seven rebounds, and he'll have his hands full while teaming up with Cooley as they try to contend with Villanova's great size.

Jay Wright's Villanova squad is just one game from reaching last year's Big East win total of five. But the Irish didn't put together home winning streaks of 45, 29 and 17 in recent years by succumbing to better physical talent.

This one will require limiting Villanova's long-range game, superior guard play from Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, and an offensive contribution off the bench by Cam Biedscheid, who has struggled in Big East play. Atkins and Grant will have their hands full with a pair of 6-foot-6 guards - Darrun Hilliard and James Bell - and the long-range shooting capability of Ryan Arcidiacono.

The Irish also need continued contributions from Pat Connaughton, who has become Notre Dame's top three-point threat in Martin's absence. The Irish need Connaughton's help on the backboards as well. JayVaughn Pinkston, a 6-foot-7, 260-pound bruiser, comes off the Villanova bench and packs quite a punch. He had 24 points in last year's overtime loss to the Irish.

On paper, this doesn't look good for Notre Dame. Another home loss wouldn't be a surprise. But Mike Brey has repeatedly come up with ways to scratch out victories when the odds seem to be stacked against them. The Irish move to 5-3 in the Big East with hard-fought victory that is closer than the final score indicates.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 8
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 74, Villanova 64
Prister's record: 15-5 straight up; 7-10 vs. points


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