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February 16, 2013

Preview: ND @ Providence

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Head coach: Ed Cooley (2nd year at Providence) - 120-97 overall - 92-69 in five years at Fairfield (2006-11); 28-28 in second year at Providence. Served as assistant coach at UMass-Dartmouth, Stonehill, Rhode Island and Boston College before landing his first college head-coaching job at Fairfield.

You should know: That Providence is a hot basketball team right now, even playing well in defeat. The Friars are riding a three-game winning streak with conquests at South Florida (76-66), over Cincinnati (54-50) at home, and at Villanova (55-52). Prior to that, the Friars lost by three in overtime to Connecticut (82-79), by 10 at Marquette (81-71), and by four at home against Pittsburgh (68-64)…Mike Brey has won six in a row at Providence after losing his first two. Notre Dame holds a 16-9 lead in the series, including nine in a row overall…The Irish defeated Providence on March 2 last year, 75-69. Jack Cooley had 27 points and 17 rebounds while Eric Atkins added 10 points and nine assists. Notre Dame held Providence to 39.4 percent shooting, including just 4-of-20 from three-point range while the Irish were an efficient 5-of-10.

Top losses: Gerard Coleman (5.0 ppg.), Bilal Dixon (4.3 ppg., 4.1 rpg.).

Top players: Bryce Cotton, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound senior, has exploded onto the Big East scene this season. Cotton averaged 14.3 points per game last year. Despite taking an average of just 13.5 shot per game this season, Cotton scores at a 20.5 clip, although he's been held under 20 and is averaging less than 16 points per game in the last five. He is a .389 shooter (70-of-180) from three-point range, a percentage that was above 40 prior to 3-of-16 shooting in the last two games. Cotton scored at least 20 points and averaged 22.6 points per game over a six-game span, which included clashes against Syracuse (24 points, 5-of-8 three-point shooting), Georgetown (21 points, 5-of-12 three-point shooting), Villanova (24 points) and Pittsburgh (24 points).

At 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, junior Kadeem Batts has been a beast up front. He had 24 points and six rebounds Wednesday night at South Florida, and 25 points and nine rebounds in the upset victory over Cincinnati a week earlier. He is averaging 14.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. Batts scored 20 points and grabbed nine rebounds in an overtime loss to Connecticut. He's tied for the team lead in offensive rebounds with 63. The Irish would love to get Batts into foul trouble. He's had at least four fouls in 15 games this year, and has fouled out five times.

What Batts doesn't get, 6-foot-6, 215-pound sophomore LaDontae Henton does. Henton has eight double-doubles, including a 15-point, 13-rebound performance against Connecticut, 14 points and 10 rebounds versus Georgetown, and 12 points and 13 rebounds against Seton Hall. He is averaging 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. Henton scored 37 of Providence's 68 points against Brown. He also had 21 points and 17 rebounds against Rhode Island. Henton is tied with Batts for the team lead in offensive rebounds with 63. He's also a fine free-throw shooter at .798. But he doesn't always know his limitations. He's converted just .253 (24-of-95) of his three-point attempts.

Vincent Council, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, missed 10 games with a hamstring injury after averaging 15.9 points per game in 2011-12 to pace the Friars. He's adapted to the role of facilitator first, scorer second. He's averaging 9.7 points and 7.1 assists per game. He had 11 points and eight assists against South Florida, 15 and 10 versus Connecticut, 10 and nine against Georgetown.

Josh Fortune, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound freshman, has played sporadic minutes for the Friars, most of which came during the non-conference season. He scored 17 points in back-to-back games against Rhode Island and Colgate, but has cracked double figures in scoring in the Big East just once in 12 games when he tallied 15 against Villanova. Fortune averages 6.8 points per game and is shooting .326 (30-of-92) from distance.

Kris Dunn, a 6-foot-3 freshman, does a little bit of everything for the Friars. He averages 5.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. He's scored in double figures twice in Big East play - 13 versus Villanova and 10 against Marquette. He had 13 assists against Colgate in December.

The Friars also get help off the bench from 6-foot-9, 225-pound junior Lee Goldsbrough from England, 6-foot-8, 205-pound sophomore Bride Kofane from Cameroon, and 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior Ted Bancroft.

Prister's take: Super dangerous game for Notre Dame against a deep, athletic yet youngish Providence team that generally plays without much fear. They crash the offensive boards (13.4 per game) and they turn it over (331) almost as much as they assist their baskets made (336).

Slowly but surely, Providence is getting better under head coach Ed Cooley. Their five victories in 12 conference games is one more than they had in 18 conference tilts a year ago. The Friars are riding a three-game winning streak, including victories at Villanova and South Florida, and at home against Cincinnati. They've had single-digit losses at Georgetown, and against Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Connecticut at home. 

Bryce Cotton, who has emerged as a prolific scorer for the Friars, dominates Providence's three-point attempts. Yet he's an efficient scorer, taking less than 14 shots per game to average 20.5 points. He won't score 52 points like Marshon Brooks did two years ago against the Irish, but he's a threat.

Providence relies heavily on the one-two punch of Kadeem Batts and LaDontae Henton up front. Henton had 18 points and 12 rebounds against the Irish a year ago. Vincent Council has ceded scoring honors to Cotton, but still plays a key role as a scorer and an assist man.

It's all hands on deck on the glass where Batts and Henton will play volleyball if Tom Knight, Garrick Sherman and Zach Auguste don't help Jack Cooley up front. Cooley was at his best against the Friars a year ago, but he had Scott Martin on the court with him. This is a big test for Notre Dame's supplementary big men.

It will be interesting to see how the Irish defend Cotton, although Mike Brey may be a bit more inclined to use a 2-3 zone defense considering how many miles the Irish have put on their legs by playing three overtime games (and a total of seven overtime sessions) in the last two weeks.

For the Irish to stay on pace to achieve their Big East goals this season, they need a split out of the Providence-Pittsburgh road trip. They currently are 3-2 on the road in Big East play. Although the Irish won at Pittsburgh two years ago, the Dunkin' Donuts Center has been kinder to Notre Dame than the Petersen Events Center for most opponents, although the Panthers have lost their complete dominance at home. Notre Dame has won six straight at Providence, and has scored 94 and 103 points the last two times they've visited.

Brey will be talking to his team about grinding, scratching and clawing their way to another victory. But after winning five of their last six, this smells like letdown time. The fact the Friars have been installed as a favorite in this game tells you quite a bit about this match-up at this stage of the season. Providence is hot and well rested. The Friars had a week between their last two games while the Irish have been burning the midnight (and midday) oil against Louisville and DePaul.

If the Irish win this one, most Notre Dame fans won't bat an eye. The fact is this would be a huge victory Irish under the circumstances. Edge to the home team.

Pointspread: Providence by 1 ˝
Prister's Prediction: Providence 67, Notre Dame 63
Prister's record: 20-5 straight up; 10-12 vs. points


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