The No. 13-ranked Irish (12-3, 3-1) play the first of a treacherous eight-game stretch when they visit Freedom Hall Monday night to take on No. 23-rated Louisville (11-3, 2-0) Monday night.
Coached by Rick Pitino—who sports a 532-194 mark in his 22nd year as a head coach—the Cardinals will present match-up problems for the Irish because of their great athleticism.
Louisville ranks third in the Big East in field goal percentage defense (.380), thanks in large part to the production of 6-foot-9 junior Earl Clark, 6-foot-8 freshman Samardo Samuels and 6-foot-6 senior Terrence Williams.
That trio averages 39 points and 24 rebounds per game with Clark (13.7 ppg., 8.8 rpg.) just ahead of Samuels (13.6 ppg., 6.1 rpg.) and Williams (11.5 ppg., 8.9 rpg.) on the scoring charts.
The Cardinals are out-rebounding opponents by a 5.5 margin per game while harassing foes on the defensive end. Louisville is second in the Big East in steals (9.1/game) while ranking third in blocks (6.6) and points allowed per game (59.8). Opponents are shooting just 38.0 percent from the field against the Cardinals.
Yet Louisville has stumbled unexpectedly a few times this season with losses to Western Kentucky (68-54) in Nashville, Minnesota (70-64) in Phoenix, and to UNLV (56-55) at Freedom Hall.
A senior, two juniors and a sophomore log most of the minutes in the backcourt. Six-foot-one juniors Jerry Smith (7.3 ppg.) and Edgar Sosa (6.6 ppg.) are the veterans while 6-foot-1 sophomore Preston Knowles (6.3 ppg.) and 5-foot-10 senior Andre McGee (5.1 ppg.) lend support.
The Cardinals won their first two Big East games of the season when they traveled to South Florida for a 71-57 victory, and then defeated Villanova on the road, 61-60, on Williams' driving lay-up with 7.4 seconds remaining.
The Cardinals caught a break when Villanova's Antonio Pena missed two free throws with 4.9 seconds remaining. In fact, the Wildcats missed 8-of-14 free throws down the stretch after entering the game as the Big East's leader in percentage from the charity stripe.
The Cardinals are accustomed to winning under Pitino, who has a 180-70 record in his seventh season in Louisville. Pitino, whose coaching stops have included Boston University, Providence and Kentucky in college as well as the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics in the NBA, won a national title with the Wildcats of Kentucky in 1996.
Last year, Louisville finished 27-9 and made a trip to the Elite Eight before falling to North Carolina.
Notre Dame has been riding the broad shoulders of junior All-American Luke Harangody, who has averaged a phenomenal 25.8 points and 13.6 rebounds per his last eight games since returning from a bout with pneumonia. Harangody scored 61 points and grabbed 27 rebounds in Notre Dame's victories over Georgetown and Seton Hall last week.
His eight straight games with at least 20 points is the most by an Irish player since Kelly Tripucka did it in 1980. Adrian Dantley had streaks of 11 and nine games of 20 or more points. The Notre Dame record holder is Austin Carr, who scored at least 20 points in an incredible 58 straight games.
Notre Dame hopes to get off to a better start Monday night than they did last year at Freedom Hall when the Irish trailed by 15 at halftime before eventually falling, 90-85, despite Harangody's 40 points and 11 rebounds.
Notre Dame has risen to seventh in the league in free-throw percentage after a spectacular week. The Irish were 15-of-16 against Georgetown and 28-of-32 against Seton Hall to finish 33-of-38 (.868) for the week while raising their season mark to .694.
Louisville leads the series, 14-8, including victories in nine of the last 10 clashes with the Irish. Notre Dame's lone victory during that span was a 78-62 victory at the Joyce Center on Jan. 3, 2007. It was the 13th victory in a row by the Irish at home, a streak that reached 45 this past weekend with the victory over Seton Hall.
The Irish will play Louisville at the Joyce Center on Feb. 12.
Pointspread: Louisville by 7
Prister's Prediction: : Louisville 72, Notre Dame 63
Season record: 11-4 overall; 3-5 vs. points