GameNight: Louisville vs Notre Dame

January 12th, 2009
Jan 12 2009 - 7:00pm

Preview & Prediction: By Douglas Phillabaum





#13 Notre Dame (12-3, 3-1) pays a visit to Freedom Hall to face #21 Louisville (11-3, 2-0) in a marquee television game Monday night. The question is, will Samardo Samuels answer the call to defend Luke Harangody, the 6'11" big man for the Fightin' Irish. Rick Pitino has gone on the record praising Samuels: "[Samardo Samuels] is a very hard worker. He's doing a fine job of learning how to pass out of the post. His biggest weakness is defensive rebounding." However, a look at the numbers shows that Harangody should have a field day with young Samardo. The key to the game will lie in the matchup of big men, and at first glance it appears that Notre Dame should have the advantage. If Samuels gives Notre Dame second chance points, the Irish will almost certainly cash in the extra opportunities.

Just in case Notre Dame fans out there had gotten comfortable seeing their team in the top 10-15 in the polls, look out! The Irish face No. 1 Pittsburgh, No. 5 Connecticut, No. 10 UCLA, No. 11 Syracuse, Nos. 18 Marquette and Villanova, and No. 23 Louisville again... and that's all in the next five weeks.

Luckily, the Irish have the talent to win at least 4 or 5 games in that stretch. This is probably the best team in Notre Dame history. Luke Harangody (25.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg) is coming off of 8/23 for 30 points against Seton Hall, proving that even if he's well-defended, he can get to the line and find ways to make hit shots count. The 6'8" Harangody is talented and always gives 100% effort, an attribute that Louisville would be hard-pressed to match. Kyle McAlarney (17 ppg, 46% from 3PT), a 6' guard with an outstanding stroke should be able to open the floor for Harangody to get some good looks. Tory Jackson (12 ppg, 5 assists per game) should be able to control turnovers in Notre Dame's favor-- a positive turnover margin could make all the difference in the final analysis.

Samardo Samuels is going to see two premier big men tonight, in Harangody and senior teammate Luke Zeller (6'11" center). Samuels must match their intensity and play his best game of the season. Thus far, Samuels has been mediocre due to foul trouble and simple mistakes on the floor--a good example of this was the Kentucky game, where Patrick Patterson owned Samuels and put him on the bench with foul trouble. Samuels is averaging nearly four fouls a game and has often gotten beaten and yielded easy baskets to avoid giving fouls. So how can Louisville compete with the Irish front court? Earl Clark, a likely 2009 NBA lottery pick, leads the team in scoring at 13.6 per contest, and he looks like the better bet for the Cardinals so far. In fact, the most interesting matchup for NBA scouts will be Clark and Harangody--both are likely lottery picks in the Spring. Can Clark showcase his talents against the Notre Dame front court? If so, it gives the Cardinals hope in this game and for the entire conference schedule.

On a related front court note, Terrence Jennings, a 6'9" freshman for Louisville, has only averaged 7 minutes per game this year, but he's Pitino's fourth front court guy and will see bigger minutes tonight. It's unlikely that Pitino can afford to leave Samuels on the floor if he gets 2 fouls in the first half or picks up a 3rd personal early in the second half.

Outside of Samuels and Clark, Louisville doesn't have anyone who stands out, numbers-wise. They have a plethora of talented guards but not one that scores a lot on a game-by-game basis. Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, and Jerry Smith will have to play well tonight and protect the ball--Louisville has been a sloppy team at times these experienced guards must take intelligent shots and take the pressure off of Samuels inside.

Louisville has been a puzzling team this year--three losses to UNLV, Western Kentucky, and Minnesota, a disappointing list of defeats for a team that garnered numerous Final Four predictions before the season.  By contrast, Notre Dame can write off two of their losses as North Carolina and Ohio State on the road and the Irish also defeated Texas in the non-conference schedule. Over the past three seasons, this has been an even match up, with Louisville winning 2 of 3, including the most recent meeting. This year, the Irish should be able to steal one on the road in Louisville, but it will be a tight contest.

Winner: Notre Dame     Margin: 2-4 points