(7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Xavier: South Region
Notre Dame 22-11, 13-5 Big East (At large)
Xavier 21-12, 10-6 A-10 (At large)
Time: 9:45 p.m. Friday
Location: Greensboro Arena in Greensboro, N.C.
Winner will face: (2) Duke or (15) Lehigh, Sunday
Notre Dame No. 28 AP; No. 26 ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll
Notre Dame 38
Line: Notre Dame -2½ (O/U 124)
Players to Watch
Notre Dame: C Jack Cooley, 6-9 Jr. (12.4 ppg, 9 rpg, 61.2% FG); G Jerian Grant, 6-5 So. (12.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.3 spg); F Scott Martin, 6-8 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.6 apg). Cooley has had an up-and-down season, but when he’s good, he’s really good. He had 14 double-doubles, including a 27-point, 17-performance on March 2 in a 75-69 win over Providence.
Xavier: G Tu Holloway, 6-0 Sr. (17 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.7 rpg); G Mark Lyons, 6-1 Jr. (15.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.7 apg); C Kenny Frease, 7-0 Sr. (9.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 48.7% FG). Holloway’s numbers were down across the board this season, but he’s been hot of late and March has always been his time. In his last four games, Holloway is averaging 21 points and almost five rebounds and three assists per game.
Why Each Team Dangerous
Notre Dame: If it wasn’t obvious before this season, it is now. Mike Bray is one of the elite college basketball coaches in the country. After losing leading scorer Tim Abromaitis for the season, Bray turned Notre Dame into a team that lost to Georgia and Maryland and Missouri by 29 points into a team that finished third in the Big East. The Irish play great defense. They held Big East opponents to 40.4 percent from the field, 25.5 from the 3-point line and 59.2 points per game. The Irish rank eighth in the nation with a 1.44-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Xavier: The X offense has been inconsistent, but overall, it’s very good. Four different Musketeers average 9.5 points. They average 70.8 points, shoot 45.3 percent from the floor, and while they don’t take a lot of 3s, they shoot 34.9 from deep. As well as being balance, Xavier is also very deep. Ten different Musketeers play at least 10 minutes per game. The Xavier defense is its key. It allowed opponents to shoot just 39.8 percent from the floor and 30.6 from behind the 3-point line.
Why Each Team is Vulnerable
Notre Dame: While the Irish were strong in late-January and early-February, they have lost 3-of-5 down the stretch, including a 14-point loss to Louisville in their first Big East Tournament game. The Notre Dame offense scored just 41, 50 and 58 points in those three losses. For the season, the Irish have shot just 43.2 percent from the floor and average 66.5 point per game. They were also out-rebounded for the season (1,217-1,246; 682-664 in Big East play). While the Irish have great field goal defense, they have no pressure defense. They force just 10.8 turnovers per game and get just 5.2 steals.
Xavier: There’s no denying it, the Musketeers have had a disappointing season. They peaked in the top-10 and after their brawl with rival Cincinnati, they lost four of their next five and finished tied for third in the A-10 (after winning it the past five years). Xavier is average on the boards and they have a 1.05-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and an even turnover margin.
The Bottom Line: Seems like a pretty even game, but I’m betting Holloway steps up his game to All-American levels.
The Pick: Xavier 70, Notre Dame 65
Greg Against the Spread This Season: 198-150-6 (Through Tuesday, March 14)