We get started early today. In less than two hours Bruins will tip off against the Irish at Pauley. As mentioned yesterday the Irish are coming into this game with nothing to lose. Despite coming into the season with high expectations they have fallen into hard times losing 6 games in a row. This will be their one shot to make a statement on national television (CBS national broadcast) with absolutely nothing to lose. So our guys will have to come into this game alert (despite the early wakeup call), locked in and ready to go just like they have done in our last three games.
If you look through the Kenpom stats it's obvious how explosive the Irish can be. Their offense is ranked top-10 nationally in terms of adj. efficiency (116.4). Everyone knows about Luke Harangody who is getting his share of points and points. The kid has positioned himself as a legit NPOY candidate as he is 4th in the nation in scoring (25.3 ppg) and 3rd in rebounding (13.2 rpg). Yet it's his team-mates who our guys need to be worried about. The Irish have few players - Kyle McLarney, Tory Jackson, Luke Zeller and Ayers - who can burn it up from the three point line. We cannot afford to let these guys get hot from the perimeter and kill us both from inside and out. From the LA Times:
The multitalented Luke Harangody -- fourth in the nation in scoring at 25.3 points a game -- heads a lineup that also includes one of college basketball's top three-point shooters in guard Kyle McAlarney.
"They're the best shooting team you'll see all year," Howland said.
The Irish have had success when opponents double-team Harangody, allowing him to pass to open shooters on the perimeter. More recently, teams have let the 6-foot-8 forward collect his points, choosing to defend against the long-range shot and pester McAlarney off the ball.
That fits with UCLA's resurgence over the last two weeks. After their own rough patch, losing two of three games, the players committed to defense with immediate results.
Our guards and wings will have to maintain the same lock down intensity from last few games. This is why the early start time worries me a bit. It's our guys who will have to adjust to the weird start time. Let's hope the boys were up early this am and are ready to go all out by tip off time at Pauley.
Going back to Notre Dame CW over at Rakes ran a stat. analysis and compared this year's Irish team to last year's and came up with the following explanation for their tough luck for this season (at least till now):
Notre Dame got a little bit worse - here and there on offense, across the board on defense - and the competition got significantly better. The most damning numbers? On offense, it is the lack of getting to the free throw line and a severe drop in the number of assists per field goals made. On defense, everything is worse, which you would come to expect when you lose a guy that always guarded the other team's best offensive forward and protected the rim to make up for his teammates' mistakes.
I think the key matchup today will not how we contain Harangody. I think he is going to get his share of points and boards despite the best effort from AA2, DG (who is profiled today in the OC Register) and rest of our bigs. The key battle is going to be between DC/JH and Jackson/McLarney. If DC and JH exert their defensive will over their Notre Dame counterparts we will be in good shape.
As for off court storyline around this game there will always be Digger Phelps, who to date is a dumber and more asinine individual than Tim Floyd. The Times gives us a little peak into this loser's mindset:
His first matchup with UCLA was Dec. 22, 1971. Four nights before, Notre Dame had lost at Indiana, 94-29.
That was followed by a Bruins blindside, 114-56, at Pauley.
Phelps was peeved that Wooden had pressed the Irish long after the outcome was decided.
"Late in the game I was in a crouch in front of our bench and looked down at UCLA's bench," Phelps would later recount in the book, "Tales From the Notre Dame Hardwood." "I caught [assistant coach] Gary Cunningham's eye and I mouthed two words to him. It wasn't thank you . . . but the second word was you."
Phelps said Wooden told him after the game he was working on the press to get ready for conference play, to which Phelps said he replied: "John, you do anything you have to do to beat me, because someday I am going to kick your ass."
And yeah so he got that one win in South Bend which he trumpets around as his biggest win of his sorry career (he never sniffed a NC).
We need to win today because we need to make sure Digger, the Wooden/UCLA hater is a bad day. We need to win this for our Coach.
The most pathetic display of UCLA hatred from Digger Phelps has come during his appearances on ESPN studio shows. He has repeatedly blasted out nonsense such as saying how UCLA had no shot to make it to the Final-4 in 1995 from West region (because we wouldn't get past all might east coast powers such as Maryland and UConn). What was more galling was Digger's (and rest of WWL TV crew which included Vitale, Katz and Bilas) comments during UCLA's head coach search in 2003 when they opined Ben Howland had no reason to come to Westwood. Digger kept saying how Howland was better off staying in Pittsburgh and that UCLA should have looked to hire coaches such as Pat Douglass (UCI) and Brand Holland (IIRC he was at USD at the time). In other words, Digger never wanted anything good to happen to UCLA basketball. The guy is a total classless loser.
Don't get me wrong. I think Mike Brey is a classy coach. I have a lot of respect for Notre Dame. I have always admired their football tradition, their hatred for Trojans, and have generally had very good impression of their alums, students and fans. Yet we need us to win this game for a very good reason: we need to make sure Digger has a very bad day.
Yes, we need this game because we need to sustain our momentum and we need to maintain the rhythm we have found in our last three games. Yet, most importantly we need this game for one big reason: we need it for our Coach.