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Notre Dame Basketball: Villanova Preview

The Irish take on the nation’s best team in the Never Forget Tribute Classic.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova vs La Salle Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

No.23 Notre Dame takes on the defending national champion and No.1 ranked Villanova Wildcats on Saturday afternoon in game one of the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic. Saturday’s contest will mark the 36th meeting between the two programs with Villanova holding a slim 18-17 series lead. The Irish and Wildcats frequently met back in the days of the old Big East. The Irish were just 7-13 against the Wildcats in Big East play. While that mark seems lean, Notre Dame has won the last three meetings. The Irish have also won their last four meetings against the defending national champ.

When: Saturday, December 10, 2016, 12:00pm ET

Where: Prudential Center, Newark, NJ

Where to Watch: CBS

No.1 Villanova Wildcats (9-0)

Villanova comes in winners of their last 15 games dating back to last season, which also includes their win over North Carolina in the National Championship Game. So far this season ‘Nova has impressive wins over Purdue and Wake Forest. A win over Notre Dame would certainly add to the list.

The ‘Cats did lose starters Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu from last year’s squad, but they come back with a bounty of talent in the form of Josh Hart, Jalen Brunson and Final Four hero Kris Jenkins. They are still one of the best teams in the country and will be serious contenders to repeat as National Champs come March.

Three Weaknesses

  • Rebounding: The ‘Cats don’t have too many weaknesses, but rebounding is one of them. They lost their interior presence in Ochefu. This season Villanova is ranked only 163rd in total rebounding. Even Notre Dame, a team that doesn’t boast much size, ranks considerably better than that at 40th.
  • Opponents Two-Point %: Much like the Irish, Villanova doesn’t have much size. This season the ‘Nova ranks 197th in opponents two-point FG%. The Irish should be able to find success close to the basket against the Wildcats.
  • Blocks Per Game: I really had to dig deep to find something that Villanova isn’t good at. They do lack a rim protector and because of that they don’t block to many shots. They rank 169th in blocks per game.
NCAA Basketball: Villanova vs La Salle Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Three Strengths

  • Three-Point Shooting: Villanova plays a much similar game to Notre Dame. They shoot the ball at an incredibly high level. This season they are 22nd nationally in three point shooting at 40%.
  • Offensive Efficiency: Saturday’s game will feature two of the most efficient teams in the nation. Villanova is ranked 5th in offensive efficiency, while the Irish are ranked 1st.
  • Opponent Three-Point %: The Wildcats defend the three just as well as they shoot it. No, literally they do. Villanova is ranked 22nd opponents three-point %.

Wildcats To Watch

Josh Hart - 6’6”, Senior, Guard

The do-it-all guard is Villanova’s leads the team in points (17.6 PPG), rebounds (6.7 RPG) and assists (3.8 APG). Hart is shooting 55% from the field and has drastically improved his three-point shooting this year. He shot just 35% from beyond the arc last season, and this year he’s shooting at a 44% clip. Steve Vasturia and Rex Pflueger will see time guarding him on Saturday afternoon.

Kris Jenkins - 6’6”, Senior, Guard

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Pennsylvania Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We all became familiar with Jenkins last season when he sank what is perhaps the biggest shot in the history of the NCAA Tournament. This year eyes are all on him, but it hasn’t slowed him down. He’s Villanova’s second leading scorer with 14.2 points per game. The Irish will want to keep Jenkins away from the foul line, as he’s shooting 94% from the charity stripe.

Pick to Click

V.J. Beachem - 6’8”, Senior, Forward

NCAA Basketball: No.Carolina A&T at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Beachem has managed to score in double figures in each game this season, but he’s shot just 23% from three over the last two contests, including a 2-11 performance against Fort Wayne. Notre Dame will need him to shoot the ball considerably better if they want to pull of the upset. I like Beachem to turn around his shooting woes and help lead the Irish on Saturday.

Prediction

Villanova 88 - Notre Dame 84

Going by the numbers, both teams are incredibly even matched. They both shoot the ball well from the outside (ND/13th, ‘Nova/22nd), score lots of points (ND/88PPG, ‘Nova/80PPG), and play solid defense (ND/34thOPPG, ‘Nova/28thOPPG).

Notre Dame’s trio of Vasturia, Beachem and Bonzie Colson has played at an elite level all year long. The one thing that gives me doubt about the Irish in this game is their lack of depth. The Irish only go about seven-eight deep. I think the Wildcats will have the advantage in that department.

Not only do they have the trio of Hart, Jenkins and Brunson, but they have four other players averaging over 20 minutes. I think the fact that Villanova has more players who can make plays will be the deciding factor in this game. This one will go down to the wire, but the Wildcats will make one or two more plays to put them over the top.