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Notre Dame Basketball: Princeton Preview - NCAA Tournament First Round

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The Irish open up NCAA Tournament action with a tough matchup with Princeton

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The fifth seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (25-9, 12-6 ACC) will open up NCAA Tournament action on Thursday afternoon when they take on the 12th seeded Princeton Tigers (23-6, 14-0 Ivy League). The Irish are coming off a loss in the ACC Championship game to Duke. Despite that, the Irish are playing very good basketball right now.

On the other hand the Tigers ran through the Ivy League regular season slate unblemished, and mimicked that act in the conference tournament as they took down Penn and Yale to claim the league’s automatic bid. They have not lost a game since late December.

While the Tigers record is awfully impressive, they have not faced anyone this season the caliber of Notre Dame. That being said, this is March Madness and this is the NCAA Tournament, so expect to see Princeton’s best shot.

Game Notes

  • Notre Dame leads the all-time series 2-1
  • The last time these two programs met was in 1977 at Princeton. The Tigers won 76-62
  • This will be Notre Dame’s 36th NCAA Tournament appearance
  • Notre Dame is 38-38 all-time in the NCAA Tournament
  • The Irish have been to back-to-back Elite Eights, the only program in the country who can say that
  • The Irish have combined for six NCAA Tournament wins over the last two seasons, the most for a two-year stretch in school history
  • Notre Dame’s senior class can become the winningest class in school history in terms of all-time wins and NCAA Tournament wins. The Irish seniors just need two more wins to pass the class of 1979 for most NCAA Tournament wins in a career
  • Notre Dame senior guard V.J. Beachem is shooting 62% from the field for his career in NCAA Tournament play. He also is hitting 50% of his three-point shots
  • Princeton is ranked 59th on KenPom.com, while Notre Dame is 25th
  • The Tigers rank 84th in adjusted offensive efficiency, and 47th in adjusted defensive efficiency
  • Verne Lundquist will be calling the play-by-play for CBS. He called Notre Dame’s first and second round games last season
  • VegasInsider.com has Notre Dame as the favorite at -7.5

When: Thursday, March 16, 2017, 12:15pm ET

Where: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, NY

How to Watch: CBS

Three Weaknesses

Offensive Rebounding: The Tigers are one of the worst teams in the nations when it comes to cleaning up their own boards. They rank 305th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. Look for Bonzie Colson and Co. to clean up on the glass on Thursday.

Getting to the Line: The Tigers shoot the ball well from the charity stripe, but the problem is that they rarely get there. Princeton ranks 349th our of 351 Division I teams in free throw attempts per game. The upside here is that Notre Dame is almost as bad at getting to the line.

Three-point Defense: Princeton ranks middle of the pack in opponents three-point percentage, but they do let opponents jack up a good number of threes. This season 38% (229th in NCAA) of opposing team’s shots have been three-pointers. This could be a problem against a team in Notre Dame that is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the land.

Three Strengths

Rim Protection: The Tigers don’t protect the rim in a typical way with a bunch of shot blockers, but some how they were able to keep opponent’s FG% at the rim down this season. Opponents shot just 50% at the rim against Princeton this season. That ranks ninth nationally.

Discipline: In the aspect, this team is very reminiscent to Notre Dame. The Tigers don’t foul or turn the ball over at a high rate. In fact, there among the nation’s best in both categories. They rank 26th in personal fouls per game and sixth in turnovers per game. Expect a clean basketball game between these two programs.

Transition Defense: The Irish like to get out and run, but that might be hard to do against a team like Princeton. Teams are getting just 18% of their shots in transition and converting on 51% of them against the Tigers this season.

Tigers to Watch

Devin Cannady - 6’1”, Guard, Sophomore

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at VCU Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Cannady should be very familiar with the Irish considering he grew up in the Michiana area and played high school ball with former Notre Dame guard Demetrius Jackson at Marian High School. Cannady has become one of the the best players in the Ivy League is a short period of time, as he finished the season seventh in the conference in scoring at 13.3 points per game. This season he leads the Tigers in PPG, FGA, 3PT% and FT%.

Cannady loves to shoot the three-ball, and its by far his biggest weapon. 66% of his shots this season have been three-pointers. If Notre Dame can stick with him on defense and run him off the three-point line, they should be able to limit his impact. Look for Steve Vasturia or Rex Pflueger to garner the matchup here.

Steven Cook - 6’5”, Forward, Senior

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at VCU Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Cook’s tied with Cannady in team lead in PPG at 13.3. He’s also second on the team in rebounding at 5.1 rebounds per game. Cook is listed as a forward, but after watching a few of his highlight tapes he plays more like a combo guard. He can take his man off the dribble and get to the basket with ease, or he can step out and knock down a three. For example, his percentage of shots at the rim and beyond the arc are almost equal, as 47% of his shots have came at the rim and 41% of his shots have been threes. Because of this he’s certainly Princeton’s most dynamic scorer, which will call for either Vasturia or Pflueger to guard him.

Spencer Weisz - 6’4”, Forward, Senior

NCAA Basketball: Princeton at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Another guy who is listed as a forward, but does his fair share of handling the ball. Weisz is third on the team in scoring, and leads them in rebounding and assists. He also has a great shooting stroke, which translates well from behind the arc. Weisz is shooting nearly 35% from distance this season. It will be interesting to see who Mike Brey sticks on Weisz on Thursday.

Keys to Victory

  • Make Shots: We saw it vs. Duke last Saturday night. Notre Dame had the lead and a chance to win when they were making shots in the second half, but then just went ice cold down the stretch and ultimately wound up losing. The Irish need to make shots, or it could be trouble.
  • No Easy Threes: 45% of Princeton’s shots this season have been three-pointers. In four of the Tigers’ six losses this season, they have been held under 35% from long range. The Irish will need to run Princeton off the three-point range.
  • No Ghosts: I stressed this all through the ACC Tournament, but its so important this time of year. The Irish need their seniors to show up. Far too many times this season have we seen Beachem or Vasturia go M.I.A. They can’t afford that any longer.

Pick to Click

Matt Farrell - 6’1”, Guard, Junior

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Florida State vs Notre Dame Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Not only am I choosing Farrell because of my promise to do so, but I’m also doing it because good guards are the difference in March. It was this time last year when Farrell burst onto the scene. If folks around the country don’t know who he is, they sure will by the time its all said and done.

Prediction

Notre Dame 76 - Princeton 69

Looking at the numbers, this Princeton team reminds me a little bit of Virginia. They take care of the ball, are disciplined, shoot the ball well, play at a slower pace and defend. The Tigers are a very good club and shouldn’t be taken lightly. Because of this I think they can keep it close and give the Irish a fight.

Reading that make scare a few Irish fans considering Notre Dame’s lack of success vs. the Cavaliers in recent years. But UVA is still on another level than Princeton. Also, Notre Dame just ran UVA out of the gym a week ago.

I think this could be very similar to what we saw in the first round vs. Northeastern two years ago. Notre Dame just squeaked by in that game, but ultimately ran through to the Elite Eight.

Even though Princeton is a veteran-laden team, they don’t have Notre Dame’s March experience. That should definitely play a factor in this one.

I’m confident in the likes of Colson, Farrell and Vasturia, but the guy who is the x-factor for me is Beachem. He needs to come out firing from the jump.

Oh...and one last thing. If the Irish want to advance in the NCAA Tournament...WEAR THE GOLD JERSEYS.

All stats from TeamRankings.com, HoopMath.com, KenPom.com, ESPN.com, UND.com