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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Oklahoma Sooners Preview

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Your 6-1 Fighting Irish men’s basketball team takes on the Oklahoma Sooners tonight in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oklahoma vs Dayton Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team will resume its season tonight after having had the past week off, taking on the Oklahoma Sooners at 7 PM ET in the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.

The Irish (6-1) are fresh off a narrow victory over the Illinois Fighting Illini, making it four games in a row that ND has won since dropping one to Radford at home a few weeks ago.

The Sooners also enter this showdown at MSG with a 6-1 record, having defeated teams like the Florida Gators, Dayton Flyers, and Wofford Terriers in this still-young season, but having also lost to the Wisconsin Badgers by 20 points on Thanksgiving.

Now, these two teams that both lost a lot of key talent from a year ago (ever hear of Trae Young, Bonzie Colson, or Matt Farrell?) will face off in another solid non-conference test, with this one taking place in one of the most historic and legendary basketball arenas in the country.

How will the two teams match up? Let’s have a look, eh?

Quick Facts

  • Tonight’s game will be the first meeting ever between Notre Dame and Oklahoma in men’s basketball. This is also the first time Mike Brey and Lon Kruger will face each other as head coaches. Mike Brey is 45-4 (.938) at Notre Dame in first-time program meetings (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • Notre Dame is 50-20 all-time against teams currently in the Big 12, with 40 of those 70 meetings coming against West Virginia when both teams were members of the Big East. Oklahoma State will be the lone Big 12 team to never face the Irish in men’s basketball after tonight’s match-up (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • The Irish took part in the first college basketball doubleheader in MSG history (at the previous location), falling to NYU 28-16 on December 29, 1934 (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame is 59-51 all-time at Madison Square Garden (42-42 in the current venue). Under Mike Brey, the Irish are 12-21 all-time there (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame assistant coach Ryan Humphrey hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and played his first two years of college basketball at Oklahoma (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Junior John Mooney leads the ACC in double-doubles (3) and has pulled down 10 or more rebounds in four of his last five games played (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Prentiss Hubb earned his first career start against William & Mary and has started each game since, helping spark the Irish to a 4-0 record in that duration, scoring in double figures in each game (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • With five blocks in the victory over Illinois, Juwan Durham became just the sixth Mike Brey-era player to block five or more shots in a game multiple times — joining a list of former Irish stars that includes Ryan Humphrey, Jordan Cornette, Luke Harangody, Torin Francis and Bonzie Colson (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • The most recent and only previous Jimmy V Classic appearance for Notre Dame occurred exactly 11 years ago to the day of tonight’s game — Notre Dame defeated Kansas State 68-59 in the late game of the doubleheader, led by 19 points and 14 rebounds by Luke Harangody. Current Irish assistant coach Ryan Ayers started the game for Notre Dame, scoring five points with three rebounds and two steals in 30 minutes (per Alan Wasielewski)

Where: Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York

When: Tuesday, December 4th at 7:00 PM ET

How to Watch:

Oklahoma Sooners (6-1)

Lon Kruger’s Sooners in the 2017-2018 season were a team that, although ultimately disappointing (18-14 final record, loss in Round of 64 in NCAA Tourney), had the firepower to hang with most anyone in the nation.

Of course, the big driver behind that firepower was star freshman (and now Atlanta Hawk) Trae Young, who averaged 27.4 points and 8.7 assists per game as he captured the attention of basketball fans all over (and the incessant hype machine of the media) during a very impressive individual season that led to him being selected 5th overall by the Dallas Mavericks (and then traded to Atlanta).

NCAA Basketball: Iowa State at Oklahoma Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

However, Young wasn’t the only important piece lost from that tourney team, as Kruger also saw the transfer of guard Kameron McGusty (8 ppg) to the Miami Hurricanes and the graduation of senior big man Khadeem Lattin (6.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg) following last season’s end.

Nevertheless, Kruger did what he usually does and simply reloaded, and mostly with old, experienced talent that had taken a backseat to Young during his lone, dazzling year in Norman.

Senior guard Christian James is the leading returning scorer, having averaged ~12 points per game last year and now putting up a career-high 19.1 this season, to go along with 43.5% shooting from deep, 3.9 rebounds per game, and 2.1 assists per game.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oklahoma vs Dayton Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

James is the go-to guy for sure, but this Oklahoma team has a lot more solid contributors than it did last year, with more touches and opportunities to go around. 6’10” senior center Jamuni McNeace has been really good, averaging 9.9 points, 7 rebounds, and just over 2 blocks per game as he holds down the paint for OU. He’ll certainly be a tough test for the Notre Dame interior, as John Mooney will need to stay out of foul trouble, Juwan Durham will need to continue his high level of play by blocking/contesting lots of shots, and Nate Laszewski will need to chip in with his length and height as well.

Along with McNeace, the Sooners have a trio of guys who score about 9 points per game each — senior guard Miles Reynolds (2 rpg as well), senior guard Aaron Calixte (2.4 rpg, 2.7 apg as well), and sophomore forward Brady Manek, who also averages 9 rebounds per game and was an unsung freshman sensation on last year’s squad.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Oklahoma Sooners vs Rhode Island Rams Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In addition, 6’7” forward Kristian Doolittle adds good size, 6 points, and about 6 rebounds per game to the mix, giving the Sooners another long, big guy to mix it up down low.

Overall, Oklahoma has a pretty deep, experienced group that could really spell trouble for a young Irish squad that isn’t exactly great at defense. It should be interesting to see how the Irish perform in their first game of the year outside Purcell Pavilion as well.

Sooner to Watch

Christian James, Guard, Senior

The Sooners have a lot of solid experience in their lineup, but this team goes as James goes. He’s their best scorer, probably their best shooter, and at 6’4”, he could be a guy who really gives the Irish’s young perimeter players fits. Look for Rex Pflueger and TJ Gibbs to be guarding him a lot of the time if the Irish are playing man-to-man, but don’t be surprised if he’s able to get some mismatches or if others have to spend some time guarding him to help give the starters breathers. If James is on, the Sooners could run away with this one.

NCAA Basketball: Battle 4 Atlantis-Oklahoma vs Wisconsin Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Irish X-Factor

TJ Gibbs, Guard, Junior

It’s time for Gibbs to take command of this team and of his season. He’s been a bit better of late, but it’s no stretch to say the junior guard has been a bit disappointing in his play, dating back to the end of last season. If Gibbs can get going from outside and in attacking the basket, it will fuel the rest of the team and lead to good things for the Irish — especially if he can outplay Christian James.

NCAA Basketball: Illinois at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Prediction

This will be the best team ND has played this year, in my opinion, and certainly the team with the most talent to-date. I think the Irish will hang in there, but Oklahoma has too many old, experienced guys for Notre Dame to take them down — especially on such a big stage.

I think the Sooners take this one 70-62.