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Notre Dame Basketball: Penn State Game Preview

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A St. Patrick’s Day matchup between the Fighting Irish and the Nittany Lions

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Notre Dame Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

After cruising to victory against the Hampton Pirates in round one of the National Invitation Tournament, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish take the floor on St. Patty’s Day for round two against the Penn State Nittany Lions. It’s a matchup that doesn’t have much history but both teams were on the NCAA Tournament selection committee’s radar this year. I’m going to keep this brief because, let’s be honest, a leprechaun just can’t lose on this day.

Quick Facts

  • This is the fifth meeting between Notre Dame and Penn State on the hardwood, with Penn State leading the all-time series 3-1. It’s the first time Penn State will play at Purcell Pavilion.
  • It’s the third time the Fighting Irish and the Nittany Lions will meet in the NIT, with the two teams splitting the previous matchups, both in the semifinals of the tournament.
  • This is Notre Dame’s 12th appearance in the NIT, with four championship game appearances and no title.
  • Notre Dame is 27-11 all-time in the NIT and 15-3 at Purcell Pavilion in the tournament.
  • Senior Martinas Geben led all ACC players in offensive rebounds per game during the ACC tournament, pulling down 13 in three games (4.33 pg).
  • Martinas Geben and Bonzie Colson combined to average 14.3 rebounds per game in the ACC tournament, the top two-player combination of any team in the tournament. Geben and Colson both pulled down 44 rebounds in three games.
  • Colson has joined assistant coach and former player Ryan Humphrey as the only two players in Notre Dame history who posted 1,600 points, 850 rebounds and 150 blocked shots in their careers.

WHEN: Saturday, March 17, 2018, 12 p.m. ET

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center

HOW TO WATCH: ESPN national broadcast with Roy Philpott and Brooke Weisbrod. Also available anywhere the WatchESPN app is accessible.

Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland. Available locally at WSBT AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on WatchND.tv and via network affiliates.

Penn State Nittany Lions (22-13)

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

As fate would have it, Penn State had its best season since it won the NIT in 2009 after defeating the Fighting Irish in the semifinals. The Nittany Lions were on the bubble for a while, and two or three more wins in Big Ten play might have gotten them into the big dance. All signs would normally point to this being a good matchup, but we all know Notre dame is better than its record shows.

When comparing the two teams side by side, the numbers are nearly identical. Penn State averages one less point per game than Notre Dame (74.3), two less opponent points per game (68.5) and one less rebound per game. Penn State has slight advantages over the Fighting Irish in field goal percentage (45.8), three-point field goal percentage (38.3), steals per game (7.3) and blocks per game (5.1), but the Nittany Lions also turn the ball over 12 times per game and shoot under 70 percent from the free throw line.

Penn State’s starting five all average double figures in scoring this season, but behind them there is a steep drop off in production. Sophomore guard Tony Carr is the clear leader with 19.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. Carr also shoots an impressive 45 percent from behind the arc and leads the team in minutes.

Sophomore forward Lamar Stevens is second on the team, averaging 14.8 points per game and grabbing 6.1 rebounds per game. Sophomore forward Mike Watkins leads the team with 8.9 rebounds per game to go along with his third-best 12.1 points per game. Senior guard Shep Garner adds 11 points per game and junior guard Josh Reaves adds 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Nobody else on the Penn State roster even gets five points per game. In fact, none of their bench players even attempt four field goals per game. The Nittany Lions are also under sized; Watkins measures 6-foot-9, and 7-footer Satchel Pierce only plays 7.4 minutes per game. That’s not something that should hurt them too much against Notre Dame though.

Penn State mostly struggled against the top tier of the Big Ten, losing its only matchups against Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State. But the Nittany Lions had Ohio State’s number this year, beating them three times including knocking the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten tournament. They also got one crack at the ACC with a win over Pittsburgh, but we all know what that means.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Penn State vs Northwestern Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Nittany Lion to Watch:

Tony Carr, G, Sophomore

The obvious choice here, Carr is a well-rounded player and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in his sophomore season. At 6-foot-5 and 204 pounds, he is big and athletic for his position and his rebounding numbers show that. Carr shoots just over 40 percent from the field but he also takes more field goals than anyone else on the team. I’ve never watched a second of Penn State basketball, but to me Carr’s numbers suggest that he has the ball a lot even if he isn’t technically the point guard. He facilitates this offense in many different ways, so shutting him down would be a great strategy for the Fighting Irish.

Irish X-Factor:

T.J. Gibbs, G, Sophomore

Gibbs has been a little further from the spotlight since Bonzie returned to the lineup, so I just want to take this opportunity to shout him out. He’s coming off his best game in Notre Dame’s last six outings with 17 points and six rebounds against Hampton, and that’s the kind of Gibbs we need to see more often. Having Bonzie back obviously takes some shots away from Gibbs, but this team is at its best when both of them are getting good shots, along with Farrell. Since Penn State is a decent three-point shooting team, Gibbs is going to need to knock a few of those down too.

Prediction:

Notre Dame 79 - Penn State 70

This has the potential to be a great game. Penn State was tough in the Big Ten this year and I’m sure they will be excited for another ACC matchup. But on St. Patty’s Day in South Bend with a bunch of screaming Irish fans? They don’t stand a chance.