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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: North Carolina State Wolfpack Preview

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Notre Dame plays another ranked team from North Carolina tomorrow...let’s see what that means!!!

NCAA Basketball: Pittsburgh at N.C. State Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Folks,,, for the third Saturday in a row, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team will host an ACC opponent, with tomorrow’s match-up featuring the #17 North Carolina State Wolfpack.

The Irish, 11-6 (1-3 ACC), are fresh off a valiant — but ultimately losing — effort at the #13 North Carolina Tar Heels on Tuesday evening, as ND lost 75-69 in a hard-fought game where they simply struggled to score down the stretch.

The Wolfpack, meanwhile, are 14-3 (2-2 ACC) on the year, sporting a veteran, talented group under the tutelage of second-year coach Kevin Keatts. This match-up is just the latest in a gauntlet of match-ups over the next couple weeks for Notre Dame, as after facing the two top-20 North Carolina state schools back-to-back, ND also will play host to top-5 squads Duke and Virginia within the next 3 games. Simply put, this could be a rough stretch for the Irish.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

However, considering how close the Irish have played all non-Virginia Tech ACC opponents, Notre Dame may just have a shot in this home game against the least-formidable ranked team during the gauntlet outlined above. Let’s dive into the details to understand the opponent and what Mike Brey and crew will be dealing with tomorrow afternoon.

Quick Facts

  • Notre Dame and NC State will be meeting for the 14th time tomorrow, with the Irish leading the all-time series 8-5. ND is 4-2 against the Wolfpack as a member of the ACC (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • Junior guard T.J. Gibbs ranks second in the ACC in assist/turnover ratio (3.50), joining freshman backcourt mate Prentiss Hubb (8th, 2.03) in the top 10. The Irish are the only team in the league with two players in the top 10 (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • John Mooney’s 16-point, 19-rebound performance and 9th double-double of the season that came against North Carolina on Tuesday pushed his season numbers to averaging a double-double, as he now scores 13.7 points and grabs 10.4 rebounds per game. He leads the ACC both in rebounding and in double-doubles (per Alan Wasielewski)
NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
  • John Mooney is the latest Irish player to make a significant jump in their statistical production during their junior seasons in the Notre Dame program. He is poised to become the 10th junior since the 2005-06 season to improve his scoring by at least 200 points during his junior season (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Junior Juwan Durham leads the ACC in blocked shots per game with a 3.20 average (48 total in 15 games played). That number puts him 5th in the country entering this weekend’s action (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame, on average, is committing just 13.6 personal fouls per game — which is tied with Michigan for the NCAA lead in that statistical category (per Alan Wasielewski)

Where: Purcell Pavilion — Notre Dame, Indiana

When: Saturday, January 18th at 2:00 PM ET

How to Watch:

North Carolina State Wolfpack (14-3, 2-2 ACC)

The Wolfpack entered this season hoping to build on a 21-12 first season under Coach Keatts that ended with a First Round loss to the Seton Hall Pirates in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolfpack are off to a pretty good start in doing so, having won 14 of their first 17, including already snagging a couple solid wins over the now-14th-ranked Auburn Tigers and the Miami Hurricanes. Their only non-conference loss came at Wisconsin, and so far in conference play they’ve been both good and bad, losing to North Carolina and at Wake Forest while beating the Hurricanes on the road and the Pittsburgh Panthers at home.

NC State is a very strong offensive team, heading into Purcell tomorrow sporting the #19 offense according to KenPom.com. They rank as #4 in scoring (88.6 ppg), #14 in adjusted tempo, #15 in field goal percentage (49.8%), and #38 in 3-point percentage (38.2%). Needless to say, the Irish will struggle a bit to contain these guys on the defensive end, considering their ability to get up and down the floor and score lots of points.

That offense is driven by a smattering of guys averaging at least 9 points per game, with senior guard Torin Dorn leading the group with his 14.4-point average. To go along with that, the 6’5” Dorn also leads the team in rebounding (7 rpg) and shoots 50% from the field overall and 33% from 3.

Joining Dorn in the Double-Digit Scoring Average Club are 6’1” junior guard Markell Johnson (11.6 ppg, 4.1 apg), 6’5” junior guard CJ Bryce (11.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and 6’5” sophomore guard Devon Daniels (10.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg). All three bring lots of length and athleticism to the table and shoot at least 45% from the field, while Johnson also shoots a SCORCHING 46% from deep.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at N.C. State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

A few underclassmen help round out the main scorers on the team, as sophomore guard Braxton Beverly (9.4 ppg, 2.9 apg, 39% 3FG), 6’10” sophomore forward DJ Funderburk (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg, 64% FG, 36% 3FG), and 6’7” freshman forward Jericole Hellems (7 ppg, 2.9 rpg) bring more versatility and scoring to the table, with Funderburk also providing the main paint presence defensively.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina at N.C. State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Toss in seniors Eric Lockett (6’5”, 6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 54% FG, 56% 3FG) and Wyatt Walker (6’9”, 6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 0.9 bpg), and the Wolfpack are a deep, talented team with lots of guys who could be THE guy offensively on any given night.

They’ll be a tough match-up for the Irish, who are 111th in defense according to KenPom.com and could really struggle to guard all the long, talented wings NC State will throw at them. What will help, though, is having Juwan Durham hopefully somewhat healthy and able to protect the rim a bit, forcing the Wolfpack to shoot more jump shots. If guys like Prentiss Hubb and T.J. Gibbs and Dane Goodwin can do a solid job of closing out on shooters (at times this can be a big “if”), and if John “John Mutton” Mooney continues to own the boards, maybe the Irish can slow NC State’s scoring attack down a little bit.

Whereas the Wolfpack are great offensively, they are pretty mediocre defensively, ranking 78th according to KenPom.com. But, with that said, Keatts’ team does excel in one defensive metric — forcing turnovers. NC State is #8 in the country in turnovers forced per game, as opponents are turning it over 18.1 times on average.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Miami-Florida Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

That metric is somewhat scary considering the youth of the Irish, but considering that ND, with this young team, is still somehow tied for 4th in the country for fewest turnovers per game (9.6), ND fans can rest easy knowing that Mike Brey still has his team efficiently handling the ball. We might see an uptick in ND’s average if the freshmen get a little sloppy at times, but I doubt the Irish will be forced to turn it over 18 times tomorrow.

The key for the Irish will be if anyone besides John Mooney is able to hit some shots and help carry the scoring load — I’m looking at you, T.J. Gibbs and DJ Harvey.

Wolfpack to Watch

Torin Dorn, Guard, Senior

He’s got the size and athleticism and shooting ability to score from anywhere, and he’s a great rebounder and a senior to boot, meaning he knows what he’s doing out there as one of the leaders of the team. If Dorn is able to do whatever he wants, especially at the rim, it could be a very long day for the Irish.

NCAA Basketball: N.C. State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Irish X-Factor

T.J. Gibbs, Guard, Junior

Gibbs has not been 100% recently due to illness, but hopefully he will be fully recovered and ready to go come tip-off tomorrow. John Mooney has been sensational so far this year — especially in ACC play — but the Irish can’t win unless Gibbs is hitting shots and helping attack the hoop/penetrate/kick out to shooters like Nate Laszewski and Dane Goodwin. If Gibbs is able to be efficient with the ball and help Mooney with the scoring, the Irish just might be able to keep up with NC State’s potent offense.

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

Prediction

I’m a homer, so if I have a chance to predict this young, developing ND team can defeat a ranked opponent, I will absolutely do so.

ND is playing at home, where the Irish consistently beat ranked opponents, and with Gibbs healthier, Durham hopefully a little less hobbled, how beastly John Mooney has been, Lasz showing tons of toughness, and Prentiss Hubb playing actually pretty damn well despite the bad shooting start to his freshman season, I think the Irish can pull this off against a very good, but certainly not unbeatable, Wolfpack squad (if Wake Forest could do it, this ND team can too, you guys).

I say Notre Dame wins this one 84-80.