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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball at Louisville Cardinals Preview

The Fighting Irish head to Louisville this afternoon to try to steal a win against a struggling Cardinals team

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Well folks, we’re entering the final week of the NCAA hoops season, and your Notre Dame Fighting Irish are just trying to put together a few positive performances before their season likely ends with a loss in the ACC Tournament.

The Irish are 13-15 overall and an abysmal 3-12 in ACC play, landing them just above the last-place Pittsburgh Panthers in the conference standings. They’re coming off another close-but-no-cigar loss on Monday evening, when the Irish pushed the Florida State Seminoles to the brink but once again collapsed down the stretch.

Now, ND travels to Kentucky to take on the Louisville Cardinals before finishing up the regular season with games against the Clemson Tigers and Pittsburgh Panthers next week. How do the two squads match up? Let’s take a look at what the Cardinals bring to the table under first year head coach Chris Mack.

Quick Facts

  • This is the 38th meeting between these two programs, with Louisville leading the all-time series 22-15 (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • Just two points separate the Notre Dame - Louisville series since the Irish and Cardinals became conference opponents in 2005-06 in the Big East. Louisville leads the series 10-8 over that span while Notre Dame leads in points scored 1,350 to 1,348 (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • In the 18 games the Irish and Cardinals have played since 2005-06, 8 of those games have gone to overtime (44% of games), and 4 of them have gone to multiple overtimes (22%). They’ve played 15 total OT periods in that 18-game span, which calculates out to 0.8 OT periods, on average, per game, or 1.88 OT periods, on average, per OT game (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • John Mooney leads all major conference players in rebounds per game in league action with a 12.1 average in ACC play. He leads the ACC and is tied for 9th in the country with 17 double-doubles (he’s 4th in double-doubles among major conference players). He also paces the ACC in 10-rebound performances with 18 this season (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Freshman Prentiss Hubb is 4th in the country in playing time for a true freshman from a major conference team (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • With a 9.6 average, Notre Dame is 5th in the country in turnovers committed per game (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame is committing just 14 personal fouls per game - the 2nd-lowest average in the country behind Loyola Chicago at 13.8 (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame is shooting 76% from the free throw line, good for 21st in the country, 6th among major conference teams, and 2nd in the ACC. Should the team average remain above 74%, this would mark the 5th consecutive season the Irish would shoot over 74% from the charity stripe — including the NCAA-leading 80% in 2016-17 (per Alan Wasielewski)

Where: KFC Yum! Center — Louisville, Kentucky

When: Sunday, March 3rd at 1:30 PM ET

How to Watch:

Louisville Cardinals (18-11 9-7 ACC)

The Louisville Cardinals have had quite the interesting, and pleasantly surprising, first season under former Xavier Musketeers head coach Chris Mack.

The Cardinals have spent a lot of the year as a surprising mainstay in the AP Top 25, picking up some big wins from November through January, winning against the Michigan State Spartans and North Carolina State Wolfpack at home and picking up very impressive road wins in Chapel Hill and Blacksburg, taking down the North Carolina Tar Heels and Virginia Tech Hokies.

Unfortunately, the Cardinals have some embarrassing losses on their resume as well (Indiana Hoosiers, Pittsburgh Panthers, and a loss at Boston College just this past Wednesday), and have hit a serious rough patch of late, losing 6 of their last 8 games.

But even with the recent slump, the Cardinals have performed much better than many expected in Mack’s first year with the program, taking over a team that was just trying to recover from the number Rick Pitino and his transgressions did on it a couple years ago. To say Mack is ahead of schedule in revamping the program is an understatement.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals are currently 7th in the ACC and rate well in KenPom — ranked 23rd overall — and can be granted a little leeway with their late slide thanks to their #12-ranked strength of schedule.

Louisville’s team is built on defense, for sure, as their defensive efficiency is #17 in the nation according to KenPom, and their offense is nothing to write home about, considering they shoot more threes than any team not named Notre Dame in the ACC and yet are 136th in the country in terms of making those threes (of course, to be fair, ND’s attempt-to-percentage perspective is much worse...the Irish lead the ACC in 3-point attempts but are somehow 307th in the country in terms of making them).

The Cardinals are top-50 in FG% defense and in defensive rebounding, and do a good job of using lots of very talented athletes to slow down offenses. Their tempo is 213th in the country as well, meaning they certainly look to slow games down when they have the ball.

Unfortunately, their offense, though 34th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency ratings, has its weak spots — the Cardinals are 224th in FG%, 170th in offensive rebounds per game, 116th in scoring offense, and 154th in turnovers committed per game. The Cardinals do, however, shoot VERY well from the free throw line — Mack has his guys currently 10th in the country in free throw percentage. Luckily, the Irish are 2nd-best in the country at not fouling, otherwise the concern about giving Louisville too many free points would certainly exist.

Their squad is led by 6’8” sophomore forward Jordan Nwora, who is one of the only guys out there who had a more impressive year-over-year leap than John Mooney.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Nwora is averaging 17.1 points (6th in the ACC), 7.6 rebounds, 44% shooting, 38% long range shooting, and 76% shooting from the charity stripe. That’s a major improvement over his freshman year numbers: 5.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 12 mpg (this year he’s playing 32 mpg).

After Nwora, 6 guys contribute somewhere between 5 and 11 points to the scoring effort, as the Cardinals have a pretty balanced attack after their #1 guy. 6’5” junior forward Dwayne Sutton puts up 10.5 and 7 per night while also managing to shoot 45% from the floor and 38% from deep, and senior guard Christen Cunningham scores 10 points per game while also averaging 5 assists per contest, which is good enough for 3rd in the conference. He, too, shoots efficiently from the field, hitting 47% of his shots and 37% from three point range.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals also boast a pair of very tall big men, as 6’10” junior center Steven Enoch clocks in with 9.3 points and 5 rebounds per game, but also is a very good shooter overall — 53% from the field, 81% from the line, and 39% from long range.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore Malik Williams is 6’11” and averages 7.3 and 5.7 per game to go along with 1.2 blocks per contest, giving Mack another tall, productive center to go along with Enoch.

Junior guard Ryan McMahon (7.6 ppg, 95% FT, 37% 3FG) and sophomore guard Darius Perry (5 ppg) round out the main rotation, providing solid depth on the perimeter.

Cardinal to Watch

Jordan Nwora, Forward, Sophomore

He’s their best player and is a 6’8”, young, fantastic athlete who can score from anywhere. He’ll be a tough matchup for anyone on the perimeter for the Irish due to his length, and a tough matchup for any of the Irish’s bigs due to his quickness and outside shooting. He’ll have a good game and really drive the Cardinals to victory in this one.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Irish X-Factor

T.J. Gibbs, Guard, Junior

John Mooney will get his typical 14 and 10, Prentiss Hubb and D.J. Harvey will probably do some first half scoring, etc. But Gibbs’ up-and-down season continues to be one of the keys in terms of how well ND plays. Sure, the Irish can compete without him (see the FSU game last Monday as Exhibit A), but ND is a much better team when Gibbs is confident, having fun, and knocking down shots. If he can bring his A-game, the Irish have a chance to catch this Louisville team that’s already reeling and pick up a nice confidence-building win for next season.

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

Prediction

Despite the fact Louisville has been struggling of late, I don’t see this ND team finding a way to beat them — especially on the road. The Irish might make this one close like some of the others, but the last 5-6 minutes will likely give us the same drought/inability to get stops that have plagued the team all year.

Louisville wins this one 76-67.