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College Hoops Pick
As usual, the Big East standings are a mess. There are still basically nine teams that can go on to win the conference in the regular season with all of them being within two games of each other. Notre Dame may be 6-4, but they are only two games behind the leaders which can easily be overcome in this conference. Louisville hit a minor snag two weeks ago and now has three losses in conference play.
Notre Dame is still looking for that big win over a top team. They won at Cincinnati in their first road game of the season, but haven't really done anything major since then. Since that game, the Fighting Irish have gone 4-4 with their best win being over Villanova at home. They had back-to-back losses against Connecticut and St. Johns. After starting the season 14-1, ND doesn't really look as good as people thought earlier in the season.
Meanwhile Louisville, a preseason Top 5 team, is starting to work things out. They lost three straight games at the end of January, but have come back strong with big home wins over Pittsburgh and Marquette and most recently a 20-point win at Rutgers.
Even with the stacked roster and bigger names, junior guard Russ Smith is probably the biggest key to the Cardinals success. In road losses at Nova and Georgetown, Smith only had 20 points total for the two games. In the next two games which were wins, Smith had 38 total points. It's no coincidence that when Smith plays well, this team plays well. He has taken 140 more field goal attempts than anyone else on the roster. If he has a bad day, no one has really stepped up in his absence.
Gorgui Dieng is a great defender and rebounder, but his offensive game is still lacking. The same can be said about Peyton Siva who's in his final season and only averaging 10.7 points per game. He doesn't like to attack the basket which shows in his 6.1 assists per game. He's had games in which he was great offensively, going for 14 against Marquette and 15 on Villanova. However, he managed just five total points in the three games against Pitt, G'Town and Cuse. Chase Behanan was supposed to make a big leap in his sophomore campaign, but is only averaging one more point per game this year. To be a successful team, they'll need to figure out their offense against tournament-worthy teams away from home.
As mentioned before, Notre Dame isn't a model of success, either. The offense is run through big man Jack Cooley who stands at 6'9". He leads the team in scoring (14.8 PPG), rebounding (11.3 REB) and blocks (1.3 BLK). Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are the ones that set him up and average a combined 11.7 assists per game. They don't have any amazing three-pointer shooters, but they have five players that have hit at least 29 from long range this season which lets them spread the floor. Unfortunately, one of those players is Scott Martin whose season could be over due to injury.
The Cardinals were a little closer to having all the pieces click in their last few games and will need to continue that improvement in this game. The Fighting Irish need a spark on offense other than Cooley to pull out a win over a tough Louisville squad.
Predicted Score - Louisville 68 Notre Dame 56
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