Saturday, January 31, 2009


January 31, 2009

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish face their fifth straight ranked opponent on Saturday when they travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers in a Big East conference showdown. The Irish will look for better luck in this one as they have lost their previous four games and have slipped to 3-5 in the Big East.

Pittsburgh is coming off a loss of their own as the Panthers were beaten 67-57 at Villanova on Wednesday night, dropping Pitt to 6-2 in the Big East. Pitt was mired in foul trouble to several players, but the biggest one was DeJuan Blair being limited, much like their earlier loss at Louisville

Here are some pregame stories about the game:

Notre Dame’s Ayers in Slump, Along With Team (Chicago Tribune)
Brey: It is Time for Irish to Grow Up and Play (Courier Press)
Pitt’s Two Losses are Strikingly Similar (Post-Gazette)
Harangody Playing as Expected (Post Gazette)
Irish Enter Unfamiliar Territory (South Bend Tribune)
Ayers Remedies: Rest and Repitition (South Bend Tribune)

While Pitt’s two losses were very similar, it is unlikely to be the case that Notre Dame will be able to replicate the same defensive pressure that Louisville and Villanova are able to apply against opponents, especially on the road. The Irish are a team not know for their defense.

With their backs against the wall and desperate for a win after four losses, I expect the Irish defensive effort to be much improved, but in reality, it has not been their defense as much in their last two games as a struggling offense. Sure, Luke Harangody is still putting up monster numbers, over 25 points and 16 rebounds a game in their last four, but it is taking him a ton of shots to get those points while his teammates are all in a slump together.

Pittsburgh is not a team to face when your struggling offensively, especially from the perimeter where Jermaine Dixon is quickly becoming one of the most feared defenders in college basketball. Dixon will have the assignment of guarding Kyle McAlarney and as teams have found out lately, make Harangody work for his points, but accept he is going to get them, shut down McAlarney, and you should be in good shape.

For Pitt, they need to keep DeJuan Blair on the court. In the two losses, foul trouble limited his time on the court and saw Pitt give up double-digit first half leads once he was missing time because of fouls. With Blair on the bench, Pitt is not the same team and they give up more points, especially on the boards, and it allows the defense to set their pressure. While ND is unlikely to come with pressure, Blair’s ability to rebound and score is needed all game here.

Pitt is an 11 ½ -point favorite on their home floor. The Irish will be desperate, and I expect them to play tough on the defensive end, but the pressure of needing the win and the Pitt defense will continue to hold the Irish offense in check. Pitt wins comfortably, but maybe not quite with the ease expected with the line.

NBE Blogger Prediction:

Pittsburgh 74
Notre Dame 66



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