RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (15-15)
at NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (23-8)
Big East Conference Tournament - Second Round
Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
Tip-off: Wednesday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Line: Notre Dame -7.5, Total: 124.5
No. 24 Notre Dame will open its final Big East Tournament on Wednesday night when it faces a Rutgers team that started its tournament with a blowout victory on Tuesday.
The Irish are moving to the ACC next season, but they're hoping to improve greatly on their 9-17 SU record in Big East Tournament history. And although Notre Dame has advanced to the semifinal round in each of the past three seasons, it has never played in a Big East Championship game. Rutgers started off its postseason Wednesday with a 76-57 trouncing of DePaul in the first round. The Scarlet Knights led by only one point at halftime, but outscored the Blue Demons 44-26 after intermission, thanks mostly to PF Wally Judge who scored a team-high 20 points on a perfect 9-for-9 FG while pulling down 10 boards. Although Notre Dame is 8-2 SU in the past 10 matchups between these schools, Rutgers is 13-3 ATS in the past 16 meetings versus the Irish. When they first met this season on Jan. 19, 12-point favorite Notre Dame eked out a 69-66 home win. The Irish are an even 6-6 ATS in non-home games (2-1 ATS on neutral court) this season, while the Knights are a much more profitable 9-4 ATS outside of Piscataway, with Wednesday's game being their first neutral-site contest this season.
Can the Irish start off their final Big East Tournament with a lopsided victory over Rutgers? For the answer, connect to College Basketball Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The experts were a point away from a perfect Tuesday, going 4-1 ATS with the only defeat being Nevada (+3.5) losing by 4 to Wyoming. The experts are now 66% ATS (27-14) in the past four days, with StatFox Gary going 83% ATS (5-1), StatFox Brian posting an 80% ATS mark (8-2), StatFox Dave at 60% ATS (6-4) and StatFox Scott at 53% ATS (8-7) since Saturday. Gary has a 67% ATS mark (16-8) since Feb. 27 to improve to 55.4% ATS (103-83-4) for college basketball Best Bets this season. Dave is 57% ATS (17-13) since Feb. 28, and 52% ATS (163-152-5) for the season.
Since winning at St. John's on Jan. 9, Rutgers has not beaten any Big East team that finished higher than the Knights in the final standings, as all four wins have come against Seton Hall, South Florida and DePaul, the three worst teams in the conference. But since ending a five-game losing skid, Rutgers has allowed just 54.0 PPG during a modest two-game win streak. The Knights score just 65.5 PPG on 44.3% FG this season, but were much more efficient on Tuesday with 76 points on 61.1% FG and 6-of-11 threes. SG Myles Mack (13.5 PPG, 2.7 APG) scored 19 points (8-of-15 FG, 3-of-5 threes) with four rebounds, four assists and three steals versus DePaul, and chipped in with 12 points and three steals versus Notre Dame earlier this season. Mack has been deadly from behind the arc all season (46% threes), knocking down 7-of-13 from long range over his past three contests. Although PF Wally Judge (7.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG) was the hero Tuesday with a double-double, he played just 17 minutes in the loss in South Bend on Jan. 19, finishing with four points and zero rebounds. Senior swingman Dane Miller (6.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG) didn't shoot well in that loss to the Irish (3-for-9 FG), but finished with nine rebounds (4 offensive), five assists and three blocks. But since a 17-point outburst versus Providence on Feb. 23, Miller has averaged just 4.8 PPG and failed to score a single point (0-for-2 FG) in Tuesday's win. SG Jerome Seagears had a huge game against DePaul with 15 points, seven rebounds and four assists, but did very little versus the Irish with a mere five points (1-of-5 FG). Rutgers has been without leading scorer Eli Carter (14.9 PPG) since Feb. 16 when he broke the fibula in his right leg after a hard fall. Carter scored a team-high 20 points in the January loss to Notre Dame.
The Irish average 70.7 PPG, but have been in an offensive funk lately with a mere 59.0 PPG over their past six contests, failing to surpass 66 points in any of these six games, where they've gone 3-3 (SU and ATS). But this is a very smart and unselfish team that rarely settles for low-percentage jumpers. Notre Dame makes 47.0% FG (27th in D-I) while boasting a nation's-best 1.57 Ast/TO ratio (17.5 APG, 11.1 TOPG). The team's go-to player is PF Jack Cooley (13.6 PPG, 10.6 RPG) who posted one of his 19 double-doubles this season versus Rutgers on Jan. 19 with 19 points and 10 rebounds. But due mostly to battling an illness this month, Cooley has a mere 6.3 PPG and 7.0 RPG in three March games. The Irish backcourt of Jerian Grant (13.4 PPG, 5.7 APG) and Eric Atkins (11.7 PPG, 5.9 APG) remains one of the top duos in the nation. Grant has a 2.05 Ast/TO ratio, including 15 assists and just three turnovers in his past two games. He hasn't shot very well this year though at 41.8% FG, including 2-of-12 from the floor in Saturday's 73-57 blowout loss at Louisville. Atkins has a whopping 2.73 Ast/TO ratio this season, but scored just nine points on 3-of-8 FG against the Cardinals. Although Atkins had more turnovers (five) than assists (four) in the Jan. 19 victory over Rutgers, Grant dished out 10 assists with just three turnovers that night. Swingman Pat Connaughton (8.4 PPG, 4.7 RPG) was a near-perfect 6-of-8 shooting (4-of-6 threes) in his 17-point outburst against the Knights and also posted a strong 13 points and seven boards in Saturday's loss.