NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (25-8)
vs. LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (27-5)
Big East Conference Tournament - Semifinals
Madison Square Garden – New York, NY
Tip-off: Friday, 9:30 p.m. ET
Line: Louisville -8, Total: 123
After splitting a wild regular-season series highlighted by a five-overtime affair, No. 24 Notre Dame and No. 4 Louisville will meet for the third time this season Friday with a berth to Saturday's Big East Championship Game on the line.
The first time these schools played resulted in the longest regular-season game in conference history, a 104-101 Notre Dame victory in five overtimes. That marked the sixth time in eight meetings that these teams played an overtime affair. However, Louisville hasn't lost since that marathon (8-0 SU, 6-2 ATS) and made sure the game would end after 40 minutes last Saturday when the Irish visited KFC Yum! Center and left with a 73-57 defeat. The Cardinals have now won seven of their eight straight victories by 14+ points and have covered the spread in each of the past five games. Notre Dame has also played well recently, going 10-4 SU in the past 12 games, and 5-2 ATS in the past seven contests.
Will these teams play another close game on Friday, or will Louisville win and cover the hefty spread? For the answer, connect to College Basketball Best Bets for all the Expert picks throughout the entire 2012-13 season. The experts were a collective 85% ATS (11-2-1) on Thursday and are 65% ATS (43-23-2) in the past six days, with StatFox Brian posting a 78% ATS mark (14-4-1), StatFox Gary going 67% ATS (8-4), StatFox Dave at 60% ATS (9-6) and StatFox Scott at 57% ATS (12-9-1) since Saturday. Gary has a 63% ATS mark (19-11) since Feb. 27 to improve to 55.2% ATS (106-86-4) for college basketball Best Bets this season. Dave is 57% ATS (20-15) since Feb. 28, and 52% ATS (166-154-5) for the season.
The Irish average 70.8 PPG on an impressive 46.6% FG (37th in nation) this season. They entered the Big East Tournament in an offensive funk, scoring just 59.0 PPG in their final six regular-season games. But despite shooting just 40.7% FG in their two wins at Madison Square Garden, they are still scoring 71.0 PPG in the tournament thanks to a 33-of-40 clip (83%) from the foul line and a mere 8.0 TOPG, boosting their nation's-best 1.57 Ast/TO ratio (17.2 APG, 10.9 TOPG). The team's go-to player is PF Jack Cooley (13.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG) who posted one of his 19 double-doubles this season in the five-overtime win over Louisville with 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out. But this foul trouble has been severely limiting him in the past three games, where he has nearly as many fouls (13) as points (15). Cooley finished with just seven points (3-of-9 FG) and seven rebounds in Saturday's loss to the Cardinals, and may not see many open looks on Friday either with his opponent's relentless defense. The Irish backcourt of Jerian Grant (13.4 PPG, 5.7 APG) and Eric Atkins (11.5 PPG, 5.8 APG) remains one of the top duos in the nation. Grant had 17 points, six rebounds, six assists, three steals, two blocks and zero turnovers against Marquette on Thursday. With 26 assists and just six turnovers in his past four games, he now sports a 2.10 Ast/TO ratio. He hasn't shot very well this year though at 40.8% FG, including 9-of-37 FG (24%) in his past three games, and 6-of-23 versus Louisville this season. Atkins has a whopping 2.71 Ast/TO ratio this season, but scored just nine points with three assists and three turnovers against the Cardinals, which started a three-game stretch of failing to score in double-figures (8.0 PPG on 7-of-18 FG). He has been ice-cold against Louisville this season, making just 8-of-27 FG (29.6%). When the Irish prevailed in that five-overtime game, they did so with four players fouling out, which allowed C Garrick Sherman (7.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG) to step up with 17 points and six rebounds off the bench. Swingman Pat Connaughton (9.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG) racked up 16 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in 56 minutes that night, and also scored 13 points at Louisville to end the regular season. And he's been smoking-hot in Manhattan with 19.5 PPG on 12-of-18 threes so far in the Big East Tournament.
Louisville scores 73.6 PPG on 44.6% FG and 32.7% threes, but this team is much more impressive on the defensive end of the court, where it allows a mere 57.9 PPG on 38.9% FG and 30.7% threes. Since the loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9, the Cardinals have beaten their eight opponents by an average score of 70 to 54, not allowing more than 61 points in any of these victories. SG Russ Smith (18.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG) opened the Big East Tournament with a monster game against Villanova, scoring 28 points on 7-of-12 FG (4-of-6 threes) and 10-of-11 FT. That was a huge improvement from his five points (2-for-8 FG) against Notre Dame on Saturday. Smith also struggled with his shot in the five-overtime loss, making just 4-of-19 FG, including 0-for-6 threes. PF Chane Behanan (10.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG) had an unbelievable night in South Bend last month with 30 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks in his 56 minutes of action. But he has been in an offensive funk in the past four games with a paltry 5.3 PPG and 2.3 RPG despite logging 26+ minutes in all four contests. C Gorgui Dieng (10.2 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 2.5 BPG) did not play well against Villanova with six points and three rebounds in 25 foul-plagued minutes, but has really dominated the Irish this season with 18.5 PPG, 12.0 RPG, 3.0 BPG and 3.0 SPG. PG Peyton Siva (9.9 PPG, 5.8 APG, 2.0 SPG) has not shot well this season (41.6% FG), but has a modest three-game streak of double-figure scoring, averaging 11.3 PPG on 45% FG with 4.3 APG and 2.0 SPG. For the season, he has a strong 2.09 Ast/TO ratio.