Irish and Cardinals meet in Top-25 melee

A Top-25 showdown is on tap in the Big East Conference on Saturday, as the 11th-ranked Louisville Cardinals take on the 25th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion.

Rick Pitino's Cardinals are in the thick of the conference race. Louisville has won three straight games, putting some distance between itself and an ugly three-game slide. The Cardinals began a two-game road trip on Wednesday with a 68-48 rout of Rutgers to move to 19-4 overall and 7-3 in league play, a half game behind both Syracuse and Marquette.

Mike Brey's Irish aren't far off the mark with a 6-4 league ledger. Notre Dame dropped a 63-47 decision at league-leading Syracuse on Monday, ending a three- game win streak. The Fighting Irish are 13-2 at home this season.

Louisville holds an 18-11 series advantage. These two teams split a pair of meetings a year ago, with the Cardinals getting revenge for a regular-season loss to the Irish with a 64-50 victory in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.

Louisville held the Scarlet Knights to a mere 32-percent shooting effort in a 20-point win in Piscataway. Sophomore Wayne Blackshear led the way for the Cardinals off the bench with 19 points in just 14 minutes of work. Junior Russ Smith added 14 points to the cause, while senior point guard Peyton Siva finished with nine points and seven assists.

The Cardinals have been solid at both ends of the floor this season and as a result, enjoy a +16.4 scoring margin. The team is shooting a solid .450 from the field and averaging 73.6 ppg. The defensive effort has been far more consistent, holding opponents to a mere 57.2 ppg and under 40 percent shooting (.396). Smith is a dynamic scorer, averaging 18.2 ppg to rank fourth in the Big East. Siva can score as well (10.6 ppg) but may be more valuable as a distributor (fourth in the conference at 6.1 apg). Chane Behanan (10.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Gorgui Dieng (8.9 ppg, 9.8 rpg) give the team balance in the frontcourt.

Trailing by six points at the half, Notre Dame never allowed itself to get back into the game against Syracuse, going ice-cold in the second half, converting just 27.9 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes, including a mere 2-of-11 from behind the arc. Jerian Grant led the way in defeat with 15 points. Jack Cooley posted another double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The Irish have been much more efficient at the offensive end this season, ranking ninth nationally in field-goal percentage (.487), while leading the nation in assists/turnover ratio (1.74). Cooley has been the driving force with his dominance in the paint. The 6-foot-9 senior is converting 58.4 percent of his shots and is averaging a double-double with 14.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per outing. His rebounding efforts rank fifth nationally. Grant and Eric Atkins provide perimeter scoring with 13.4 and 12.8 ppg, respectively. Both are top-tier distributors, with Grant doling out 5.9 apg and Atkins coming in at 4.8 apg.