A pair of teams in the middle of the clogged Big East standings will square off on Monday when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Pittsburgh Panthers clash at Petersen Events Center.
Notre Dame has had just two days to bounce back from a 71-54 embarrassment on the road against Providence on Saturday. The Fighting Irish still sport a 20-6 overall record but have needed overtime to collect their last three wins. In Big East Conference play Notre Dame is 8-5 which has it tied with Pittsburgh for fifth in the league standings and just a game and a half from the top spot.
Pittsburgh was another victim to Marquette's devastating homecourt advantage on Saturday as the Panthers were downed, 79-69, at the Bradley Center. The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Panthers who not only have an identical league record as Notre Dame but the same overall mark as well (20-6). Pittsburgh has been impressive on its home floor this season with a record of 14-2 at Petersen Events Center.
It's been awhile since these two teams matched up on the hardwood with Notre Dame's 72-59 victory in late December of 2011 marking the last meeting. Including that game Notre Dame has won four straight showdowns to take a 30-27 edge in the all-time series.
In a hostile Dunkin' Donuts Center the Irish really struggled to find a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. Notre Dame shot just 39.3 percent in the game overall and hit just a single 3-pointer on 14 tries from beyond the arc. Jack Cooley (12 points, 10 rebounds) managed a double-double in the loss.
The poor shooting is not indicative of how Notre Dame has played this season. The Irish have been one of the most efficient offensive teams in the country, ranking second in the nation in assists (17.9 pg) and 14th in field-goal percentage (.480). Defensively the Irish have held teams to under 65 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting. Cooley (14.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg) has hung up the third most double-doubles in the country (16), while ranking fifth in the nation in rebounds (11.2 pg). Jerian Grant (13.0 ppg, 5.8 apg) and Eric Atkins (11.7 ppg, 5.9 apg) open up things down low for Cooley, giving the Irish two of the top players in the conference in assists.
Pittsburgh became the 14th team in 14 tries to come out of the Bradley Center with a loss this season. The Panthers got 19 points from Lamar Patterson in the contest but allowed the Golden Eagles to shoot 56.5 percent from the floor. The Panthers shot 41.7 percent themselves and were outscored 22-12 from the free-throw line.
The Panthers present an intriguing matchup for the Irish as they have also been an efficient offensive squad that relies on a ton of ball movement. The Panthers rank seventh in the nation in assists (17 pg) and 14th in field-goal percentage (.480). On the defensive end the Panthers have an advantage as they allow the ninth fewest points per game to foes (55.4) on just under 40 percent shooting. There is no one feature scorer for the Panthers, as six different players are putting in at least six points per game, but none more than Tray Woodall (10.9 ppg, 5.4 apg), who is also the top performer in terms of assists. Patterson (10.5 ppg) and Talib Zanna (10.3 ppg, 5.9 apg) add some scoring depth.