Sports

Hoosier State rivals collide in third-round action

Pittsburgh, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - After avoiding an early tournament exit, the third-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish get back to work, as they take on a very familiar opponent in the sixth-seeded Butler Bulldogs on Saturday in Midwest Regional third-round action from the CONSOL Energy Center.

The winner of this game moves into the Sweet 16 against either Wichita State or Kansas.

Mike Brey's Irish have now won six straight games, including capturing the ACC Tournament title and opening NCAA Tournament play with a harder-than-thought 69-65 victory over Northeastern in the second round on Thursday. With the victory, the Irish have reached 30 wins in a season for the first time since the 1908-09 campaign. Notre Dame is making its fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last five years and its 34th all-time.

Butler made a name for itself with back-to-back runs to the NCAA Championship Game in 2010 and 2011. This year's squad enters this game with a 23-10 overall record. Chris Holtmann's Bulldogs' have thrived under the bright lights with five victories over Top-25 teams this year. Butler opened tournament play on Thursday with a 56-48 win over Texas. Butler is taking part in its 13th NCAA Tournament with a 20-12 all-time record in the event.

These two in-state rivals have met 102 times in a series that dates back to the 1908-09 campaign. The Irish hold a 71-31 series advantage, but these foes haven't met since 2006.

Butler played a solid defensive game and used a 12-5 to close things out to pull off a tough win over Texas on Thursday. The game was decided at the free- throw line, where the Bulldogs converted 8-of-10 attempts in the final minute of play. Junior Kellen Dunham led all scorers with 20 points in the win. No other Bulldog finished in double figures, although Kameron Woods did just miss a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.

The Bulldogs aren't an offensive juggernaut in any way, shape or form, entering this contest averaging a modest 69.2 ppg. Dunham however, is a dynamic playmaker, averaging 16.8 ppg. Fellow junior Roosevelt Jones and sophomore Andrew Chrabascz usually provide depth at 12.4 and 10.9 ppg, respectively. Jones did suffer a knee injury in the second half against Texas, but he did return to the game and is expected to suit up against Notre Dame. Seniors Alex Barlow (9.2 ppg) and Woods (7.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg) play important roles as well.

Notre Dame is known for its offensive prowess, but that didn't help the Irish against Northeastern, which nearly pulled off the upset on Thursday. Despite shooting the ball at a stellar .574 clip, Notre Dame finished with just 69 points. Zach Auguste had a big game, hitting 10-of-14 from the floor to lead all scorers with 25 points. Jerian Grant poured in 17 points, while Demetrius Jackson and Pat Connaughton finished with nine points each.

Usually, Notre Dame has plenty of scoring punch, as the team ranks 11th nationally in scoring at 78.5 ppg and do so on an efficient .512 shooting (second nationally). The team is led by the All-American Grant. The junior guard can dominate both as a scorer (16.8 ppg) and distributor (6.6 apg). He isn't alone in his ability to fill up the basket. Auguste is next in line at 12.8 ppg and is followed closely by Connaughton and Jackson, with 12.7 and 12.4 ppg, respectively.