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Men’s Basketball: Depth will be key against ‘Nova

Matt Gamber | Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Irish coach Mike Brey asked for players to step up and contribute before Saturday’s victory over DePaul, and junior forward Tyrone Nash and senior guard Ben Hansbrough came through with double-doubles.

They’ll need to do the same for Notre Dame (15-5, 4-3 Big East) to have a shot at No. 3 Villanova at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia Wednesday night.

“They’re a great team, probably one of the top teams in the country,” senior forward Luke Harangody said after Notre Dame’s 87-77 home victory over DePaul Saturday. “I couldn’t tell you the last time they lost. We just have to go in there with this confidence.”

The Wildcats (18-1, 7-0) are coming off an 81-71 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden in a game that was tight for the first half or so. Though Villanova’s early-season Big East schedule has included DePaul and Rutgers, the Wildcats have already beaten Marquette twice and posted wins against Georgetown and at Louisville.

Villanova is led by senior guard Scottie Reynolds, who averages 18.7 points per game and is one of the elite 3-point shooters in the Big East. But the Wildcats also boast depth, with 11 players averaging at least nine minutes per game.

That might be Notre Dame’s biggest area of concern. The Irish have relied on a seven-man rotation for most of the season with senior Jonathan Peoples and junior Carleton Scott off the bench. Freshman Joey Brooks has seen his minutes increase in recent weeks but his role has yet to be defined.

Brey, whose reserves did not score a point Saturday, called bench scoring the “most overrated stat in the history of basketball” after the game.

“If I got three guys than can get 30 [points], they’re starting and playing 38 minutes,” Brey said. “Now, are nights Jon Peoples will score a little bit more for us, and Carleton, and that’s fine. But I don’t want that pressure on them. I want them to come in and energize us and be good with the ball.”

That recipe has worked for the Irish at times, with senior forwards Luke Harangody and Tim Abromaitis averaging 25.6 and 18.4 points per game, respectively. Hansbrough, Notre Dame’s next leading scorer, is averaging 9.3 points per game, and that scoring disparity is what prompted Brey’s challenge for others to step up.

“We played Syracuse when they were the hottest team in the league, and now we play Villanova and they’re the hottest team in the league,” Brey said. “That’s a great opportunity for us as a team. We’ve just got to get our reps in at practice [Sunday], get well-rested tonight and we’ll be [ready].”

Tonight’s game will air live on ESPN at 7 p.m.