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Men’s Basketball: More than just ‘Gameday’

By Andrew Owens | Friday, February 8, 2013

It’s occurred four of the last five times Notre Dame and Louisville have played. It’s essentially become standard procedure when the Irish and Cardinals face-off. It’s even gotten to the point where the two coaches joke about it with each other.

Regardless of venue, dates or ranking, the annual Notre Dame-Louisville matchup seems destined to require overtime. Heading into Saturday night’s marquee matchup between the No. 25 Irish (18-5, 6-4 Big East) and No. 11 Cardinals (19-4, 7-3), it’s the top storyline as the programs try to navigate their way through the jumbled Big East standings.

“There’s just been great games,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of the rivalry with Louisville. “Hard-played, kids really competing and I expect it to be that way Saturday night, but I can’t put my finger on why it’s like that.

“[Pitino or I] usually says, ‘How many extra do we want to play tonight? One, two, five?’”

ESPN’s “College GameDay” will visit campus this weekend as Notre Dame attempts to pass Louisville in the conference standings. It’s the first time the show has featured an Irish basketball game since 2009 when Connecticut snapped Notre Dame’s 45-game home-unbeaten streak.

Brey said his squad gained some experience against the zone defense Monday in a 63-47 loss at Syracuse, who subscribes to a similar defensive philosophy as Louisville.

“We came in Tuesday and watched a lot of our zone stuff against Syracuse,” Brey said. “More of it was not good than good. We had a couple possessions obviously, but I felt we really needed a … lesson. The first thing you have to watch is the pressure and two small guards that really get up on you and pressure you in the backcourt. That’s my first concern as we prepare for Louisville.

“Once you get it across midcourt, you’re dealing with the zone and I think there are things we need to clean up in the next two days of practice before we play the 2-3 zone.”

Brey said he is “thrilled” with Notre Dame’s performance since losing 63-47 to Georgetown on Jan. 21. During that time, the Irish won three consecutive games before dropping its fourth conference loss at Syracuse.

“We were up against it right then and playing bigger,” he said. “[Senior center Tom Knight] has given us great energy and playing two big guys has made us more physical. … I still think we’re in the middle of improving now that we’ve had a reinvention, but I’m also excited about the prospect of if we get [graduate student guard Scott Martin] back to energize us, whenever that is.”

Brey said Martin, who has been sidelined the past four games with a knee injury, could play Saturday but sounded skeptical about the chances of it.

“He hasn’t done anything in two weeks,” Brey said. “I’m interested to see how he moves in shooting drills today and how he feels tomorrow. That’s as far as we can go right now. So that’s kind of my mindset with it. His frame of mind Tuesday was that he wanted to get in there and move around and see how it felt.”

Currently, two-and-a-half games separates the top 10 teams in the Big East. Notre Dame – tied for seventh in the conference heading into Saturday’s matchup – trails Big East-leading Syracuse by one-and-a-half games with eight contests remaining.

“It’s great,” Brey said of the conference’s parity. “How about the drama in college basketball? It’s going to make for an unbelievable NCAA tournament. I just hope we’re a part of it and get one of those 68 spots.

“Our league continues to be the drama queen league and the most-watched league. We’re right in the thick of this thing.”

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu