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Irish face nation’s toughest defense

Douglas Farmer | Saturday, March 19, 2011

CHICAGO — Facing the nation’s stingiest defense when it comes to field goal percentage Sunday, second-seeded Notre Dame knows a tough task lies ahead.

“They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” senior guard Ben Hansbrough said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for us, and we’re looking forward to it.”

No. 10-seed Florida State only allowed its opponents to hit 36.2 percent of their shots over the course of the season, leading the nation. The Seminoles rely on length which matches, if not exceeds, Notre Dame’s, as four players in their nine-man rotation checking in at 6-foot-8 or taller, including seven-foot junior center Jon Kreft.

“They’re as big and physical as pretty much any team in the country,” Irish fourth-year forward Tim Abromaitis said. “Obviously, that’s going to pose a lot of issues for us, but I think we have size, and if we gain rebounds, as coach says, that’s how we’ll try to neutralize that.”

Florida State averages 38.9 rebounds per game, with a positive rebounding margin of 4.6 rebounds per game, placing them 34th in the country. Notre Dame registers at 35th in the country, also with a positive rebounding margin of 4.6 rebounds per game, pulling in 37.1 boards each game.

“Rebounding the basketball will be key for us,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Moving them around a little bit to get a good shot, and we’re going to have to be really efficient offensively like I thought we were in the second half [Friday].”

Irish senior forward Tyrone Nash said Notre Dame knows it can handle a line-up like Florida State’s thanks to the Big East schedule the Irish have already played.

“It’s not like we haven’t faced it before in the Big East against the big guys and try to do their work over us,” Nash said. “We’re used to it, and we’re ready for it. It’s nothing we’ve never seen before.”

The Seminoles hold opponents to 30.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc, yet the Irish have shot 39.2 percent from there this season. Part of Notre Dame’s success from deep has hinged on ball movement leading to open looks, which will be a critical factor against the Florida State zone defense led by junior forward Chris Singleton, who Brey expects to hound Hansbrough.

“One thing is Ben’s been pretty good about being a distributor at times,” Brey said. “I thought in the second half yesterday we got effective because he didn’t force plays at the basket.”

With a win Sunday, Notre Dame would advance to the Southwest Regional semifinals next weekend in San Antonio, but Brey said Notre Dame has yet to think about moving on in that regard.

“We haven’t really talked about San Antonio,” he said. “We’ve talked about trying to win two games here. We’re halfway there.”

The Irish will tip-off against the Seminoles Sunday at 8:40 Central at the United Center.