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February 25, 2009

Basketball Preview: Rutgers @ Notre Dame

After falling to 3-7 in Big East play two weeks ago, Notre Dame (15-11, 6-8) is one solid performance on their home hardwood away from pulling to within one game of .500 in the conference when they host Rutgers Wednesday night at the Joyce Center.

Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. ET.

The Irish are fresh from a 103-84 pasting of Providence at the Dunkin Donuts Center where the hot shooting of three-point specialists Kyle McAlarney and Ryan Ayers and the strong bench performance of Jonathan Peoples led the Irish to victory over the Friars.

Luke Harangody battled foul problems in the first half before tossing in 17 points in the second half to hold off Providence and spark the Irish to their third victory in four games.

A victory over Rutgers Wednesday night would pull the Irish to within one game of .500 in the Big East for the first time since losing to Connecticut on Jan. 24 as their 45-game home winning streak came to a close. Notre Dame would go on to lose four more in a row, including three conference games, before regaining a bit of momentum the last two weeks.

In Rutgers, the Irish face a somewhat dangerous foe, albeit one that has yet to win a Big East road game this season. In fact, the only conference game Fred Hill's Scarlet Knights have won this season came at home by 19 against hapless DePaul on Jan. 31.

Rutgers has, however, represented itself pretty well away from the Louis Brown Athletic Center, or at least they've been competitive. After falling by 31 at Connecticut, the Scarlet Knights have lost by 12 at Cincinnati, 11 at St. John's, three at Seton Hall, and by 10 each at Georgetown, Providence and Villanova.

Rutgers offers some youthful athleticism, led by 6-foot-2 freshman Mike Rosario, who is averaging 17.1 points per game. From the same high school-St. Anthony's in Jersey City, N.J.-as former Irish great David Rivers, Rosario is the only Scarlet Knight to average double figures in scoring, although his shooting has cooled off significantly in conference play.

Rosario is shooting .405 from the field overall, but just .373 in the Big East. His three-point shooting is a poor .311 overall, but even worse (.275) in the Big East. Rosario has made 66 three-pointers this season.

The Scarlet Knights benefit from the length of 6-foot-11 junior Hamady Ndiaye (5.7 ppg., 6.2 rpg.) and 6-foot-9 freshman Gregory Echenique (8.7 ppg., 8.2 rpg.). Both are shooting well above .500 from the field (although Echenique is just .429 in the Big East) and both enter tonight's game with 64 blocked shots.

To put that in perspective, consider that the Irish have 68 blocked shots as a team.

Six-foot-one senior Anthony Farmer is the closest to scoring in double figures after Rosario with a 9.4 average. Sophomores Corey Chandler (7.8 ppg.), Earl Pettis (4.7 ppg.) and Mike Coburn (4.1 ppg.) all have had a shot in the starting lineup. Six-foot-nine senior JR Inman offers 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game off the bench.

But the Scarlet Knights are lacking in too many areas, which explains their dismal conference record and current five-game losing streak. They rank 12th or lower in nine major categories in the Big East, including scoring offense, offensive and defensive field-goal percentage, three-point shooting, steals and turnover margin.

Rutgers does shoot well from the free-throw line where they rank third in the Big East with a .749 mark. Behind the length of Echenique and Ndiaye, the Scarlet Knights also rebound the ball pretty well and can alter the shots of the opposition.

Yet there is little for Rutgers for play for while the Irish still have a strong whiff of the NCAA tournament. Notre Dame is due to blow out a bad opponent on its home court, and yet the Scarlet Knights have held their own on the road against solid-to-very good teams like Cincinnati, Providence and Villanova.

Look for Harangody and Tory Jackson, who sat behind Peoples Saturday, to come back with a vengeance, and for Notre Dame's three-point shooters to get plenty of good looks against Rutgers' spotty perimeter defense.

Notre Dame claims a solid if not spectacular victory over a team that has a chance to grow into a middle-of-the-pack program in a couple of years when all those youngsters come of age.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 15
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 78, Rutgers 67
Season record: 18-8 straight up; 6-13 vs. points



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