The Cincinnati Bearcats (19-8 7-7) will try to break a two game losing streak as they travel to South Bend, IN to take on Notre Dame Sunday afternoon.
In the first meeting of the season the Fighting Irish pulled out a 66-60 victory in 5/3 Arena behind 50% shooting from the field (24-48) and 56.3% from three point land (9-16). Neither number is out of the ordinary for the Irish as they lead the Big East in both categories at 37.7 and 38.7 percent respectively.
With shooting numbers like that it should be no surprise the Irish pass the ball as well as anyone in the country. They lead the conference in assists at 17.6 a contest and also assist to turnover ratio at 1.6-to-1.
Senior forward Jack Cooley leads Notre Dame in both scoring (14.5) and rebounding (11.1) and is second in the nation with 18 double doubles on the season. He was held mostly in check in the first meeting with 11 points and 8 rebounds with only two of the boards coming on the offensive end. His 4 OREB a game leads the Big East and keeping him off the glass on that end is a big key to slowing him down.
In the back court the Irish are as strong as anyone in the Big East with point guard Eric Atkins and shooting guard Jerian Grant leading the way. Atkins is fourth in the Big East in 3 point shooting at 42.4% and assists with 5.9 dimes a game while Grant has scored in double figures in 12 of 14 league games and is second on the team scoring 13.8 ppg. Making clutch plays late in games has been the key for both as the Irish have won 6 of their last 8 including 3 in overtime. In the first meeting they combined for 29 points and 8 assists.
Sophomore wing Pat Connaughton is primarily a perimeter threat in head coach Mike Brey's system, and leads the team in three point attempts with 111 on the season. He is also a solid passer that takes care of the ball with a 2.9/1 assist turnover ratio. He scored 10 points on 2-4 shooting from deep in the Irish win in Cincinnati and can really get going if given space as the defense tries to slow down the main three guys.
It is unknown if senior forward Scott Martin will make his return after missing the last 8 games with a knee injury, but at this point it isn't likely he will play a big role if he does suit up. He really hurt the Cincinnati defense with 12 points on 4-7 shooting from 3.
If he doesn't go it will be 6-10 senior Tom Knight that will go in his place, and while he isn't the offensive threat Martin can be he gives them more of a rim protector that can draw some attention away from Cooley on the glass. He has blocked 17 shots in 12 Big East games which is an area Notre Dame struggled with Martin on the floor.
With Knight no longer coming off the bench there isn't much production coming from the reserve unit for Brey. Cameron Biedschied has some ability on the offensive end, but is only scoring 5.7 ppg in Big East action and while he is a 35% three point shooter he has only connected on 30.2% in league play. Zach Augustie and Garrick Sherman provide some help on the interior, but minutes have been limited in the games they have seen action. Atkins and Grant are both over 38 minutes a game in conference play, and Brey has no intention of getting either off the floor unless he has to.
Cincinnati played well on the offensive end in the January 7th loss shooting 46.9% from the floor and 42.9% from three, but they struggled to slow the Irish down on the other end. Repeating that type of performance while getting a few more stops could flip the end result in this one.