DAYTON – The statistics give Notre Dame a clear defensive game plan for its opening game in the NCAA tournament against Iowa State tonight at the University of Dayton Arena – guard the three-point line.
The No. 10 seed Cyclones (22-11) lead the nation in three-pointers made per game (9.8) and total three-pointers made (325). And their 878 three-pointers attempted this season dwarfs No. 2 on the list, Virginia Military (282).
Fireworks offensively, the way they use the three-point line, Irish coach Mike Brey said. At times, they can have five three-point shooters on the floor. It is a difficult matchup for us. Our big guys are going to have to be out on the arc a little bit defending.
As Brey said, the No. 7 seed Irish (25-9) will have to worry about a team full of three-point threats.
Tyrus McGee, a 6-foot-2 reserve guard, has hit 90 three-pointers. Starters Chris Babb, a 6-5 guard, has made 62 shots from behind the arc, and Korie Lusious, a 5-11 guard, has hit 61 three-pointers. Will Clyburn, a 6-7 starting guard, has hit 40 three-pointers.
Georges Ning, a 6-7 starting forward, has hit 37 threes, and Melvin Ejim, a 6-6 starting forward, has hit 22 three-pointers.
We are all running back to the three-point line instead of the paint, Irish guard Eric Atkins said. In most Big East games, you go to the paint. But (tonight) we are going to the three-point line because one through five can really shoot the three.
Defending good three-point shooters isn’t completely foreign to Notre Dame.
Irish reserve forward Cameron Biedscheid compared the game plan for tonight to the one the team had when it defeated Villanova 65-60 Jan. 30. The Wildcats averaged 6.1 three-pointers this season but hit only three against the Irish.
When we played Villanova at home, they were coming off a couple of games were they beat a lot of high-ranked teams, and they were doing it by shooting the three very well, Biedscheid said. We just want to guard (Iowa State) the way we guarded Villanova back in the regular season at home.
While Notre Dame will have to keep its eye on the three-point line against Iowa State, the Cyclones will have to worry about what the Irish can do in the paint.
Notre Dame 6-9 forward Jack Cooley averages 13.1 points and 10.3 rebounds, and 6-10 forward Tom Knight – who was inserted into the starting lineup when guard Scott Martin was lost for the season with a knee injury – averages 5.2 points and 3.5 rebounds.
We give up size pretty much every night, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. So the big thing for us, what we try to do all year, is dictate tempo. We really try to get the thing up and down the floor.
If the Irish can defend against the three-pointer and get going inside on offense, they can accomplish a goal that has eluded them in their NCAA tournament trips. Notre Dame is in the tournament for a fourth straight year and ninth time in the last 13 seasons, but the Irish have been eliminated in the first weekend in the last six tournaments.
I think sometimes a lack of experience has kind of hurt our team, but now our team has been here a couple of years in a row, I think we got it down Cooley said. Especially the experience of last year (when the Irish lost their first game 67-63 to Xavier), we are going to learn a lot from that and move on and play well this week.