For the first time since December 1979, Notre Dame will be involved in a top-five matchup as the Irish travel to East Lansing to take on Michigan State Thursday.
The Irish have not played since their dramatic victory over Wichita State last week and ND has a similar challenge facing them in the Spartans. Like the Shockers, MSU has a big frontcourt and like the Shockers, Michigan State uses that size to dominate the glass and dictate a game’s tempo.
The Spartans come into Thursday’s game with a 5-1 record with their lone loss coming at the hands of No. 1 Duke.
In Michigan State is coming in on the heels of their PK 80 victory last weekend. The Spartans defeated North Carolina 63-45 in the championship game an in so doing, MSU held the Tar Heels to the lowest shooting percentage in program history. Is that good?
Thursday will mark the first meeting between the two programs since November 2014 when the Irish downed Michigan State 79-78 in overtime at Purcell Pavilion. The matchup will be the 97th overall and Notre Dame leads the all-time series 60-36.
– Thursday will come down to the Irish weathering the early storm and maintaining their composure in a hostile environment. Notre Dame has had little trouble doing that over the last few years as they have developed that “road dog” mentality, but the Breslin Center is as hostile an atmosphere in college basketball.
– The first half of the Wichita State contest was very reminiscent of Notre Dame’s game vs. West Virginia in last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Irish were struggling against a physical defense, their ball movement was sluggish, and they missed open shots. If the Irish put forth a repeat performance of that Thursday, they could be run out of the gym.
– Notre Dame, and more specifically Matt Farrell, have had an uncharacteristic tendency to turn the ball over in the first half. The Irish have to nip that in the bud and prevent any transition buckets from the Spartans.
– On the other side, it is paramount that the Irish create turnovers, and more importantly, live-ball turnovers. If the Irish are able to push the ball offensively and avoid facing MSU in a half-court set, they will have the opportunity to find their rhythm and avoid the early deficit they faced against Wichita State.
– Since joining the ACC, the Irish are 3-1 in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge with their lone loss coming in 2013 to Iowa. The Irish have faced Illinois once and Iowa and Michigan State twice in the competition.
– Notre Dame’s No. 5 ranking his the highest the Irish have been in the polls since they were No. 5 in the final week of the 2010-11 regular season.
-The last time Notre Dame played in a top-five game, the then No. 3 Irish squared off with No. 2 Kentucky at Freedom Hall on Dec. 29, 1979.
– The last time ND was ranked in the top-five in November was during the 1977-78 season, and we all know how that season ended.
– Thursday will mark Notre Dame’s first game at the Breslin Center and first contest at East Lansing since a 91-89 win in 1974.
– When the Irish squared off with the Spartans in 2014, there was some outcry that this series is not played more often. It would be a great annual matchup and Izzo isn’t afraid of playing anybody anywhere, but from Notre Dame’s perspective, if they played an annual home-and-home with Michigan State, that would guarantee three Big Ten games in their non-conference schedule (MSU, Big Ten/ACC, and either IU or Purdue in the Crossroads).
– Brey wants more variety in his out-of-league schedule and in some years, he needs a softer non-conference slate to build up a team. Maybe if there is a restructuring of the Crossroads in the future MSU and ND could find a way to have a yearly meeting, but not before that.
– T.J. Gibbs has had a bit of an up-and-down start to the season. He has alternated single digit and double digit outputs in every game this season, so if the trend holds true, look for Gibbs to go off Thursday.
– Martin Geben obviously canned the winning free throws vs. Wichita State, but that capped what might have been his best performance in an Irish uniform. He ran the pick-and-roll with Farrell flawlessly, he made a few nice passes, and he used his big body defensively to alter shots.
– When Geben gets physical, he often finds himself in foul trouble, but he appears to have better discipline and an understanding of how he can use his big frame without piling up fouls. His size and physicality will again play an important role against MSU.
– The key to this game will be the Notre Dame supporting cast. Colson and Farrell are going to get their points and production, but can they be complemented by strong games from Gibbs, Harvey, or Pfleuger? The answer to that question will go a long way in deciding Thursday night’s outcome.
– Now check out the highlights from the last Notre Dame-Michigan State game to get yourself in the right mindset. Just a reminder that Michigan State lacks the ability to read or write.