As Rick Pitino continues to try and come to grips with the demons that haunt him from a February night in South Bend four years ago (I’m still in his head), No. 23 Notre Dame hosts No. 9 Louisville in a critical ACC mathcup Wednesday night at Purcell Pavilion.
If you look closely enough at the above highlights, you can see Pitino become mentally crippled
The Irish look to continue a formidable home court advantage that has been a mainstay during the Brey era, while the Cardinals wrap up a brutal stretch that has seen them face Kentucky, Virginia, Indiana, and now ND in a four-game stretch.
In last year’s contest, the Irish fell behind by double-digits early in the second half, but Demetrious Jackson, Steve Vasturia, and Zach Auguste led a comeback to knock off No. 13 Louisville 71-66. I was at that game – great atmosphere, but I kept drunkenly asking two teenage Louisville fans next to me what seed they thought they would be in the tournament (they were ineligible because of the hooker scandal) – not my proudest moment.
What the Cardinals lack in pure basketball skill, they makeup with freakish athleticism which makes them a force to deal with on the glass and defensive end.
Pitino, who recently fathered an unborn child, has lost five straight in South Bend and has not defeated the Irish since the 2013 Big East Tournament.
Sidenote, my biggest pet peeve in college basketball is the credit television analysts give to college basketball coaches for overcoming the sanctions and controversies they cause.
I love Bill Raftery, but during Saturday’s Louisville-Indiana game he praised Pitino for keeping Louisville focused during the NCAA investigation and how remarkable it was that he already has them back in the top-ten.
This kind of praise will almost certainly be mentioned during Wednesday’s game and it is maddening. Most analysts are former coaches and there is a type of unwritten fraternal order where you never criticize coaches.
This thinking is why scum coaches like Pitino, Boeheim, and Calhoun always get/got a free pass and it why everyone seems to turn the other cheek when Dean Smith and Roy Williams’ names are brought up in association with the ongoing UNC academic fraud scandal. Rant over, now back to Wednesday’s game.
This game represents the dreaded student-less conference home opener for the Irish. The fact that Louisville is a top-ten team should help the atmosphere, but not having a raucous student section hurts.
The challenge Wednesday will be the challenge ND will face throughout the conference season: can they compete with the size of their competition?
Against Pitt, the Irish held their own, but Louisville presents a bigger challenge. The Cardinals will not shoot a high percentage and more often than not, their best offense is an offensive rebound.
If the Irish can keep the Cardinals from playing volleyball on the glass and limit Louisville’s second chance opportunities, ND can shoot their way to a win.
Although this is only the second game of the conference schedule, the Irish can add a valuable notch to their tournament resume and put some valuable distance between them and the other elite ACC teams who have all suffered surprising losses thus far.
If the losses by UNC, Duke, Syracuse, and Virginia this past weekend proved anything is that there are no gimmies in the ACC play this season and adds to the importance of every conference game.
The key to this game will be Notre Dame’s ability to get off to a good start. The Irish are doing their job if they can force Louisville into a hole early and have them pressing on the offensive end.
Louisville’s length with present a problem. The Irish have been sloppy with the ball during the past few games, so limiting turnovers and thus limiting Louisville’s fast break opportunities will be critical.
The Irish can’t shy away from that length, however. Feeding Colson and Geben early will open up the perimeter and give Vasturia and Beachem the space and ammunition to break out of their slumps.
The line opened at ND -6, but has now swung to Louisville -1. Take that for what it’s worth, but although ND is not a defensive juggernaut, the Cardinals’ offense has been painful to watch at times this year.
If the Irish can follow the above formula and ride the home atmosphere, they will hand Pitino his sixth straight loss in South Bend and only add to his wondering if his nightmare will ever end and if that super drunk student back in 2013 forever cursed him (spoiler alert: I did).