Swany: Notre Dame seems to be knocking down all their shots, as of recent games. This can be Texas Tech’s downfall, when an opponent gets hot from beyond the arc. Do you feel Notre Dame has the three-point advantage against the Tech defense, and will they continue their outside scoring threat in this matchup?
Noie: When the threes are falling, Notre Dame is rolling. The Irish made 10 3-pointers in Friday’s win over No. 6 Alabama, which pushed their record this season to 15-1 when the make at least 10 threes in a game. It’s not necessarily that the Irish are hunting shots from distance. Those shots come in the flow of the offense when the ball is moving and guys are cutting and making the extra pass. That HAS to happen for Notre Dame to have a shot Sunday against Texas Tech.
Notre Dame isn’t going to routinely get to the basket and finish at the rim, though it did tally a staggering 56 points in the paint against Rutgers. But the Texas Tech size and length is different. It took the Irish more than a few minutes to adjust to that type of athleticism and length against Alabama, but once they did, everything just flowed. That has to again be the case against Tech.
As well as the Irish have shot it, they’ve also defended. Notre Dame wasn’t getting back to the NCAA tournament without improving on defense. The defense has been a revelation. The Irish always used to be like, yeah, we’ll just outscore you.
Now they guard you.
Swany: The Irish are winning a lot as of late, and that’s always the key to having March Madness success. Has this run been something that was expected out of the squad… where the team chemistry just begun to click late in the season, or have you witnessed strong team chemistry throughout the season?
Noie: Notre Dame guard Cormac Ryan may have said it best following his career-high 29 points Friday against Alabama when he said, “It just feels special. It feels special for us. And it’s our time.”
We certainly saw signs of this during the regular season, after Notre Dame fell to 4-5 with a mid-December loss to Indiana. The Irish ripped off win streaks of six, four and five straight, and sailed through a stretch of 63 days with only two losses. It was as if everything this team wasn’t the last three years suddenly came together. This group is too experienced, too battle-tested to NOT have made this kind of run.
Notre Dame has taken a lot of gut punches the previous three years. The Irish now are delivering them. And believing. That’s a scary combination in March.
Swany: Notre Dame has been playing more than others in the tourney, the double OT victory against Rutgers in the First Four was just on Wednesday. Any concerns that the 7 man rotation for the Fighting Irish might be physically drained on Sunday?
Noie: No excuses. The Irish have refused to lean on the double-overtime game in the First Four or the long flight west or the quick turnaround against Alabama as an excuse. They’ve done the opposite. They’ve embraced EVERYTHING about the schedule and the challenges. That’s helped them ignore any fatigue. It was supposed to show itself against Alabama, but never did.
Sunday is Notre Dame’s third game in five days. Earlier this season. It played four Atlantic Coast Conference games in eight days and beat Virginia at home and Miami (Fla.) and North Carolina State on the road. These seven core guys know they’re going to play. They’ve properly paced themselves.
Swany: Who do the Tech fans need to know and keep an eye on from the ND roster in this battle?
Noie: Freshman guard Blake Wesley is as unique a talent as Mike Brey has ever coached in his 22 seasons in South Bend. He’s a future pro, and could – COULD – be the program’s first one-and-done come seasons end. He’s that talented, and he’s a hometown guy. He’s the leading scorer, but still struggles like many freshmen. When he’s good, he’s special.
Graduate student Paul Atkinson, like Ryan, is playing his best basketball of the season. He’s become a low-post mainstay, but often struggles against taller, more talented bigs.
Dane Goodwin is the team’s second-leading scorer, but was thrown into jail by the Crimson Tide with only three points. He’s got to have a big bounce-back game.
Swany: Prediction Time – in your opinion how does this game play out and who comes out on top?
Noie: There’s no reason – on paper – why Notre Dame should win this game. None. Texas Tech is bigger, stronger, faster and likely better overall team. The Red Raiders have size and athleticism and depth, all of which the Irish have in limited supply. So Texas Tech, right?
Well….there’s just something about this Notre Dame team. The Irish believe this is their time. They came this close from being left out of the tournament, and they’ve used that slight as the second-place team in the Atlantic Coast Conference to show the committee that they goofed.
They’re not ready to go home. They’ve been a great story, and look to write another chapter. Notre Dame 68, Texas Tech 66
Swany: A very special thanks to Tom Noie from the Notre Dame Insider to join us over here on Staking The Plains with short notice to our invite. I promised him beer on us next time he makes it over to Texas. You can follow him @tnoieNDI on twitter, or go to his site NDInsider.com for more on the Fighting Irish. Let’s get pumped for this battle tomorrow and Wreck ’em Tech!!!