The NIT: Gameday Breakdown

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Tonights 7:00 EST Kentucky versus Notre Dame (20-14, 8-11) quarterfinal NIT match-up revives a once intense rivalry dating back to 1929.  UK and the Irish have battled on the hard-wood a total of 58 times, with the 'Cats prevailing in 41 of those contests.  UK and Notre Dame last played in 2004, which culminated a 10 game UK winning streak in the series.  Kentucky last lost to the Irish in March of 1990.

Interestingly enough, UK's fair coach Adolph Rupp lost seven in a row to Notre Dame (1936-'42), but he recovered to win nine in a row from 1951 to 1963. 

This year, Notre Dame is led by All-America and former Big East Player of the Year, Luke Harangody, and All-Big East performer Kyle McAlarney.  The terrific duo account for 38.4 of Notre Dames 76.2 points per game (50.4%), which makes them very similar to UK: Jodie Meeks and Patrick Patterson score 41.7 of UK's 74.3 points per game (56.1%).  Notre Dame does boast two other players who score in double-figures, so they do have a bit more balance in the scoring column than Kentucky.

A trip to historic Madison Square Garden for the NIT Final Four is on the line tonight, so for a closer look at Mike Brey's Irish, read on:

Notre Dame Personnel

Luke Harangody: 6-8, 255 lb junior forward -- Harangody averages 23.3 points, 11.9 rebounds (3.6 off. rebounds), 2.0 assists, and 1.0 block per game.  He shoots 46.3% from the field, 34.4% from the three-point line (11-32), and 77.4% from the free throw line.

Kyle McAlarney: 6-0, 195 lb senior guard -- He averages 15.1 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game.  McAlarney is shooting 41.2% from the floor, 42.9% from beyond the arc (120-280), and 86.9% from the charity stripe.

Ryan Ayers: 6-7, 210 lb senior guard -- Ayers is averaging 11.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game.  He makes 44.3% of his shots, 43.4% of his trey attempts (89-205), and 79.5% of his free throws.

Tory Jackson: 5-11, 193 lb junior guard -- Jackson is averaging 10.6 points, 4.9 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game.   He shoots 41.4% from the field, 36.0% from the three-point line (27-75), and 64.7% from the free throw line. 

Zach Hillesland: 6-9, 228 lb senior forward -- He's averaging 4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game.  Hillesland makes 42.3% of his shots, and 55.8% of his free throws.

Luke Zeller: 6-11, 245 lb senior F/C -- Zeller is averaging 4.9 points, and 2.8 rebounds per game.  He shoots 40.0% from the field, 34.3% from the three-point line (36-105), and 61.5% from the free throw line.  

Notre Dame and Opponents Statistics (National Ranking in Parenthesis)

                                                            Notre Dame            Opponents

Points Per Game --                            76.2                             70.9

Field Goal% --                                     43.5                             42.7

Free Throw% --                                   70.5                             67.1

3-Point% --                                          39.6 (14th)                  33.5

Rebound Margin --                             +1.1

Off. Reb. Per Game --                       12.3                               12.0

Off. Rebound% --                               31.8                              30.8

Def. Rebound% --                              69.2                              68.2

Assists Per Game --                         16.9 (8th)                     13.9

Steals Per Game --                           5.4                                 5.2

Turnovers Per Game --                    9.7                                 10.4

Blocks Per Game --                          2.6                                 4.1

Irish Items of Interest

Notre Dame takes an average of 22.1 threes per game (27th nationally) ... They make an average of 8.8 threes per game (11th) ... The Irish sport a 1.74 assist to turnover ratio (1st) ... They also grab 26.9 defensive rebounds per game (14th) ... Notre Dame averages 1.1 points per possession (28th) ... They have attempted 2,164 field goals (7th) ... They average 42.6 rebonds per game (22nd) ... They give up 41.5 rebounds per game (309) ... Notre Dame lost seven games in a row between Jan. 10 and Feb. 7 ... Key ND wins -- @Texas 81-80, Georgetown 73-67, U of L 90-57, UAB 70-64 (NIT), N. Mexico 70-68 (NIT) ... Key ND losses -- North Carolina 102-87, Ohio State 67-62, @ St. Johns 71-65, @ U of L 87-73, @ Syracuse 93-74, UConn 69-61, @ Pitt 93-80, @ Cincinnati 93-83, @ UCLA 89-63, @ West Virginia 79-68, @UConn 72-65, Villanova 77-60, West Virginia 74-62 (Big East Tournament) ... Notre Dame averages 77.6 points per game at home ... In their last eight games they are averaging only 66.5 points per game ... In their last eight games the are giving up 65.6 points per game (they're 5-3 in those games) ... UK is 5-13 in games played in South Bend ... Notre Dame is a 2.5 point favorite.

CliffsNotes Analysis

Patterson versus Harangody ... that's how some see this match-up.  But, I believe that UK needs to be more concerned with Notre Dame's penchant for taking and making three-point shots.  As was true against Creighton, UK must defend the perimeter with vigor, or risk a blowout loss. 

Turnovers, which have been down for Kentucky over the last couple of games (12.3 per game, over the last four games), must remain a non-issue.  The Irish take very good care of the ball, and sport the nations best A/TO ratio, 1.74 (16.9 assists pg to 9.7 turnovers). But, they do not force many turnovers (10.4 per game).

Perry Stevenson needs to continue his improved play.  UK has utilized the high-low game quite effectively recently, which the 'Cats will need tonight, hopefully to get Harangody in foul trouble.

Jodie Meeks, who against Creighton used the dribble-drive to produce points, will find himself with a height and quickness advantage versus the Irish guards.  A strong game from UK's leading scorer could be in the offing (no way ND's 6-7 guard, Ryan Ayers, can contain Meeks).

Kentucky's defense has been elevated over the last couple of games also, with Patterson and Stevenson controlling the paint ... that will need to continue.  As will UK's recent rebounding surge ... 

Although Notre Dame is not a great rebounding team, they are 14th in the nation in defensive rebounds per game with 26.9, which means UK must crash the offensive boards if they don't want to be limited to one-and-done possessions.

If UK's intensity and focus mirror Monday night's performance in Omaha, then the 'Cats will be in the game with a chance at victory. 

Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, survive and advance.

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