No. 4 Penn State at No. 1 Notre Dame Preview: Fighting Irish Host Lions on St. Patrick's Day

By Chad Markulics on March 16, 2018 at 7:10 pm
Feb 28, 2018; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Bonzie Colson (35) reacts after a basket in the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at the Purcell Pavilion.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

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Notre Dame
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
21-14 (8-10 ACC)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
Noon EST - Saturday, March 17, 2018
Joyce Center
South Bend, IN
TV Info: ESPN
KenPom Rank: 31
Vegas Line: Notre Dame -5.5

The luck of the Irish will surely be working against Penn State as they travel to South Bend for the second round of the NIT on Saturday. Nazeer Bostick has already fallen victim to the green ahead of St. Patrick's Day. The Nittany Lions will have to find more than just three minutes of the quality hoops they played against Temple on Wednesday night against a Notre Dame team with a point to prove to keep their season alive.

Tony Carr's status also remains a hovering question over the program's postseason. He acknowledged as much this week after much speculation that the Lions' star point guard could be a first round pick in this summer's NBA Draft. Carr surely will want to leave a better impression on scouts' eyes than his two-point performance against Temple.

Mike Brey's Irish must feel hard done by the luck they've had this season, specifically with regards to Bonzie Colson's injury that kept Notre Dame out of the NCAA Tournament. The top overall seed in the NIT, the Irish easily dispatched eighth-seeded Hampton on Wednesday night, setting up a once-in-a-blue-moon home game on St. Patrick's Day. Not a bad consolation for the Irish, who have plenty to fight for on Saturday.

Projected Starters
Penn State   Notre Dame
No. 10 - Tony Carr - 6'5 - So. PG No. 5 - Matt Farrell - 6'1 - Sr.
No. 33 - Shep Garner - 6'2 - Sr. SG No. 10 - T.J. Gibbs - 6'3 - So.
No. 23 - Josh Reaves - 6'4 - Jr. SF No. 0 - Rex Pflueger - 6'6 - Jr.
No. 11 - Lamar Stevens - 6'8 - So. PF No. 35 - Bonzie Colson - 6'6 - Sr.
No. 21 - John Harrar - 6'9 - Fr. C No. 23 - Martinas Geben - 6'10 - Sr.

Colson suffered a broken foot in practice after Notre Dame's opening ACC win against Georgia Tech. The Irish seemed able to manage things without their National Player of the Year candidate with a thonking of NC State and a tight road win at Syracuse, but the wheels fell off shortly afterwards. Notre Dame lost seven-straight in a daunting ACC, a streak that would ultimately doom them to the NIT.

Scouting Report

Brey has a long history of producing great offensive teams. This isn't among his greatest hits - not having your star didn't help matters - but nonetheless this is a dangerous Irish attack, particularly from the perimeter. Matt Farrell and T.J. Gibbs form a dynamic backcourt combo as capable, high-volume shooters. The duo have made 39% of their 437 attempts on the year. Between Farrell, Gibbs and Colson, it'll be interesting to see who Josh Reaves draws as a defensive assignment.

Inside, Martinas Geben provides a Mike Watkins-like impact, minus the shot blocking prowess. He's their primary big and performs that job well in Brey's offense, converting 61% from two-point range and getting a ton of offensive rebounds.

Keys to the Game

Pat Chambers preaches rebounding and defense, rebounding and defense, rebounding and defense as the keys for Penn State in every game. That's all well and good again, but the intrigue in this game will come from the turnover battle. Notre Dame has always been stingy with the ball under Brey; they're eighth nationally in offensive turnover percentage this year, a disappointing stat considering they finished in the top three in that category in two of the last three seasons. Penn State has dropped to the 91st in defensive turnover percentage nationally, but they're still 30th in steal percentage. Forcing live ball turnovers would go a long way towards success on the road for the Lions.

Free throws saved Penn State on Wednesday. The team made 20 of 30 attempts against Temple, possibly the beneficiaries of some home cooking. Such is the NIT. The Lions won't be able to count on those calls on the road, and especially not against this Notre Dame team. Saturday's hosts allow the lowest percentage of free throws per possession in the country (22%) and the second-lowest percentage of points allowed via the charity stripe (13.6%). Their inside defense isn't porous either, so Penn State will have to earn their buckets.

Prediction

It's easy to overlook just how poorly Penn State played against Temple for 57 minutes until special moves were made in crunch time (no, we're never dropping that). Nobody was having a particularly great game outside of Reaves, and were it not for the aforementioned free throws it could've been a sour end to a disappointing season for PSU. Still, you'd have to think Carr, Lamar Stevens, and Shep Garner have a good game or two left in them. They'll all need to produce against Notre Dame. I don't think the luck of the Irish can be denied though, so I'm predicting Notre Dame 78, Penn State 76 on a Colson buzzer-beater.

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