(7) Notre Dame vs. (10) Xavier Preview
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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(7) Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After losing four of their top five players from last year’s tournament team, the Fighting Irish were looking for Tim Abromaitis to lead them back to the big dance this year. Abromaitis, the lone returning starter, ended up sustaining a season-ending injury two games into the season. The emergence of Jack Cooley has prevented Abromaitis’ injury from being one that ended the Fighting Irish’s hopes of returning to the tournament. He’s capable of recording a double-double every night. Sophomore guard Jerian Grant looks like a star in the making. He’s quite good already, scoring 12 a game while leading the team in assists at 4.9. The Fighting Irish aren’t a particularly good three-point shooting team and they lost the battle of the boards on the season. However, they take really good care of the basketball. Against the RPI Top 50 they were 7-5. Their lack of depth could become an issue if they run into foul trouble. Their four losses against teams ranked outside of the RPI Top 100 is something to note.
(10) Xavier Musketeers
The Musketeers were rolling early on in the year, winning their first eight games before an in-game brawl against Cincinnati threw them off track. They managed to right the ship late to ensure their seventh-straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are a stellar combination in the backcourt and a handful to contain. They’re both looking to make up for lackluster showings in last year’s tournament. On the year they combined to score 31 points, haul in six rebounds and hand out eight assists. The Musketeers have solid depth, regularly playing 10 guys. They’re a quality three-point shooting team, making seven a game at 35 percent. They’re also very good at defending the three, only allowing their opponents to make 30 percent of their looks. In all, the Musketeers give up 63 points a night. They went 0-3 against the RPI Top 25 and 3-4 against teams in the Top 50. As long as their guards are on, the Musketeers can win in the tourney.
HOOPSWORLD’s pick: Notre Dame. Expect the Fighting Irish to win the battle on the frontline and keep the Musketeers’ backcourt from taking over.
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