Wichita State already has bounced two Midwest behemoths – Indiana and Kansas – from the NCAA tournament. Will it KO a third, Notre Dame, on Thursday night?
The Shockers are the No. 7 seed in the regional and average 79.5 points per game. Notre Dame, the No. 3 seed, has beaten Northeastern and Butler while averaging 68.0 ppg.
|(3) Notre Dame vs. (7) Wichita State|
|7:15 p.m. ET Thursday | CBS|
On Saturday, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey lost his mother to a heart attack. After the Butler game went into overtime and ended after midnight, he thanked the Irish for “a heck of a birthday present;” he turned 56 on Sunday.
It will take more than emotion and good karma for Notre Dame to get past Wichita State, the third-highest scoring team remaining in the tournament (Gonzaga, 86.5; and Arizona, 83.0). Of the four Sweet 16 games on Thursday, this one may be the most hotly contested.
Defensively, the Irish are allowing 64.5 ppg. The early round nip-tuck four-point and three-point victories for Notre Dame mean … nothing. Thursday is another game, another opponent. If anything, there is a 50-50 chance the Irish run will continue.
Statistically, the teams are not that far apart. Notre Dame is shooting 50 percent from the floor. Wichita State is at 45 percent. Notre Dame is 31 percent from 3-point land. Wichita State is 36 percent. Notre Dame is hitting 75 percent of its free throws. Wichita State is at 81 percent. Notre Dame is minus-6 in rebounding. Wichita State is minus-2.
So what gives? How can the higher-seeded Irish stave off the upset-minded Shockers? Gregg Marshall has led WSU to the Elite Eight four times – twice to the Final Four – so this is not unchartered territory. He will not wilt under the spotlight, and understands how to game plan within the Sweet 16 spectacle.
Notre Dame cannot allow all five Wichita State starters to score in double figures, as they did against KU. The Shockers are going to score – most likely led by Fred VanVleet (but don’t go to sleep on Tekele Cotton). Limiting their looks and second-chance opportunities falls to Notre Dame’s leading rebounders – Pat Connaughton, Jerian Grant and Zach Auguste.
The Irish will have to out-rebound Wichita State, out-hustle the Shockers in transition and out-play WSU’s starting five – a tall task but one that Brey & Co. should be able to withstand after a grueling ACC regular season and postseason tournament and two close calls in rthe Second and third rounds. Being tested throughout the season has its advantages when push comes to shove.