FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame’s defense will not have the option of keying on one or two players to try and slow down Virginia tonight.
Because even though the Cavaliers (15-5, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) come into Purcell Pavilion as the third highest scoring team in conference play, they do not have a player in the top 10 in scoring in league games.
“Different guys have done it at different times for them,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said during Monday’s ACC teleconference. “Your awareness throughout a game is ‘Is anybody going off on us right now, and what do we do defensively with a matchup or change of defense,’ because it can be really any guy. That’s the most difficult kind of team to prepare.”
Malcom Brogdon had led Virginia in its first seven ACC games with 15 points a game. Joe Harris is averaging 12.6 points in conference play, and Justin Anderson averages 10.2.
Mike Tobey and Akil Mitchell are averaging 8.1 and 7.7 points for the Cavaliers in league play, and Anderson, Brogdon, Harris and Tobey have each had or shared the team lead in points in conference games.
“I think teams that are more balanced and have some depth that are playing well are harder to beat,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I like that we have you can’t just focus on one guy and say, ‘If we stop him, we’re good.’ At times, we were like that last year. I think this year, we have more balance, and that has shown when we’ve played our better basketball.”
Notre Dame (11-9, 2-5) will counter Virginia’s offense with one that is fifth in conference games in scoring with 69.4 points per game.
Garrick Sherman is leading the Irish in ACC play with 16.4 points per game, and Eric Atkins and Pat Connaughton are averaging 16.1 and 14.3 points in conference play.
And even though Notre Dame doesn’t have any other player averaging more than 6.1 points in ACC games, Bennett said the Irish are still a dangerous offensive team.
“They have a very good inside-outside attack,” Bennett said. “They are complete offensively. They share the ball, a good passing team. They really test you defensively. That is one thing I’ve seen, and Coach Brey’s teams have always been like that.
“They have a couple of other guys that are very talented. The McDonald’s All-American kid, (Demetrius) Jackson, is not that (top three scorers). You got to be in very good position and make them earn.”
Though the Irish can be dangerous, they have struggled to pull out wins in ACC play after opening with a 79-77 victory over No. 17 Duke on Jan. 4.
Notre Dame has lost five of six but has kept things close, losing by an average of 5.8 points and never losing by more than eight.
“We kind of use (the Duke game) as a reference point,” Brey said. “I think that’s the one night we had both ends going very consistently. I don’t know if you can overanalyze it, other than the fact you get back home in a good atmosphere and try to get in a rhythm. Sometimes, offense helps defense for us. When we are feeling pretty good and scoring some buckets, you are more engaged defensively.”