West Virginia and Notre Dame will do battle in the second round of the NCAA tournament today, a year later than anticipated, a few years since the two last met, and together they will decide who goes on to the Sweet Sixteen and who goes back to campus.
You can shuffle through the notes and peruse the statistics all you want. Open your browser and mouse through your bookmarks. Sometimes you click the right links and other times you flip over the right rocks, and then you find the Thing to watch.
Other times, it’s right there.
This is one of those times.
Put simply, no two teams are more particular about possession than Notre Dame and WVU. No one turns the ball over at a lower rate than the Fighting Irish. No one turns opponents over more often than the Mountaineers. It’s not very complex today. There are layers — Notre Dame’s scoring, WVU’s sporadic struggles with offense — but there’s no avoiding this, either.
This comes down to possession. Turnovers, even.
Notre Dame is patient and disciplined, and this is not a team that makes many miscues. WVU admits, in so many words, it’s not an ideal matchup. “They don’t let us pick,” coach Bob Huggins said. “If you’re asking me, would we have picked them, absolutely not.”
That’s an odd sound, until you let it settle. The Mountaineers are assertive and accredited, and they’re not a bunch that doubts their abilities, but the Fighting Irish are also effective and efficient on offense, and if WVU isn’t going to create a wealth of turnovers, then WVU needs to be really good with organic offense.
“They do a great job of forcing people to get out of their comfort zone,” Notre Dame guard Steve Vasturia said. “I think their defense creates and turns it to their offense, and that’s something that they’re really known for.”
The averages suggest WVU can’t expect the same success against Notre Dame, and if the defense isn’t creating easy scores or extra possessions and additional chances for points, the offense has to excel. WVU made 10 of 15 shots to take a 27-12 lead on Bucknell and then made 20 of 51 the rest of the way.
Notre Dame’s offensive ability, which features four starters averaging between 13.2 and 17.5 points and two guards who combined have 307 assists and 143 turnovers, means the Mountaineers can’t afford one of those familiar scoring funks.
Scoring droughts are going to be really dangerous. There are numbers that ought not be ignored. The Fighting Irish can shoot and score. They’re 6-0 when they shoot 50 percent or better — and that’s not easy to attain against the Mountaineers — and 14-1 when they make 10 or more 3-pointers and 14-2 when they score at least 80 points.
The other side of those coins? They’re 12-8 when they don’t make at least 10 3s and 4-4 when they score fewer than 70 points.
The Mountaineers have held 19 opponents below 70 and won each game, and only four teams have made 10 or more 3s. WVU really believes Notre Dame is interested in offense more than defense and rebounding, and that’s quite an appetizer for the Mountaineers.
They liken Notre Dame’s patience on offense to Virginia’s, the lineup to Texas Tech’s and the strategy to Iowa State’s. WVU went 4-2 against those teams. The Fighting Irish feel their schedule helped them get familiar with the Mountaineers, too.
“We’ve kind of compared them to Florida State a little bit — being in the passing lanes, contesting, full-court pressure,” Notre Dame point guard Matt Farrell said. “I think [WVU’s defense] is a little more different, a little more havoc, I would say, or reckless. You’ve got guys everywhere, so we just need to stay poised with the ball. We need guys to be receivers. Everybody that’s on the floor needs to be a receiver.”
Notre Dame lost at Florida State and won at home and again in the ACC tournament. The Seminoles forced the season-high 18 turnovers in the win and used those to score 19 points. In the two losses, Florida State forced 13 and nine turnovers and produced 18 and 14 points.
“We’ve tried to make a comparison and get back to that kind of prep,” Brey said. “I don’t want to over-coach it. We have press offense that you work on back in October. You don’t want to over-analyze it too much. We need guys to be receivers.
“I think we can prepare in a day. I’ve really got pretty sharp guys and high-basketball-IQ guys, so I think our thing is when we get through it, are we looking to attack? Are we looking to run offense?”