5-Notre Dame vs. 12-Princeton
12:15 p.m. Thursday at KeyBank Center
Notre Dame, in Buffalo, on St. Patrick’s Day weekend? It must be fate.
The Fighting Irish are the only team in country to reach the Elite Eight the past two seasons, and will start their quest for a third straight trip against Princeton, which completed an undefeated regular season in the Ivy League and then won the conference’s inaugural postseason tournament as part of a 19-game winning streak.
Expect a clean game. Both teams are among the best in the country at limiting turnovers. The Princeton offense is famous for trying to slow the pace of the game.
Each team shoots the three-point shot well, with Princeton generating 41.7 percent of its points from beyond the arc, most among tournament teams. If those shots are falling, the Tigers could pull off an upset similar to last year’s Ivy League champion, Yale, which shocked Baylor in the round of 64.
The Fighting Irish
Junior center Bonzie Colson – despite being just 6-foot-5 – has 19 double-doubles this season. He is Notre Dame’s best interior scoring option, and, oh, by the way, shoots 40 percent from three-point range. He led the ACC in rebounding and finished in the top 15 in scoring, field goal percentage and free-throw percentage.
Notre Dame has four starters averaging in double figures, and takes excellent care of the basketball – ranking second nationally in turnover percentage through the regular season.
If the Fighting Irish have a lead down the stretch, it’s trouble for opponents. Notre Dame is the best free-throw shooting team in the country, hitting on 79.9 percent of attempts. Notre Dame’s biggest weakness is on the glass. Because it uses such a small lineup, teams that can pound the ball inside can give them trouble.
So much for that 4-6 start.
The Tigers are on a big-time roll, led by a balanced scoring attack that, like Notre Dame, features four starters in double figures. Sophomore Myles Stephens, one of four guards to start, is the Tigers’ best defender, in addition to being their top option in the few times they do get out in transition. Guards Steven Cook and Devin Cannady, the Tigers’ top two scorers, both shoot better than 40 percent from three-point range.
Princeton uses plenty of drive and kick, but struggles to finish at the rim. There is no interior offensive threat to speak of, with the Tigers having the second-lowest free-throw rate in the country.
When shots aren’t falling or teams can chase the Tigers off the three-point line, they get in trouble.
This should be a fun game to watch, as both teams run different offenses with a common theme of taking care of the ball. Both teams can shoot the lights out, which Princeton will have to do to pull the upset.
Prediction: Notre Dame 65, Princeton 58