Men’s Basketball: WVU vs. Notre Dame Preview - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Men’s Basketball: WVU vs. Notre Dame Preview

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When Notre Dame began its conference schedule at the end of December, it was unthinkable that the Irish could be ranked before the season was over.

They were just 8-5 and were not playing very well. Mike Brey has helped turn this Notre Dame team around, though. They now sit at 19-8, 11-3 in the Big East, which is good enough for second place tie in the conference standings.

The Irish have also entered the polls, ranked #18 in the most recent.

In a way, that's obviously a bad thing for a West Virginia team (17-10, 7-7) that hasn't been playing its best basketball in the past few weeks. The Mountaineers weren't able to earn a win against Notre Dame at home just three games ago, and it will be much tougher in South Bend, where the Irish hardly ever lose.

At the same time, a road win over a top 20 team would be huge for a team that is looking for another quality win to boost its NCAA Tournament résumé. A recent slump threatened WVU's chances at earning a bid, but the Mountaineers are still considered by most experts to be on the good side of the bubble.

Notre Dame's not going to go out and put up a ton of points like some other teams in the Big East. In fact, since conference play has started, the Irish are just 13th in the Big East in scoring.

But when it comes to defense, there are few better in the conference.

Notre Dame gives up just 59.5 points per game in conference play, which is good for second in the league. During their current seven-game winning streak (which started with a home upset of then-top-ranked Syracuse), the team has given up 70 points or more just twice, and it took Villanova overtime to reach the number.

Defense was the key to victory on February 8 when Notre Dame beat West Virginia. The Mountaineers managed just 51 points, and some of those came late in the game with little opposition.

That doesn't mean that WVU was blown out. The game was tied with the clock winding down when the Irish proved they do have some offense, too, by hitting a few three-pointers to put the game away.

Now, West Virginia has to take what it learned in that game and build upon the momentum it gained in a blowout at Pitt last Thursday.

The latest win snapped a streak in which the Mountaineers had lost five of six games, but it's yet to be seen if they can get back to playing well on a consistent basis.

Of course, they'll get consistent play from Kevin Jones. The senior has been leading the conference in scoring (20.4) and rebounding (11.3) all season, and really has not been slowing down. The last time he faced Notre Dame, he was trying to become the third Mountaineer to ever score 20 or more points in ten consecutive games, but ended up with only 14.

He's still scored double digits in every game this season, and is one of two players in the conference averaging a double-double.

His fellow upperclassmen, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli, are the team's second and third-highest scorers. Kilicli has scored at least 12 in his past five games and can be a serious threat inside if he stays out of foul trouble.

Bryant has had an up-and-down season, but played a strong game against Pitt, surprisingly coming off the bench.

These three have been leading the team all season, but lately, Jabarie Hinds has emerged from the group of freshmen and played some quality games. Gary Browne is the other young player that has had the biggest impact so far.

Just like the first time these two teams played, we can likely expect a low-scoring game, meaning there is a good chance it will be close late into the second half.

If the Mountaineers are able to get their revenge and come out of South Bend with a victory, they'll have put themselves in a much better position come Selection Sunday.

The game will tip at 7 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.

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