2 pm on ESPN2. Dave O’Brien and Doris Burke on the call.
Even if Pitt wasn’t struggling and a bit beat up, I’d be worried about this game. Losing five straight to a team will do that to you.
It just seems that much in the same way Pitt matches up well and knows what to do against Syracuse, Notre Dame does the same to Pitt.
“Whenever we play against Pittsburgh, it’s one of our biggest games of the season,” said Atkins, who leads Notre Dame in assists and steals. “I don’t think it’s going to be any different, another tough game on Saturday.”
Asked about Notre Dame’s success against the Panthers — Pitt hasn’t beaten Notre Dame since January 2009 and hasn’t won in South Bend since March 2005 — Atkins credits coach Mike Brey’s game plan.
Last season, Notre Dame limited the Panthers to 34 percent shooting and won the rebounding battle, 40-25. No Pitt player scored more than 11 points.
“We do a good job of scouting them and trying to take away their easy looks for their better players,” said Atkins, who contributed 10 points and seven assists in last year’s victory. “Also, limiting them on the backboards because they usually beat up teams offensive rebounding.”
Their defense has been solid, but the problem has been dealing with their offense. The Irish aren’t too far from Pitt’s adjusted tempo, but when they play Pitt they take it to the next level down.
That means long possessions, running sets and grinding the game to a snail’s pace.
Dixon said the Irish could use that burn strategy again and if they do, the Panthers can’t get frustrated by it and instead need to play it possession by possession with great team defense.
“When I use the word patience, I mean defensive patience, as well,” Dixon said. “Offensively, we are looking to attack and get transition baskets, but at the same time if they are back and they are playing solid defense, and against good teams that is what is going to happen, you have to have the ability to wear people down and grind them out and that is what we need to get back to.
“It seems like they are running motion and similar stuff and we have to keep [Eric] Atkins in front of us. I think our defense has improved down this stretch of games and if you look at the numbers, it would bear that out.”
I would like to believe Pitt has learned and will be able to handle it. Then I look at the fact that Pitt has three freshmen who play key minutes and have never been through it.
Even without Jerian Grant, they have decent perimeter shooters that can hurt Pitt. Eric Atkins, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson all shoot better than 36% from outside the arc.
Really, offense hasn’t been a problem for ND this year. It’s been their defense. They don’t like to play it too often.
Part of why their slow grind offensive pace has worked so well is not simply that it wears on Pitt and players get impatient and mistake prone on defense. It’s that they get so thrown out of their rhythm that the Pitt offense suffers even more. And a team that knows to be patient on offense, suddenly is rushing shots and trying to speed up the game. In the 5-game losing streak, Pitt has struggled to get to 40% shooting.
Brace yourself accordingly.