Notre Dame-West Virginia Preview

West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said this year’s Notre Dame team

reminds him a lot of his Final Four squad from last season.

Fighting Irish coach Mike Brey, or any other coach for that matter,

would likely welcome that kind of comparison.

The eighth-ranked Irish look to match a school record with their

eighth straight Big East victory Saturday when they face a

Mountaineers team needing a strong finish to make a case for an

NCAA tournament bid.

Huggins’ 2009-10 team, which defeated Notre Dame 53-51 in the

semifinals of the Big East tournament en route to its first

conference title, finished 31-7 after making its first Final Four

appearance since 1959.

While Huggins is not pleased with the Mountaineers (16-9, 7-6)

being mired in a ninth-place tie this season, he is impressed with

how the Irish (21-4, 10-3) have gotten off to their best start in

30 years.

“It’s a little scary,” Huggins said of Saturday’s matchup in

Morgantown. “… I think they’re similar to where we were a year

ago, probably even bigger than what we were a year ago.

“When they play (Ben) Hansbrough at point and (6-foot-8 Scott)

Martin at (shooting guard), they’ve got great length and such great

size and they really present problems on the offensive glass and

problems defensively with their length. And then everybody they put

on the floor can make shots.

“It’s going to be a hard matchup for us.”

It wouldn’t be the first time a Notre Dame opponent felt this

way. Since back-to-back road losses to Marquette and St. John’s

last month, Brey’s team has won seven straight to move into second

place in the Big East, two games back of No. 4 Pittsburgh.

“They keep the game simple, easy and that’s why they’re No. 8 in

the country and the second-best team in our league right now,”

South Florida coach Stan Heath said following last Saturday’s 78-55

loss to Notre Dame.

The Irish will try to win four in a row on the road in Big East

play for the first time since a 5-0 run Jan. 27-Feb. 24, 2001. That

stretch helped Notre Dame set a record with eight consecutive Big

East victories Jan. 16-Feb. 14, 2001.

“The vibe around our group, I love,” Brey said. “And we’re in

the mix and chasing down a regular-season title. It’s a realistic

thing for us down the stretch.”

The same cannot be said for the Mountaineers, who have lost

three of four and face a brutal upcoming schedule with matchups

versus Pittsburgh, No. 13 Connecticut and 16th-ranked

Louisville.

“We’ve played OK, we just haven’t shot the ball very well,” said

Huggins, whose team made 36.2 percent of its attempts in Monday’s

63-52 loss at No. 17 Syracuse after falling out of the Top 25

earlier in the day.

“We kind of depend on some of the guys that helped score the

ball for us a year ago, and they’re struggling now.”

Junior forward Kevin Jones, second behind senior guard Casey

Mitchell with 12.7 points per game, is 6 for 17 from the field with

12 points in the last two games.

Jones, though, hit 12 of 17 shots in two matchups with Notre

Dame last season. He scored 10 points in the semifinal victory and

had 17 with 10 rebounds in a 70-68 loss in South Bend.

Hansbrough, the Big East’s fourth-leading scorer with 17.3

points per game, is averaging 20.9 during the winning streak.

Notre Dame has lost two in a row in Morgantown, falling 79-68 in

its most recent visit Feb. 18, 2009.

The Irish lead the all-time series 25-11.