Stats & Info: Jake Cooley
February, 22, 2012
By Katie Sharp, ESPN Stats & Info | ESPN.com
Matt Cashore/US PresswirePat Connaughton and the Irish will try and make it nine straight wins when they host West Virginia.
In mid-December, most Notre Dame fans probably were counting the days until spring football practice.
The Fighting Irish had lost senior star Tim Abromaitis to a knee injury a few weeks into the season and were stumbling through their non-conference schedule with an 8-5 record.
But the Irish have rebounded from their early-season slump, and currently are riding an eight-game win streak after starting 3-3 in Big East play. Once ticketed for the bottom of the league standings, Notre Dame now is in prime position to earn one of the top four seeds in the Big East Tournament.
Ranked 18th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' Poll, Notre Dame hosts a West Virginia team Wednesday (7 ET on ESPN2) that is desperate for a win, having dropped five of its last seven games.
Let's take a look at how the Irish have turned their season around as they prepare for the Mountaineers:
Slow It Down
The most tangible on-court difference over the last eight games is that the Fighting Irish are forcing opponents to play at a much slower pace, using the "burn" offense to run as much time off the clock in their offensive sets before attempting a shot.
Their average number of possessions per game has dropped from 64 to 60, and the Irish have doubled their field goal attempts per game with four seconds or less left on the shot clock.
The ability to dictate tempo will be important against the Mountaineers, who average 67 possessions per game, ranking sixth in the Big East.
The slower tempo has allowed Notre Dame to become much more efficient on catch-and-shoot jumpers in its half-court offense, and the extra passes in their offensive sets have given the Irish shooters more open looks.
Notre Dame should be able to take advantage of a West Virginia squad that has not defended catch-and-shoot plays well, ranking 10th in points per play allowed and 12th in field goal percentage defense among Big East teams.
The Cooley Factor
Jack Cooley has led the Fighting Irish on offense during their eight-game win streak, averaging a double-double (16.1 PPG, 11.6 RPG). He's done most of his damage down low, scoring 40 percent of his points around the basket in the last eight games and shooting 70 percent on post-ups.
If Cooley is defended by Kevin Jones tonight, he'll be challenged to put up similar numbers in the post. Jones has thrived as the on-ball defender on post-ups, allowing his opponent to hit just 7-of-31 shots (22 percent) this season.
Defending The Arc
The Irish have struggled to contain teams in transition most of the season, but they've really improved their half-court defense during this recent win streak. Most notably, Notre Dame has done a much better job extending its perimeter defense. Opponents are making just a quarter of their 3-point attempts in the half-court over the last eight games, compared to 35 percent during the first 19 games.
West Virginia does not appear to have the firepower to counter Notre Dame's tough 3-point defense. The Mountaineers rank 14th in the Big East in shooting from beyond the arc and have shot under 20 percent in two of their last three games.