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Notre Dame Hoops Faces First Big Test Against Top 20 Spartans

By: Liam Farrell

via 247sports

The 5-1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish host the #20 Michigan State Spartans at Purcell Pavilion this Wednesday. Notre Dame, coming off its first loss of the season to the hands of St. Bonaventure, is looking to bounce back against the battle tested Spartans. Michigan State is sitting at 5-2 in this young season with respectable losses to then #18 Alabama and then #2 Gonzaga. Tom Izzo’s club already has their signature win of the season with a big victory over then #4 Kentucky.

This matchup is a part of the yearly ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Irish are 4-5 all time in these Power 5 conference matchups, with the most recent game being a 10-point loss to Illinois last year. Michigan State is 9-12 in this series but is coming off a 9-point victory against Louisville last year, which helped the Big Ten hold control over the ACC: boasting 8 victories in 14 games.

Keys to the Game

The Battle of Experience. Both teams in this game are led by upperclassmen. Notre Dame’s head coach, Mike Brey, has stressed the importance of senior leadership within this Irish team. Senior Nate Laszewski is currently leading Notre Dame with 18.2 pts per game and 8.7 rebounds per game; while seniors Dane Goodwin, Trey Wertz, and Cormac Ryan are providing the Irish with steady guard play. On the other side of the court, the Spartans are led by the senior duo of Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser. Walker and Hauser provide a large chunk of Michigan State’s scoring by averaging 15.6 pts and 13.9 pts, respectively. Ultimately, the workhorses for these teams have plenty of collegian basketball under their belt, which should prove vital in a presumably tight game.

via @NDmbb on Twitter

The Integration of Young Athleticism. To play off the talented upperclassmen, both teams utilize some underclassman within their rotations to provide a spark of energy. Highly touted freshmen J.J. Starling and Ven-Allen Lubin have provided the Irish with plenty of minutes this season. Starling, the number 21 overall prospect in the class of 2022 rankings according to 247 Composite Rankings, has shined so far for the Irish. Starling’s breakout game this season occurred against Bowling Green when the freshman star dazzled with 23 points and 6 rebounds. Brey’s use of Starling this season is very reminiscent to how he utilized freshman Blake Wesley last year. Hopefully Starling can follow in the footsteps of Wesley, who was drafted with the 25th overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft. For Michigan State, not many freshmen have seen the floor due to the high leverage of some of these season opening games. However, Jaxon Kohler, the number 59 overall prospect via 247 Composite Rankings, has seen the most action due to rather thin position depth at center. Along with Kohler, sophomore guard Pierre Brooks is also an up-and-comer for the Spartans, as he's started the past three games and provided MSU with a potent three-point threat.

via YardBarker.com

The Coaching Duel. Mike Brey versus Tom Izzo. It’s simple. It’s a battle between two of the best coaches left within the sport of college basketball. Brey, entering his 23rd year with Notre Dame, will look for better fortune facing off against Izzo, going into year 27. Michigan State has won four out of the five last meetings between these two programs but hasn’t played in Purcell Pavilion since a 79-78 Irish overtime victory in 2014. Michigan State and the Irish faced off early in the season two-years ago as well, as it saw the Spartans managing to fend off the Irish in a 10-point victory.

(AP Photo/Al Goldis)

Prediction

Brey and his Irish will have to be ready from the jump against this experienced Spartan team. In years past, Notre Dame lives and dies with the triple. This Irish team will do much of the same, besides the fact that they don’t have the low post presence that was Paul Atkinson Jr. last year. Dane Goodwin and Cormac Ryan will have to have career days to keep up with this high-powered, well-coached Michigan State team. In the end, Michigan State’s tests early on this season may outweigh Notre Dame’s overall experience. This game should be a close one till the end but expect a rowdy crowd at the Pavilion to motivate the Irish past Sparty.

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