This Saturday is the annual Crossroads Classic where the top four Indiana basketball schools all face off in Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Though the hype has died down a little for these games with some early season losses, Indiana's game against Notre Dame should still be a marquee game that offers Indiana perhaps their best (and last) chance of getting a quality non-conference win before Big Ten play.
The Fighting Irish
Notre Dame has not exactly been stellar this season. Many had pointed to the Irish as the team that would take the ACC to the next level this offseason after the conference added Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame. Unfortunately for the ACC, things have not worked out quite that well so far. Notre Dame is just #60 on KenPom at this point and has already lost 3 games this season including games to Indiana State and North Dakota State. Even if these end up being surprise teams in this year's college basketball, Notre Dame still should have come out with wins in those games, especially considering both games were at home. This puts even more pressure on Notre Dame to get a win over Indiana in advance of what should be a challenging ACC season.
Upfront, look for Garrick Sherman and Pat Connaughton. Sherman is the team's only true starting big man and averages 14.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He has a rebounding rate of 17.8% according to Basketball Reference and an effective field goal percentage of 53.4%. Connaughton is also a pretty dynamic player that averages 13.6 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. One thing that is interesting to note about Connaughton is that his rebounding and assist rates are nearly identical. This is clearly a representation of a diverse skillset. Overall, Notre Dame is 54th in defensive rebounding and 77th in total rebounding. For all the impact of Sherman, Notre Dame still struggles on the offensive glass at 105th in the nation.
In the backcourt, the Hoosiers are going to have to keep an eye on Jerian Grant and senior Eric Atkins. Grant has, without a doubt, been the most impactful player for Notre Dame this season. Not only does he lead the team in win shares by a significant margin, but he also leads the team in points, assists, and steals with 18.7 points, 6.1 assists, and 2.1 steals per game. Just look at the comparison between Grant's assist rate is 31.9% and his turnover rate of 9.6%. His efficient with the ability to explode at any moment. Containing him has to be goal #1 for Indiana. Atkins has also been a solid player this year with 12.4 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.5 rebounds per game. He is part of Notre Dame's attack that is 3rd in the nation in assists. The Irish like to move the ball and limiting this will be a challenge.
Keys To The Game
The first key to the game has to be for Noah Vonleh to contain Sherman down low. Sherman may be the only true big man in Notre Dame's lineup, but he's more than capable of doing enough damage to win this game by himself. Vonleh has been a breakout player for Indiana and he could be the guy that really limits his contributions. As mentioned earlier, Notre Dame is not fantastic at offensive rebounds, so I think Vonleh could have a big game on the glass, especially since he's a good rebounder himself.
The other key to this game will be staying committed on defense. This may sound like a pretty general comment, but Notre Dame has no problem moving the ball. If you bring help too quick or too late, they are going to burn you with a pass or two and hit an open shot. Indiana can't let guys move without the ball and get into good spots to shoot. Notre Dame typically struggles on defense so if Indiana can slow down their offense enough, they should have a good shot at victory.
Players To Watch
As mentioned above, Vonleh has to be the big guy to watch here. He has a huge challenge with Sherman, but he has plenty of skills himself. Outside of Vonleh, Yogi Ferrell is going to have a big challenge trying to defend Notre Dame's backcourt. If he can put some pressure on Grant, it could go a long way in this one. Finally, Evan Gordon had a big game against Oakland so look for him to continue on that.
Prediction: Indiana by 8