SOUTH BEND, In. — Coming off a 10-point victory over the Dartmouth Big Green in their last outing, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be closing out their non-conference slate against the Southeastern Louisiana Lions on Thursday December 21st at the Purcell Pavilion.
This will be the first meeting between the Fighting Irish and the Lions, but the seventh between Notre Dame and a member of the Southland Conference. Notre Dame is 6-0 against teams of the Southland, with the last win coming against the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, where Rex Pflueger tipped in the last second bucket to propel the Irish to victory.
Thursday’s contest will be the final game before the players travel back home to spend the holiday season with their families.
Let’s take a closer look inside this match-up:
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have not been the team we all saw at the beginning of the season, who won the 2017 Maui Invitational Tournament. While a loss against the Michigan State Spartans isn’t the worst thing in the world, the Irish have since lost to the un-ranked Ball State Cardinals and Indiana Hoosiers while also struggling along the way against less than formidable opponents, including Dartmouth, who the Irish only beat by 10.
Depth issues have plagued the Irish, who have been very reliant on their starting five. But Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey has started to realize where his squad needs to improve if they are going to survive their tough ACC schedule. Guys like John Mooney, Elijah Burns and Nikola Djogo have all seen more playing time in an effort to give the starters some rest.
But, even with the increases in playing time, the bench still doesn’t contribute the numbers a coach would want. The bench contributed only three points in Tuesday’s win over Dartmouth; but this needs to improve, and Notre Dame only has one more game until the competition starts to get tougher.
Southeastern Louisiana Lions
Southeastern Louisiana is 6-6 on the season, and look to be a middle of the pack team in the Southland Conference.
They have wins against some poor teams like the Kent State Golden Flashes, as well as some non-Division I opponents and losses to teams like the 8-3 UCF Knights by only eight points.
The Lions have good depth, with many players that can contribute, but do not possess good size. They are a very guard heavy team, which happens to be the position their tallest player plays. Keith Charleston is a 6″8 guard averaging almost five points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game. He is taller than all of the Lions’ forwards, who are mostly 6″7. Notre Dame needs to take advantage of this lack of height and push the ball inside.
I don’t expect Notre Dame to play a zone against the Lions, considering their size and based on the fact that they don’t have the greatest free throw percentage (63.9%). Fouling them won’t be giving up a free two points.
Players to Watch
At the beginning of the season, the Irish needed Martinas Geben to step up his game and be more of a factor to take the pressure and attention off of Colson. After a good summer with the Lithuania National Team, Geben has improved upon the 3.1 points he averaged last season, contributing 8.8 per game this year.
He also has been a a good rebounder, and can finish at the rim. He is coming off of a 13 point, nine rebound performance against Dartmouth, so expect the 6’10” Lithuanian to replicate that performance on Thursday night against smaller competition.
Junior guard, Marlain Veal, is a guy everyone should keep their eye on. The 5’9”, 145 pounder may not have the size, but he certainly is able to score the ball. He averages 12.8 points per game as well as 5.3 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game. He is coming off a big performance against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, where he dropped 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
He has six double digit scoring performances and during games when he didn’t contribute many points, he made up for it in other areas of the stat sheet.
This will be an interesting matchup between Matt Farrell and Marlain Veal; two elite guards who can score the ball.
I see Notre Dame really pushing the ball inside and taking advantage of the lack of height that the Lions have. In addition to Geben having a big game, expect Bonzie Colson to also have a big night after his career night as well as John Mooney, who will show more of his offensive skill set in addition to his strong defensive rebounding ability. Notre Dame will notch their 10th win, sending the players home with a win and momentum to begin their ACC run.
Notre Dame – 94
Southeastern Louisiana – 63
– R. Scarfone