Notre Dame - Pitt Preview

NOTRE DAME AND PITT LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK FROM SATURDAY LOSSES

There's no time to lick your wounds in the brutal Big East this season...because there's always another battle just a few days away. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh will both be dealing with that reality on ESPN's Big Monday coming off road losses to Providence and Marquette respectively. Each is currently slated to reach the Big Dance, but both realize that every result matters in the seeding process.

Other realities in play in this matchup:

  • We could have one of the SLOWEST games of the college basketball season in terms of tempo because both of these teams are very deliberate on offense. That only gets magnified when slow teams play each other.

  • Notre Dame is in danger of sinking down to a seed of #8 or worse because of their inconsistent play and resume. You'll see in a moment that the computers have them much worse than the media (the Irish were ranked #21 before the loss to Providence). In fact, one computer wouldn't even have them in the Dance! A big road win at Pittsburgh would shut the naysayers up for awhile. A poor road loss like we saw against Providence or Syracuse might cement the Irish in a Dance spot they can't recover from.

  • Pittsburgh's been an enigma in the other direction. They have just as many conference losses as Notre Dame, but the computers LOVE them. Did Pitt look like a top five team this past Saturday at Marquette? One computer STILL has them that high after the loss!

This is going to be a fun one to handicap and watch on TV. Let's run it through our ringer of indicator stats...

WON-LOST RECORDS
Notre Dame: 20-6 (8-5 in the Big East)
Pittsburgh: 20-6 (8-5 in the Big East)

Given what's about to come, this is pretty amazing. Notre Dame and Pittsburgh have the exact same won-lost records overall and in league play. You'd expect them to be close together in the computer rankings then, right?

COMPUTER RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #43 with Sagarin, #60 with Pomeroy
Pittsburgh: #9 with Sagarin, #4 with Pomeroy

Wrong! Jeff Sagarin of USA Today had them 34 spaces apart as of press time. Pittsburgh would be slotted for a #3 seed based on his ratings, with Notre Dame down around the #10-11 mark. College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy has the differential being more extreme. He would have Pittsburgh up at a #1 seed, while Notre Dame would be in the NIT. How can teams with identical won-lost records be this far apart? Must be strength of schedule. Let's take a look...

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #83 with Sagarin, #93 with Pomeroy
Pittsburgh: #67 with Sagarin, #72 with Pomeroy

Not really. Yes, Pittsburgh has a clear edge. But, it's far from a dominating edge. We're not sure what the computers are smoking in the case of Pittsburgh. They are certainly a strong team...and they're capable of doing damage in the Dance. But, going 20-6 against about the #70 schedule doesn't make you a top 10 team, even this year. And, there's just no way that Pittsburgh is light years better than the Irish. Sure, they'd be a neutral court favorite. We're not buying #1 seed vs. NIT team on a neutral court though.

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
Notre Dame: 4-3
Pittsburgh: 5-5

This makes the point even further. How could Pitt be one of the top 10 teams in the country if they're only playing .500 ball against the top 50? That means they belong in the top 50 because they can hold their own there. They're far from establishing top 10. Notre Dame would be 3-4 if not for the extremely fortunate multiple-overtime win vs. Louisville at home last week.

JOE LUNARDI'S BRACKETOLOGY
Notre Dame: projected #6 seed
Pittsburgh: projected #5 seed

Just to muddy things up more. Lunardi of ESPN does have these teams relatively even. These seeds look like they were based on last week's poll rankings. We can buy Pittsburgh as a #5 seed based on our own proprietary numbers. We'd have Notre Dame a few spots below where Lunardi has them. This is why there's so much debate about the Dance at this stage of the season. Different ways of looking at the teams provide different answers. You want to take the human element out of the mix...but the computer elements may be shooting way too high on Pittsburgh. Imagine the outrage from Digger Phelps if the Pomeroy numbers were used for seeding!

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #12
Pittsburgh: #6

Maybe the chess game will give us some insights. Both of these teams grade out very well offensively. That may surprise many of you who evaluate based on scoreboard totals without adjusting for pace. These are two of the slowest teams in the country. Each is very efficient at their slow pace. Pomeroy adjusts for quality of opposition and tempo. Our own numbers don't rank these offenses quite this high...but we probably hold them in higher regard than you did before reading this preview. Handicappers must adjust for context or they'll be just as dumb as squares and TV analysts when trying to make picks.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #180
Pittsburgh: #14

This is where the teams separate...and this is why Pomeroy has Notre Dame so low overall. Once you adjust for tempo, Notre Dame's defense is actually pretty lousy by big time standards. If they do make the Dance, they'll have one of the worst defenses of any major conference team in the Dance. They're poor inside. They don't force a lot of turnovers. Their slow tempo has helped hide this from the media. Remember in the colleges that low scoring games often mean SLOW, not great defense. Pittsburgh typically guards people (though they had a bad game vs. Marquette defensively). Notre Dame will be outclassed by almost any defense they face in March.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Notre Dame: #326
Pittsburgh: #334

It's going to be painful to watch unless you love Greco-Roman wrestling. Both of these teams are happy at a slow pace, and will be as deliberate as needed to get off good shots. Does that mean Under? Oddsmakers have generally done a pretty good job of posting low totals on the games that are obviously going to be slow. The danger of overtime in this kind of plodding game also influences the percentages.

BEST EXPECTATION
A grinder, with Pittsburgh showing enough superiority to win straight up. Does that mean they'll cover? JIM HURLEY is working closely with his Big East sources to determine the fatigue situations for both teams. Each only had one day off within a fairly condensed schedule period. Plus, Notre Dame played two overtime games last week before Providence. What he hears from those sources will determine his final play in this one.

Notre Dame-Pitt is the highlight of the Monday card. We're also looking at Rutgers-Villanova in the Big East, and West Virginia-Kansas State in Game Two of the ESPN doubleheader.

You can purchase Monday basketball right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Lock in now for seasonal packages at great rates. March Madness will be here before you know it, and you need to be building your bankroll!

Back with you tomorrow to discuss a pair of major blockbusters on the Tuesday schedule: Indiana at Michigan State in the Big 10, and Florida at Missouri in the SEC. The percentages say at least one Final Four team is in that mix! One team that is certain to be a force in the Dance this year....the handicapping team at JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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