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NCAA Tournament First Four Game Preview: No. 11 Rutgers v. No. 11 Notre Dame

Includes how to watch, stats, quotes from both teams, keys to victory and more.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

NCAA Tournament First Four Round

No. 11 Rutgers (18-13) v. No. 11 Notre Dame (22-10)

How To Watch, Listen, News & Notes

Where: UD Arena in Dayton, Ohio (capacity: 13,409)

Tip-off: Wednesday, March 16 at approximately 9:10 p.m. ET

TV: truTV - Tom McCarthy, Steve Lavin, Avery Johnson, Jon Rothstein

Stream: truTV link

Radio: Live Listen - RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network - FOX Sports New Jersey 93.5-FM/WOR 710-AM/1450-AM, XM 84/Sirius 84, Scarlet Knights App - Jerry Recco and Austin Johnson; Westwood One - Lance Medow and Stephen Bardo; WRSU 88.7 FM - Chris Tsakonas and Dylan Allen

NET Rankings: Rutgers No. 77; Notre Dame 53

KenPom Rankings: Rutgers - No. 74, which is the same as before a 84-74 loss to No. 13 Iowa last Friday in the Big Ten Quarterfinals. Notre Dame - No. 51, which is two spots worse following a 87-80 loss to No. 22 Virginia Tech last Thursday in the ACC Quarterfinals.

Efficiency Rankings: Rutgers - Offense 106.4 (108th) Defense 95.5 (42nd); Notre Dame - Offense 112.0 (30th) Defense 98.3 (83rd)

KenPom Prediction: Notre Dame 67 Rutgers 65. Rutgers has a 44% chance to win.

OTB Guide to KenPom

Vegas Line: Rutgers +1 per DraftKings

Series History: Notre Dame leads 20-13 as both teams were former members of the Big East conference. The Irish won the last three meetings including the last two in a season sweep in the 2012-2013 season. Rutgers last beat Notre Dame on January 16, 2012 at home 65-58 with Eli Carter scoring a team high 13 points. Current radio color analyst Austin Johnson scored 10 points off the bench on 5 of 9 shooting.

NCAA Tournament History: The Scarlet Knights are making their eighth NCAA Tournament appearance all-time and have a record of 6-7 overall. They’ advanced to the second round five times, the Sweet 16 twice and the Final Four once.

Podcast Preview:

Key Contributors

Notre Dame: 6’5” freshman Blake Wesley - 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals, 41.2% FG, 31.8% 3-pt FG, 65.4% FT; 6’6” senior Dane Goodwin - 13.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 50.2% FG, 44.8% 3-pt FG, 85.5% FT; 6’9” graduate transfer Paul Atkinson Jr. - 12.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 57.8% FG, 76.1% FT; 6’10” senior Nate Laszewski - 9.2 points, 6.6 rebounds, 51.0% FG, 46.0% 3-pt FG, 85.0% FT; 6’3” senior Prentiss Hubb - 9.1 points, 4.0 assists, 3.1 rebounds, 38.1% FG, 32.1% 3-pt FG, 72.2% FT; 6’5” senior Cormac Ryan - 8.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 42.9% FG, 38.7% 3-pt FG, 82.5% FT; 6’5” senior Trey Wertz - 4.2 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 39.1% FG, 38.7% 3-pt FG, 81.0% FT

Rutgers: 6’6” senior Ron Harper Jr. - 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 43.3% FG, 39.0% 3-pt FG, 79.5% FT; 6’4” redshirt senior Geo Baker - 12.4 points, 3.8 assists, 2.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 40.0% FG, 32.9% 3-pt FG, 74.5% FT; 6’11” sophomore Cliff Omoruyi - 11.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, 1.3 blocks, 61.8% FG, 16.7% 3-pt FG, 60.4% FT; 6’6” junior Paul Mulcahy - 9.0 points, 5.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 44.5% FG, 34.3% 3-pt FG, 77.6% FT; 6’7” senior Caleb McConnell - 6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.2 steals, 2.1 assists, 37.2% FG, 25.0% 3-pt FG, 66.0% FT; 6’6” sophomore Aundre Hyatt - 4.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 36.3% FG, 28.3% 3-pt FG, 63.4% FT; 6’8” Jaden Jones - 3.6 points, 1.2 rebounds, 36.4% FG, 23.3% 3-pt FG, 70.0% FT; 6’7” sophomore Mawot Mag - 3.0 points, 1.9 rebounds, 42.5% FG, 26.7 3-pt FG, 69.6% FT; 6’10 sophomore Dean Reiber - 3.0 points, 1.2 rebounds, 53.1% FG, 58.3% 3-pt FG, 58.3% FT; 6’8” senior Ralph Gonzales-Agee - 1.9 points, 1.1 rebounds, 46.2% FG, 64.3% FT; 6’8” sophomore Oskar Palmquist - 1.5 points, 41.2% FG, 45.5% 3-pt FG, 50.0% FT; 6’2” freshman Jalen Miller - 0.7 points, 35.3% FG, 75.0% FT

About Notre Dame

The Irish average 72.5 points per game and allow 66.8 points per contest.

KenPom Top 50 Record: 2-8 (Rutgers 8-6)

KenPom Top 100 Record: 7-8 (Rutgers 11-9)

Best Wins: KenPom no. 3 Kentucky 66-62 at home on 12/11/21; KenPom no. 29 North Carolina 78-73 at home on 1/5/22.

Worst Losses: KenPom no. 132 Boston College 73-57 away on 12/3/21; KenPom no. 109 Florida State 74-70 away on 3/12/22

Like for Like Opponents: Illinois, Indiana, Clemson (Notre Dame 2-2; Rutgers 3-1).

ND lost to Illinois on the road 82-72 and vs. Indiana on a neutral court 64-56. They swept Clemson 72-56 and 76-61.

ACC Efficiency ranks: 6th offensive efficiency - 109.3; 2nd defensive efficiency - 100.7

Notre Dame Efficiency Strengths:

Offensive - 6.5% non-steal turnover rate (9th); 37.7% three-point shooting (19th nationally); 54.0% effective field goal percentage (28th); 15.5% turnover rate (28th); 75.9% free throw shooting (43rd); 52.0% two-point shooting (87th);

Defensive - 22.9% Free Throw rate (22nd); 24.1% opponent offensive rebounding rate (39th); 31.7% opponent three-point shooting (76th)

Notre Dame Efficiency Weaknesses:

Offensive - 22.1% offensive rebounding rate (334th); 27.6% free throw rate (263rd); 9.1% block rate (203rd);

Defensive - 4.8% block rate (347th); 15.0% turnover rate (336th); 7.3% non-steal turnover rate (333rd); 7.6% steal rate (304th)

Rutgers Notes

For the season, the Scarlet Knights are averaging 67.9 points per game and allowing 65.2 points per contest.....RU is shooting only 49.1% from two-point range (203rd), 33.6% from three-point range (181st) and 70.1% from the foul line (230th)......They are ranked 31st nationally with an assist rate at 58.7%, 49th in two-point defense in holding opponents to 46.5% shooting, 52nd in defensive block rate at 11.8% and 57th in defensive steal rate at 10.9% .......Rutgers finished 9th in offensive efficiency and 4th in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play this regular season......RU was 3rd from three-point range at 36.7% shooting but just 11th in free throw rate (25.0%) and 13th in offensive rebounding rate (18.7%) in league play........They finished in the top five in seven defensive categories in Big Ten play including 1st in steal rate (10.6%), 2nd in block rate (12.2%), 3rd in turnover rate (17.6%), 4th in effective field goal percentage (49.2%), free throw rate (26.7%) and 5th in two-point shooting (48.1%) and three-point shooting (33.8%).....Rutgers is making back to back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in 46 years.

Stat To Know

Rutgers is 11-0 when holding high major opponents to 65 or fewer points and 7-13 when they don’t. Notre Dame is 14-1 when they make at least 10 three-pointers in a game and 8-9 when they don’t.

Pregame Quotes

Notre Dame

Dane Goodwin on the senior class making the NCAA Tournament for the first time

“Obviously it’s pretty exciting. And came in here Notre Dame with intentions of making it every year but obviously we haven’t been there yet. And very much looking forward to this. Been waiting, working a lot. This group’s been through a lot. It’s cool to see it finally coming together at the end. And hopefully we can make a deep run here.”

Nate Laszewski on Rutgers

“A team that’s got a lot of really talented players, especially two elite guards who can drive the ball and make plays and get to the rim. Just have to look to penetration and try to keep them off the boards.”

Cormac Ryan on playing close to Notre Dame and potential for a lot of fans

“Our fans have been great all year. We’re hoping for a great environment tomorrow. These games are usually really exciting. We’re excited to kind of get out there and just play in a special environment, especially being pretty close to home.”

Dane Goodwin on Notre Dame potentially making a deep tourney run

“Like Cormac said, Coach came up with a couple examples, one being last year with UCLA and teams like Syracuse and VCU over the last 10 years or so, really taking full advantage of the First Four and being able to win a game get momentum going and eventually care that throughout the tournament. So I think we’re looking to do the same.”

Mike Brey on Rutgers and Steve Pikiell

“This is my fifth Rutgers basketball coach I’ll coach against. The only program that’s had more coaches in my tenure is Notre Dame football. They’ve had six. (Laughter). I know this Rutgers program well. I know the game is not in the RAC. I’ve got some bad nightmares coming out of there. Steve Pikiell is one of the most gifted coaches in our profession. You know a little bit of my relationship with Chris Christie, Governor Christie. He was a Delaware guy, and we got to know each other back in the day. Both his daughters have been managers for me. When he called me and said we have a chance to get this guy Pikiell from Stony Brook, I said, send the plane and give him 10 years. This guy will stabilize it and then he’ll build it. And he absolutely did. He’s an old-school, throwback b-ball coach, and utmost respect for him. And he’s got one heck of a tough team that’s tough like him.”

Mike Brey on why he believed Steve Pikiell would turn Rutgers around

“When you’re in the business, and as long as I’ve been in it, you watch and you listen, especially when we — the pandemic knocked us out of being on the road in the summer. That’s when you rub shoulders with guys and you get to know them, and you’re sitting at a game with them, and he’s watching one dude and you’re watching another. And certainly I remember him — he was at my alma mater at GW. When I was on the road I used to ask, how is Foggy Bottom. Always impressed with him. Impressed with the toughness and how hard his group plays. And just there was a consistency and a stability. He is who he is every day. And this is what we’re going to do. And certainly it’s what Rutgers needed at the time. And it’s been magical for them. And, again, I’ve had a lot of Big East flashbacks watching their team play, seeing clips from the RAC, tough guys, physical guys, old guys. We used to go up and down I-95. Here come the Seton Hall guys. They look like the Rutgers guys. Here they come, coming at our lane, coming at our throat. So that’s been kind of cool to think back through the Big East memories with them.”

Mike Brey on the matchup with Rutgers

“What we watched on Saturday was our 10 turnovers in the first half against Virginia Tech. We have been really good taking care of the ball. Now, that’s going to be a challenge tomorrow night, because these guys are crafty. They’re crafty gamblers, you know. They reach. We have to be really good with the ball. And we can’t turn the ball over like that. We’ve been very efficient offensively this year. We’ve been smart at controlling tempo. That’s very much going to be a key. And one of the keys is going to be can you guard your own guy, because these guys will square up on you and they’re going to take you off the dribble. Can you stay in front of your own guy and play one-on-one defense?”

Mike Brey on Ron Harper Jr. and both teams making the big dance

“He’s a great story. I remember him a little bit on the circuit and was typical of what Steve has done and we’ve kind of done it a similar way. Maybe guys that aren’t recruited at a super high level, you get them in your program and get him better. And his nucleus is that. And Ron is the epitome of that. I think he got himself in great shape. He’s gotten himself in great shape. But there’s a feel for the game, good size. And he’s earned all of it. He had to come and grind to get there. And really both these teams playing, again Rutgers had the experience last year. Hell, they were in the tournament when it was shut down. They were a three-year NCAA Tournament team. And we lost some momentum there when we were the first team out. And we’ve been scratching and clawing to get back. But both nucleuses of kids have had to work their way, scratch their way to this. I think it’s a good story for both teams.”


Ron Harper Jr. on being named a Honorable Mention All-American

“I’m speechless, man. I’d like to thank these guys up here with me because without them none of this would be possible. If you told me when I got here as a freshman I’d be on any honorable mention All-American team, I’d tell you to stop lying. It’s a great honor. I’m proud. But we’ve still got so much more work to do. Thanks to my coaches, teammates, the fans, everyone that’s supported me.”

Steve Pikiell on Ron Harper Jr. being named an All-American

“Obviously when you win, honors like that come. But Ron’s come a long way. That’s certainly a terrific honor. Proud of him. And I still say this all the time: His best basketball is ahead of him, too. He’s young and he’s a better kid than he is a basketball player. And from a great family and a great student, all the things you want in a basketball player. So real proud of him and all of our guys that get any kind of accomplishment like that. Just great for our program.”

Caleb McConnell on Ron Harper Jr. being named an All-American

“I thought that’s an amazing achievement, especially for Ron, especially all the hard work and things he’s overcame. And especially just how far we came. We came here as freshmen and we’ve put in so much work just to get here. We made three straight NCAA appearances. This is our third one. And just goes to show you all the hard work he puts in. So kudos to Ron. That’s a big achievement.”

Geo Baker on the experience of playing in last season’s NCAA Tournament

“It’s a different type of mentality. We understand that this could potentially be our last game. It’s 40 minutes gets you another 40. Everyone’s just real locked in and focused. And the good part is we’ve been here before. These guys, we all understand what it takes. And just kind of staying focused on the task at hand. Don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. Right now we just want to stay focused on one game and that’s Notre Dame.”

Caleb McConnell on playing in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio

“It’s definitely emotional just being back in my hometown. This place is very close to my heart. As you said I went to Dayton Dunbar, which is like five minutes down the street. So it’s definitely an emotional feeling. I’m glad to be back home. Never ever would I have thought that I would have got a chance to play in Dayton in my collegiate career, and here it is. So this whole time I was just thinking it’s really crazy just how life takes you in a full circle. But I’m very glad to be back home. And I’m ready to play in front of friends and family.”

Ron Harper Jr. on having a Dayton connection with McConnell

“It’s crazy. My dad, my family grew up here and they grew up in the city and they played basketball here. It’s a privilege to be able to play basketball here. Me and Caleb always joke around, talk about when we’re going to go back to Dayton, we’re going to go visit the city, go touch base with old roots. And what do you know? Now we’re playing in Dayton in March Madness. It doesn’t get any better than this. I think this is the best way me and Caleb could have ever came back to visit. It’s an honor to play here where my family grew up.”

Ron Harper Jr. on staying home and playing for Rutgers

“I wanted to stay home starting a trend of keeping Jersey guys home at the state university of New Jersey. And when Coach Pikiell brought me in for my visit and talked about his vision about everything he saw, it was really easy for me to jump on board. And I’ve got two Jersey guys sitting right next to me to help bring the program up, help bring it up to March Madness, help set a new goal every year is especially big and important for me. Just like I said, it wouldn’t be possible without these guys, without Coach Pikiell. But to be a kid from New Jersey that came to Rutgers to start something new and to be able to accomplish that is amazing. But there’s so much more for us to accomplish, and I think these guys could agree with that.”

Steve Pikiell on Notre Dame

“Obviously Notre Dame for years has been one of the great offensive programs. And they don’t foul, too. But Mike Brey is really good. They have a lot of answers. They shoot a ton of 3s. They remind me a little bit of some teams in our league. You’ve got to be on top of your game offensively. Again, they do a great job of not fouling down at the other end of the court. And they have a lot of answers. They have a lot of guys that are capable of scoring a lot of points. So we’ll be challenged on the defensive end of the floor for sure. And we’ve got to be on top of our game on the offensive end.”

Cliff Omoruyi on Notre Dame

“Just watching film in the last two days we see that they shoot a lot of 3s. We’ve just got to get show our length, like, wing span, so we can deflect their shot, play good defense and challenge every shot they shoot.”

Paul Mulcahy on Notre Dame

“They shoot a lot of 3s. They shoot the ball well. They play in a really good conference. They’ve been tested. They’ve got a coach that’s been there a long time. So they’ll be well-coached. But so are we.”

Ron Harper Jr. on being asked about Rutgers making the tournament after missing it last season

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we made the tournament last year.” (Laughter).

Geo Baker on the Rutgers bench

“It’s super important. Depth is the key. I’ve said this all year, I feel like we have a great combination of both veterans and younger guys who are willing to learn and listen. And then our veterans also are willing to listen to the younger guys. We have a great combination of the two. Those guys came in gave us great minutes. I really feel like our team, as a whole, not just those guys, but our starters, understand our rules. And that’s key in March Madness, when everyone is on the same page. As I said earlier, you’re only guaranteed one game. We have to make sure we’re all on the same page. I think that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Geo Baker on whether he has reflected on his legacy at Rutgers

“Not really, to be honest. Right now we have a goal and that’s the national championship. So that’s really the only thing we’re all thinking about right now. There’s a couple of seniors up here where, when the season’s eventually over, we can all look back, reflect on everything. And every now and then I do like maybe say something on Twitter or something like that, just talking about how far we’ve come. But at the end of the day, my mindset right now is on this tournament and on Notre Dame.”

Steve Pikiell on getting praised by Mike Brey

“Yeah, the job that he’s done everywhere he’s been, I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. And kind of admire, too, how he does it. He does it the right way. Coaches with class and all those great things. But, yeah, when you hear those things, it’s really nice. And you appreciate that coming from a guy who has been in the business a long time and has won at the high level he’s won at and done it the right way. So certainly appreciate that.”

Steve Pikiell on how last season’s tournament experience benefits this team

“I think always experiences help you. We have a team with four players that have been through a lot. This will be Paul’s third, it would be his third trip, and he’s a junior. So I think those experiences of being in the tournament in the past and knowing how exciting it is, it’s just nice now to have people live and have you guys here and to be able to have shoot-arounds and do some things in the gym live. But our guys have been through a lot. This group has had to win a lot of games. It’s been three years, too. They’ve had their backs against the wall. We played a lot of different styles, a lot of different teams. So I think anytime experience really helps you in these kinds of situations. And hopefully all of our guys, I think, don’t want the season to end. This has been a great group for me to work with. They’ve rarely had a bad practice. They get along great. So, for me, I don’t want this season to ever end. This group has certainly been a special group to coach and very unselfish group. So the experience of the tournament will definitely help us.”

Keys To Victory

There are no easy games in the NCAA Tournament and Notre Dame is dangerous in the sense that they are a prolific three-point shooting team. They make you on the defensive end by capitalizing on any breakdowns, offensive rebounds and open looks. The biggest key for Rutgers is to contain the Irish from behind the arc. As mentioned above, they are 14-1 this season when they make at least 10 three-pointers in a game. Closing out on shooters and running them off the arc, boxing out shooters to prevent long rebounds, controlling the defensive glass to limit second chance three-point opportunities on kick outs and picking up shooters in transition is essential to limiting them.

Another key to this game is rebounding. Notre Dame is really good on the defensive glass, but not very strong with offensive rebounding. They’re also just 6-8 in games that they get outrebounded by their opponent. Rutgers plays at their best when they are connected defensively and rebounding as a group. They cannot afford to give the Irish second chance scoring opportunities. On the flip side, Cliff Omoruyi and Ron Harper Jr. have an opportunity to dominate inside in this game. Notre Dame’s Paul Atkinson Jr. is the former Ivy League Player of the Year and is solid, but as a whole the Irish frontcourt is not very physical. Rutgers is used to the rough and tumble Big Ten, while Notre Dame comes from a finesse league in the ACC. There is no reason why the Scarlet Knights shouldn’t be relentless on the boards.

A key matchup is containing leading scorer Blake Wesley, who is a freshman and prone to mistakes despite being a very talented player. Expect Caleb McConnell to defend him most of the time with Pikiell probably mixing it up as well. If they can frustrate Wesley and take him out of the game, that will put the Irish at a disadvantage.

Attacking the basket is key. Look for Geo Baker to penetrate off the bounce and for Paul Mulcahy to take his one on one matchup and bully ball them into the paint for high percentage looks at the basket.

The foul line will be huge in this game. Notre Dame doesn’t get to the line often because they are a perimeter oriented team. However, Rutgers MUST defend without fouling as we saw how quickly they unraveled in the loss to Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament. How the officials call the game will be critical but Rutgers also has to be able to adjust better if there is a tight whistle. Notre Dame is a very good free throw shooting team and if they get into the bonus early on in either half, that could spell trouble. This is also a game I expect both starting fives to play big minutes, so keeping everyone on the floor is important.

Turnover differential will be key as the Irish don’t force takeaways, so Rutgers has to be smart and not give it away. Obviously this offense is at its best when they share the basketball and make the extra pass. They need to make Notre Dame work defensively and try to push the pace on them. I don’t think Rutgers should be overly aggressive in looking to force turnovers as they could leave themselves vulnerable on the perimeter. I think keeping the Irish in front of them and forcing them to make contested shots is the sound approach. But when steals do occur, Rutgers needs to get out in transition and take advantage of it. It’s not going to be about forcing a lot of turnovers but rather turning them into points when they occur.

The bench will get at least a run in the first half and they need to provide a lift when they’re in the game. It’s do or die and they need to contribute. I look at Mawot Mag as having an opportunity to be a factor in this game. He can rebound and I think his physicality could be a problem for Notre Dame. Mag is due off the bench and I think tonight is the night. Of course, Dean Reiber and Aundre Hyatt need to play well with whatever minutes they get. Reiber could be a factor defensively in defending Leszewski on the perimeter.

At the end of the day, both teams are senior laden teams but Rutgers has valuable experience from playing in last season’s NCAA Tournament. They also are much more battle tested playing in the Big Ten and have beaten a lot more good teams than Notre Dame has. None of that guarantees anything tonight, but I think Rutgers understands how to handle the moment and will play with controlled urgency. I think that’s a huge key, as well as handling adversity well in this game. Don’t let the officials or foul calls disrupt focus. They have the potential to string together defensive stops and force the Irish into scoring droughts. When that happens, they need to be smart offensively and attack the paint. This game will likely be close, but either team does have a chance to gain a comfortable lead if they can exploit their strengths. The Irish are a more predictable team than the Scarlet Knights, but its March and anything is possible.

You can read more about Notre Dame in our Q&A with SB Nation’s Notre Dame site One Foot Down. For more on keys regarding Cliff Omoruyi’s potential to dominate inside, Caleb’s defensive presence and the experience factor, click here.

Music Selection

For this game, I selected “End Of The Line” by the Traveling Wilburys. The underrated rock super group is a good way to honor the senior class of Rutgers that will leave a lasting legacy regardless of if they win or lose tonight. We know the end of the line is coming for this team, but how long they can extend the road is the question.

Rutgers fought back from the dead to make the NCAA Tournament. They were one loss away from being essentially eliminated from contention several times. The persevered for a third straight season and here they are. This is their opportunity to prove one last time that Rutgers basketball deserves respect. A reporter even made the mistake of asking the team about missing the tournament last season. If they want to continue to change perception of how far this program has come, winning tonight on the national stage with the only tournament game on TV is a big opportunity to do that.

The players have admitted when they haven’t played to their potential at times and we’ve seen what they’re capable of when they do. It starts tonight and no one wants to see this season end. I believe Rutgers is the better team but they have to play like it. It’s now or never. 40 gets you 40. I think the experience they had last season in the big dance and the experience of fighting their way back helps them make a run. The end of the line is near, but if the Scarlet Knights play the way they are capable of, we’ll all be California dreamin’ late tonight.