Round Of 32: Previewing Notre Dame And Skylar Diggins

So what's the deal with the neon green shirts that Notre Dame fans wear? Maybe it'll remind Cal of Eugene, a place where they've felt quite at home lately.

Today's game begins at 4:20 pacific time and will air on ESPN2 . . . in certain locations. Three other NCAA games air simultaneously, including ESPN favorite Baylor, so unless you live in the Bay Area or in the general vicinity of northern Indiana, I advise you to boot up ESPN3 well in advance of tip-off.

Cal's win over Iowa was quite a bit of fun, but there's not much more time to enjoy it. The 8 seeded Bears now face the unenviable task of facing the 4th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who currently sit at 30-3 on the season. Two of those three losses came away from home against fellow #1 seeds Baylor and UConn. In short, Notre Dame is pretty good, and they are playing on their home court. This won't be easy - but you already knew that.

The Bears are also fighting history. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams there have been a total of 72 one seeds. All but 3 advanced to the Sweet 16. Two more have already advanced to the 3rd round this year. The simple reality is that Cal could play their best basketball game of the year, but if Notre Dame plays their best, they will still win. Having said that, a number of national analysts have mentioned that the Bears might be a tough out for the Irish, and there are a few reasons to think that the Bears have a puncher's chance this afternoon.

The Irish are led by point guard Skylar Diggins, one of the brightest, most recognizable stars in women's basketball. Diggins is an impressively versatile player who leads the Irish in scoring, assists and steals. She tends to come up big against Notre Dame's toughest opponents (27 points vs. Baylor, 11 assists vs. Kentucky), and controlling her will be a monumental challenge to Cal's back court. Of course, there's much more to this team than Diggins. Hit the jump to find out about the rest of 'em.

Rotation

Starters
Skylar Diggins, 5'9'' junior point guard
Natalie Novosel, 5'1'' senior guard
Deveraux Peters, 6'2'' junior forward
Kayla McBride, 5'11'' sophomore guard
Brittany Mallory, 5'10'' senior guard

Key Reserves
Natalie Achonwa, 6'3'' sophomore forward
Kayla Turner, 5'8'' junior guard
Fraderica Miller, 5'10'' senior guard
Markisha Wright, 6'2'' freshman forward

How deep Notre Dame extends into their bench will depend on how close Cal keeps the game. When Notre Dame lost to UConn in the Big East tournament they only played seven deep. It will also be interesting to see how head coach Muffet McGraw uses her post players. The Irish prefer playing 4 guards, but in a pre-game interview McGraw mentioned that they will consider playing two posts at the same time to counter Cal's inside strength. That would presumably mean Peters and Achonwa at the same time, but little-used freshman Markisha Wright might be forced into action if McGraw is serious about playing two posts.

Despite Diggin's general excellent, Devereaux Peters might be their most critical player. The Irish can get away with playing four guards in large part because Peters is good enough to control the pain by herself. She's one of a handful of players that can legitimately challenge Gennifer Brandon in terms of pure rebounding ability, and she's an efficient scorer as well. When she's on the court it will be extremely difficult for the Bears to crash the offensive glass the way they like to.

Natalie Novosel is a versatile scorer and one of the best pure shooters in the country. 45% from three, 84% from the line - she can't be left open and she can't be fouled. And less than 25% of her attempts are from three, meaning she's much more than a gunner from the outside.

If Notre Dame does play four guards for most of the game Kayla McBride will likely be the guard that will have to defend one of Cal's post players (and vice-versa). She's Notre Dame's 2nd leading rebounder, even if that means half as many rebounds as Peters. She's another excellent shooter. It's a theme.

Brittany Mallory is one of the few players who isn't insanely versatile - she is mostly a 3 point gunner on offense. Kayla Turner and potentially Fraderica Miller will see time off the bench when Notre Dame's four starting guards need a break.

Tempo Free Preview

Our computer overlords (Sagarin) predict: Notre Dame by 22 points

Category

Cal Ranking

ND Ranking

Advantage

Cal eFG% v.ND Def eFG%

110

28

N

Cal Def eFG% v. ND eFG%

142

7

NN

Cal TO% v. ND Def TO%

100

12

N

Cal Def TO% v. ND TO%

208

59

NN

Cal Reb% v. ND Reb%

2

12

C

Cal FTR v. ND Opp FTR

120

89

N

Cal Opp FTR v. ND FTR

101

4

N

Cal O-PPP v. ND D-PPP

49

3

N

Cal D-PPP v. ND O-PPP

95

6

N


So yeah, Notre Dame is top 100 on both sides of the ball in each of the four factors and has a top 10 efficiency mark on both offense and defense. Sagarin favors the Irish by more than 20 (in part because of a home court boost, but still!) The computers like Cal, but they're in love with the Irish.

If you're trying to convince yourself that the numbers aren't a fair representation, you could argue that the Bears are weighed down by weaker performances early in the season when they were still integrating new freshmen and adapting to a new coach. You could argue that the younger Bears are much more likely to have improved over the course of the season than the veteran, advanced-to-the-championship-game-in-2011 Irish. This is true.

And if you look at the chart, if you look at Notre Dame's schedule and you can't imagine how Cal can win, then just remind yourself that Cal took Stanford to overtime on the road, and that Notre Dame lost to 9 seed West Virginia at home. It's basketball, and weird things sometimes happen. There's always hope.

Keys to the game

Contain Devereaux Peters: Cal can do this in two ways: get her in foul trouble, or simply outplay her. There are only a handful of teams with the pure post talent to outplay Peters, but the Bears might just be one of those teams. And when Peters struggles, Notre Dame struggles. She has fouled out three times this year, and in those three games Notre Dame lost once and won by single digits two other times. When Baylor and UConn beat the Irish Peters finished with 6 and 7 points respectively.

Dominate the boards: As always, this is pretty much guaranteed to be a key to any Cal game, but it might be even more important today. Notre Dame lost the rebounding battle in each of their losses this year. Get a body on Peters. GET A BODY ON PETERS!

Handle Notre Dame's defensive pressure: The strength of Notre Dame's defense is its ability to force turnovers. The Bears can, at times, be turnover prone. Those two sentences, placed together, make me nervous. That said, Cal has been pretty good in terms of ball security towards the end of the season. If Cal gives up the ball 15 times or less (Notre Dame forces 22 turnovers/game this year) they'll have a shot in what should be a pretty open, fast-paced game.

4 guards vs. 2 posts - who does it favor? Some have speculated that Cal's depth in the post could prove to be an advantage against Notre Dame's guard oriented style. But if Cal's posts can't defend quicker players on the perimeter and the Irish hold their own on the boards it could just as easily be an advantage for Notre Dame. Whichever team takes advantage of the defensive mismatch and imposes their own style of play will be at an advantage.

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