#14 Notre Dame Beats #8 UConn: Chicago Area’s Best Team?

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Although Notre Dame is about a two hour drive from Chicago, and within a different state and time zone as the second city- they still might be Chicago’s best college basketball team.

In college football, the Irish have captured the hearts of Chicago. And if winning like this in hoops continues (a 73-70 win over #8 Connecticut Tuesday night) they might just become the favorite in college hoops too.

The Irish came out of the gates shooting lights out from distance (going 7-14 from behind the arc in the first half), and never trailed the entire game. On the other end, they limited the nation’s leading scorer Kemba Walker to 19 (8 below his average) on 8-23 shooting. Thus ended Kemba’s 11 game 20+ scoring streak.

By Paul M. Banks

In addition to tonight, the Irish also have wins over #13 Georgetown, #24 Wisconsin and previously ranked Gonzaga on their resume.

But this might the best win they’ve had all season.

The Irish are very good on defense, surrendering just 63 ppg and posting an impressive 15+ ppg scoring margin (15th in the nation)

But their calling card is taking care of the ball, as they’re third in the nation in assist to turnover ratio, 10th in assists and 6th in turnovers.

“They physically handled us getting over screens…I think it’s the most physical team Mike’s had, and they’re terrific offensively,” legendary UConn Coach Jim Calhoun said.

And they’re much more exciting than last year’s team which, once star Luke Harangody went down, had to live and die by the extremely boring to watch burn offense for six games down the stretch in order to reach the NCAA tournament.

This team however can score up-tempo when necessary. And they’re pretty strong on the perimeter.

On Tuesday night they were led by senior guard Ben Hansbrough and his game-high 23 points. He’s quite “grindy;” just like his brother Tyler. He gets plenty of floor burns, takes charges, and hustles all around. Plus he had the assignment of the nation’s leading scorer.

“Not saying he didn’t do a great job on me, he did. The whole team did, but I got every shot I wanted, I just missed. I got shots that I usually make, I just couldn’t hit ’em tonight. And I missed some easy ones, and it happens some nights,” Walker said.

The #20 Illinois Fighting Illini are the only true competition the Irish have for that position as Chicago’s best collegiate team. (The Chicago-Champaign commute is about an hour longer than Chicago-South Bend, but the Illini have a much richer hoops tradition and history than the Irish)

After the Illini and Irish, no other Chicago college basketball team is ranked, although Northwestern is having a respectable season. Then the talent level drops offs quite significantly to DePaul, UIC, Loyola and Chicago St.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net , a Midwest webzine. He’s also a regular contributor to the Tribune’s Chicago Now network, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker Network, and Fox Sports.com

You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank

He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com

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