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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Notre Dame’s Hansbrough embraces defensive challenge posed by Florida State

CHICAGO — Ben Hansbrough doesn’t care. Put Florida State defensive whiz Chris Singleton on him. Put anybody on him — big or small, strong or fast. It’s all good.

“”I don’t think whoever is on me will faze me,”” Notre Dame’s senior guard said.

Sure, Singleton is the ACC defensive player of the year and, at 6-9 and 225 pounds, is much bigger than the 6-3, 203-pound Hansbrough. But Hansbrough is the Big East player of the year with a team-leading 18.5 scoring average. He’s faced big, good defenders before. Plus, Singleton is still on the mend from a broken right foot. He missed six games before getting 16 minutes of action in the Seminoles’ victory over Texas A&M on Friday. He’d be going against a player known for his high-motor style.

“”When you play in the Big East,”” Hansbrough said, “”you go up against the most versatile and best defenders in the country. I don’t think it will be anything I haven’t seen before.””

Second-seeded Notre Dame (27-6) faces 10th-seeded Florida State (22-10) on Sunday night in third round action at the United Center, and a potential matchup between Singleton and Hansbrough offers all sorts of intrigue.

“”Ben loves that challenge,”” teammate Carleton Scott said. “”He’ll salivate at it. I’m not saying Singleton isn’t a good defender. He is. Both of them will be challenging each other, and Ben loves that.””

So, it seems, does Notre Dame coach Mike Brey.

“”One thing is Ben has been pretty good about is being a distributor at times,”” Brey said. “”So if he can just make plays for his other teammates, we’ll have to do that.

“”But if (Singleton) has got to chase a guard around for a while, and he hasn’t played a lot of lengthy basketball, that could be an interesting matchup.””

Defense has fueled Florida State’s success. It leads the nation in field goal percentage defense (36.2). It led the nation last year at 37.7 percent. That reflects a take-no-prisoners practice approach.

“”It’s like we barely score in practice just for the fact we lock each other up that well,”” forward Bernard James said. “”Our defense works that well.

“”When we get into games it makes it easier to function defensively, but it also throws us out of whack a little on offense because we have such a hard time in practice finding good options for plays.””

Added guard Derwin Kitchen: “”You don’t have refs in practice, so you can be more aggressive. And just the competitive spirit makes it tough.””

Every coach emphasizes defense. Not every player buys into it. At Florida State, James said, that’s not an option.

“”When I got here, the first practice I saw how hard everyone played defense. There’s no slacking. And from a player’s standpoint, you never want to be the weak link. You know you have to play defense here.””

Florida State thrives on an aggressive man-to-man approach, although it did use a 3-2 zone in Friday’s victory over Texas A&M. Will the Seminoles try it against Notre Dame?

“”Do you think, if I was going to use the zone, I would tell you?”” coach Leonard Hamilton asked.

And then…

“”We play very little zone. If we do play zone, we’ll have to play it extremely aggressively and be there on the catch,”” Hamilton said. “”I doubt we will play a lot of zone.””

Florida State arrives as a 10th seed even though it beat Duke when the Blue Demons were No. 1, and had ACC champ North Carolina down by double digits in the ACC tourney before losing by two. It has plenty of size with the 6-10 James, 6-9 Singleton, 6-8 Okaro White, 6-11 Xavier Gibson and 7-foot Jon Kreft.

“”They’re as tough as any 10th seed I’ve seen,”” Irish forward Tim Abromaitis said. “”They’re as big and physical as any team in the country. They’re going to pose a lot of issues for us.””

Notre Dame played tight in Friday’s second-round victory over Akron. Don’t expect a repeat, Hansbrough said.

“”We’re a lot more loose. We got the nerves out. It’s good to go through that process.””

Expectations are building for Notre Dame to reach next week’s Sweet Sixteen game in San Antonio. Brey’s message to his team — ignore it.

“”This group, because of its maturity, I don’t think it’s ever felt anything from the outside. We need to play loose and go for it. That’s the frame of mind you want to be in. We haven’t talked about San Antonio. We’ve talked about winning two games here. We’re halfway there. We’ve tried not to bite off too much even though every time they turn on the TV, they see predictions and projections.

“”They’ve been pretty good about concentrating on the moment.””

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