Mar 11, 2014, 5:31 PM EDT
Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.
Crazy. If you asked anyone about what they thought of Notre Dame men’s basketball’s first season in the ACC, that is the word they would use to describe it: crazy. From players leaving the team to illnesses and injuries on the roster, the Irish have had to endure many crazy things this season.
Finishing the regular season with a 15-16 record; it looks like Notre Dame will need another crazy thing to happen if they want to be a part of the NCAA Championship this year. That crazy thing would be win the ACC Championship. Although this appears unlikely to most, crazier things have happened throughout the program’s “underdog” history.
From Digger Phelps and his squad upsetting the #1 ranked UCLA in 1974 to Notre Dame scoring 12 points in the final 45 seconds of regulation against Louisville to erase a 56-48 deficit (and subsequently beating them in five overtimes), Notre Dame men’s basketball has made it a habit over its history in “making the impossible possible.” On Monday, I was able to see the path the Irish would have to take in order to make this impossibility a reality. I do not know if it is my bias talking because I write for the team, but this is not an unfathomable dream.
The Irish will have to play in five games in the span of five days. Former MLB player Kevin Millar said once, “Anything can happen in game seven [referencing the Red Sox path to overcoming a 3-0 game deficit to the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series].” Ten years later, this can be applied to Notre Dame’s path in the 2014 ACC Tournament. The squad needs to have the mindset of, “Hey, let’s just get to the finals and then all bets are off.”
To get to the finals the Irish will have to win four games starting Wednesday at 1:00 PM on ESPN2/ESPNU.
Wake Forest (16-15, 6-12)
With just one more win overall and a conference record that is identical to the Fighting Irish, Wake Forest is about just as good as the boys dressed in blue and gold record wise.
- Only wins against ranked opponents: North Carolina (then ranked 19th) and Duke (then ranked 4th)
- One road win during the entire 2013-2014 season (against Virginia Tech)
- Eighth best scoring offense in ACC; averaging 69.8 points per game
- Second worst scoring defense in ACC; giving up 70.6 points per game
- Lost nine of their last eleven games during the regular season
- Defeated Notre Dame 65-58 on January 25
In order to get that first round win against Wake Forest, Notre Dame is going to have to pay special attention on Travis McKie and Devin Thomas. These two combined for 35 points alone when they played the Irish this season. If they can do that, then the Irish will have an easy job in defeating Wake Forest as no other player, besides Coron Williams, scored more than eight points.
On their own offensive front, Notre Dame will need more production out of Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem and Demetrius Jackson who all combined for three points. If these three freshman can each contribute at least six points each then I expect Notre Dame to pull out the victory by a score of 62-55.
Pittsburgh (23-8, 11-7)
Pittsburgh’s record makes them look like a much better team than they really are.
- No wins against ranked opponents (0-3 vs. ranked opponents)
- Non-conference schedule was one of the weakest in the country
- Third best scoring offense in ACC; averaging 72.6 points per game
- Fifth best scoring defense in ACC; giving up 62.5 points
- 20th best in country for assists per game (15.8)
- Defeated Notre Dame in overtime 85-81 on March 1st
Whoever organized the Panthers non-conference schedule should be given a promotion. Somehow the Panthers played their first 13 games of the season against opponents who were rather lackluster in performance. At the beginning of your schedule, all collegiate basketball teams schedule easier opponents to get some wins to start off the year right. However, Pittsburgh not playing a single ranked opponent until January 18th is a bit odd. Not only that, but the level of competition was not at all what other ACC teams were facing in their non-conference schedules. While Notre Dame was playing Indiana and Ohio State, Pittsburgh was playing Youngstown State and Cal Poly.
However non-impressive their schedule was at the beginning of their year, the Panthers do have some talent on their squad which allowed them to start off the year 12-1. The most talented player they have on their team, in my opinion, is Lamar Patterson.
The senior from Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the Panthers’ leading scorer (17.6 points per game). Coincidentally, he scored the most for the Panthers when the Irish squared off against them on March 1st with 20 points.
This, along with Garrick Sherman only scoring six points throughout the game, contributed to why Notre Dame could not defeat the Panthers on Senior Day. If you recall though, Notre Dame was beating the Panthers by 12 with 7:58 left in the first half. Where the Irish went wrong was getting a little complacent and “took their foot off the gas pedal” so to speak. If the Irish want to beat the Panthers in the second round of the ACC Tournament, then they are going to have to give it all they have got for 40 minutes. If they can do this, I suspect the Irish will handle the Panthers and win by a score of 71-62.
North Carolina (23-8, 13-5)
Despite losing to this team twice during the regular season, do not count out the Irish from this game. In my mind, North Carolina is not as good as people believe them to be.
- Wins against ranked opponents: Louisville (then ranked #3), Michigan State (then ranked #1), Kentucky (then ranked #11), Pittsburgh (then ranked #25), and Duke (then ranked #5)
- Only three of these teams are still ranked: #5 Louisville , #7 Duke, and #22 Michigan State
- Bad losses include Belmont, UAB, and Texas
- Second best scoring offense in ACC; averaging 76.4 points per game
- Fifth worst scoring defense in ACC; giving up 68.7 points per game
- Defeated Notre Dame twice; 73-62 win on February 8th and 63-61 win on March 3rd.
Before being physically dominated this past Saturday on national television against Duke, North Carolina was on a hot streak. They won 12 games in a row at one stretch during the regular season. The Tar Heels have many talented players on their roster, including Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo. These two are sixth and twelfth in the ACC in scoring with 17.1 and 14.2 PPG, respectively.
If you compare the two games North Carolina and the Irish played each other in, it was totally opposite. In the first game, the Irish kept it close in the first half, but then North Carolina pulled away in the second half. In the second game, North Carolina was dominating the Fighting Irish at halftime by a score of 41-27, but then Notre Dame went on a 22-5 run to make a game of it. Unfortunately, a scoring drought late stopped the Irish from putting the game out of reach and the Tar Heels came back to win.
What Notre Dame needs to do is play two full halves of basketball. From the opening tip-off until the final buzzer sounds, the Fighting Irish are going to have to play “lights out” basketball. If they do this coupled with limiting McAdoo’s ability to get to the bucket, Notre Dame has a chance to kick North Carolina right out of the ACC Tournament. I expect Notre Dame to pull out the upset by a score of 67-63.
Maryland (17-14, 9-9)/ Florida State (18-12, 9-9)/ Virginia (25-6, 16-2)
Who Notre Dame will have to play in the semifinals is still undecided (if Notre Dame advances to the semifinals of course). It will be either Virginia, Maryland or Florida State. The Terps and Seminoles face off in a second round game on Thursday to decide who will play the Cavaliers in the quarterfinals on Friday.
- Wins against ranked opponents: Virginia (then ranked #5)
- Seventh best scoring offense in ACC; averaging 71.1 points per game
- Sixth worst scoring defense in ACC; giving up 67.7 points per game
- Defeated Notre Dame 74-66 on January 15th
Maryland is an interesting team and I do not just say that because they were my favorite team growing up. They can have games where they hang with Duke or defeat Virginia, but then they will turn right around and lose to George Washington.
It all depends on how Dez Wells is playing for the Terps. He has proven to be a second half player. He will have a bad first half where he only scores two or four points from the free throw line, but then when he comes out in the second half he is a man on a mission and will drop 20 points on you. That was the case when the Irish played the Terps back in January as Wells scored all 17 of his points in the second half against the Fighting Irish.
If Notre Dame takes Wells out of the equation then they will have a much easier time beating Maryland. If Maryland and Notre Dame meet in the semifinals, I suspect a low-scoring 54-52 victory by the Irish.
- Wins against ranked opponents: VCU (then ranked #10) and UMass (then ranked #22)
- Sixth best scoring offense in ACC; averaging 71.2 points per game
- Sixth best scoring defense in ACC; giving up 65.9 points per game
- Defeated Notre Dame 76-74 on January 21st
Florida State is another interesting team. Just like Maryland and Notre Dame, the Seminoles are an up and down team. I mean this more with their scoring ability than actual wins and losses. When they played Notre Dame, they scored 76 points, but then fives games later when they played Virginia Tech they only scored 50. And the following game they put up 83 against Maryland.
If Notre Dame has to play Florida State, the outcome will rely directly on if Florida State can score that particular day or not. If they cannot, then Notre Dame should be able to blow by the Seminoles with no problem at all and I predict a blowout and a 72-55 win by the Irish.
- Wins against ranked opponents: Pittsburgh (then ranked #18) and Syracuse (then ranked #4)
- Fourth worst scoring offense in ACC; averaging 66.3 points per game
- Best scoring defense in ACC; giving up 55.4 points per game
- Defeated Notre Dame twice; 68-53 win on January 28 and 70-49 win on February 22
Virginia has had Notre Dame’s number this season. Beating the Irish twice and in decisive fashion, this is the most difficult test I see Notre Dame facing in their quest to get to the ACC Championship Game. Having the best defense in the ACC and, quite arguably, the country, Virginia is able to combat their 287th best offense in the country with limiting their opponents amount of scoring.
I have to be honest, Notre Dame better hope Virginia loses to either Maryland or Florida State because this is a team that has the capability of going far in the NCAA Championship. Before losing to Maryland last weekend, Virginia was riding a 13 game-winning streak. In a competitive conference like the ACC, that is hard to do. If Notre Dame finds themselves faced against the Cavaliers, they will need to do four things: SCORE, SCORE, SCORE and SCORE.
With such a poorly productive offense, if Virginia can find themselves down early against Mike Brey’s squad then the Irish might have a chance in doing what Maryland did on Saturday and defeat Virginia. If their offense is working on all cylinders then I predict the Irish winning by a score of 73-64.
Five games in five days. That is it. If that appears like too much of a challenge, then adhere to the advice of Holy Cross College Basketball walk-on Pat Derksen, “Let’s go undefeated for the day.” Taking this tournament one game at a time is what the Irish will have to do to ensure a fighting chance in doing the possible once again.
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