The Notre Dame Fighting Irish enter the ACC Tournament after a truly outstanding regular season that has seen them in or on the brink of the top ten national rankings for much of 2015 and brought home a 3rd place finish in the ACC. Behind unanimous 1st-team All-ACC senior guard Jerian Grant, these Irish have their faithful believing that this could be the team that puts the program's recent March struggles in the rearview mirror.
Now beginning conference tournament week, it's time to make those hopes a reality. The ACC Tournament kicks off Tuesday afternoon in Greensboro, North Carolina as the bottom four seeds face off for the right to advance. The top 4 seeds, Notre Dame included, await their quarterfinals opponents on Thursday, when the real drama starts in a conference that has been top-heavy all season long.
So what does our staff make of Notre Dame's chances to bring some hardware home to South Bend? What do the Irish have to do to cut down the nets on Saturday night? What player did we single out to shine this week, and who do we think will win it all? That and more in our ACC Tournament preview.
What is your ACC Finals prediction?
4pointshooter - Notre Dame over Virginia
alstein - Duke over Louisville - I think Duke and Notre Dame are playing the best ball right now, but unfortunately, that's a likely semi-final match-up instead of a final. I'm taking Duke in that semi-final (it's in North Carolina, after all) and winning the final over a Louisville team that will repeat its recent win over Virginia in the other semi-final.
CW - Duke over Virginia
JoeSchu - Virginia over Notre Dame
ndroyalsfan - Duke over UVA - Duke's been playing great basketball lately, and with concerns about Anderson's health, I don't see UVA being able to beat them. UNC has looked horrible down the stretch, and even though they just beat UVA, I don't seem them doing it again away from the Yum! Center. With concerns about the rest of the top ACC teams, I think there's a chance the hypothetical Duke-ND semifinal will be the best game of the tournament.
PadRah - Notre Dame over Virginia
Youngcurmudgeon - Notre Dame over Louisville
Who is your pick for Most Outstanding Player?
4pointshooter - Jerian Grant
alstein - Justise Winslow - Don't look now, but the forgotten Blue Devil frosh is suddenly heating up as of late. He has hit double-figures in 12 straight games (and shot 50% or better in all but 3) and has mixed in a handful of double-doubles with his rebounding abilities as well. Without a lot of great defensive wings in the conference, and teams likely to key in on his teammates, I think Winslow will really showcase his abilities this week.
CW - Jahlil Okafor - Just going to assume Okafor gets all of the hardware.
JoeSchu - Jerian Grant - Never underestimate the power of the eff-you performance.
ndroyalsfan - Quinn Cook - Since the MOP always goes to someone on the winning team, I'll take Cook. Okafor will get his in every game, but if Duke wins the tournament, it'll be because Cook and the rest of the backcourt were able to keep up with presumably ND's and UVA's guards.
PadRah - Jerian Grant- He has the advantage of being THE guy on a top team. If ND makes a run to the final, I like his chances.
Youngcurmudgeon - Pat Connaughton - Sure, Jerian Grant will perform his usual wizardry, but if the Irish are going to win this thing, Connaughton has to be on-fire from beyond the arc and playing tough everywhere else
What is your pick for biggest upset?
4pointshooter - Boston College over UNC - Because why not? I like the fact that the best player on the court for most of this game is going to be BC's 2-guard. Maybe he can make some magic happen for the Eagles
alstein - Wake Forest over Miami - Miami has just been all over the place this season. They desperately need to win their first two games in the ACC Tournament to get over the hump for the NCAAs, which would include a win over Notre Dame. Will that pressure get to them? Will their streaky shooting and high-volume guards let them down? It wouldn't surprise me, especially to a team they lost to a month ago in their only match-up.
CW - Wake Forest over Miami - The Hurricanes' last weird loss of the year costs them a tournament bid.
JoeSchu - Georgia Tech over UNC - The least lucky team in the league catches Roy's boys sleeping
ndroyalsfan - Georgia Tech over UNC - Not beacuse I particularly like GT, just because UNC has looked pretty mediocre recently.
PadRah - NC State over Duke - Yes, this could backfire and NC State could easily lose to Pitt. But the Pack have shown flashes of being a dangerous team, and I'll go out on a limb and pick them to knock off Duke a second time.
Youngcurmudgeon - NC State over Duke
Which team might be a sleeper that advances further than expected?
4pointshooter - Miami - If they win a game or two they're in the dance. There's no better motivator than desperation
alstein - Miami - But what if the Hurricanes have a fire lit that no one else in Greensboro has with their urgency to get into the NCAA field? Can Rodriguez and McClellan get hot and drag their team into the field of 68? They've already played the Irish close in South Bend and beat Duke in Durham, so them playing all the way to Saturday might not be that crazy, either.
CW - NC State - What if the Wolfpack weren't snakebit for a few days?
JoeSchu - NC State -They picked apart Syracuse with good shooting, physical defense, and solid interior play. As long as they can build a lead big enough to not let their end-game execution bite them, they're dangerous.
ndroyalsfan - NC State - Their backs are against the wall, and they're plenty talented to make a run. Their inability to play a complete 40 minutes has been their downfall this season. If they manage to play a couple complete games, they can make a run to the semis or final.
PadRah - NC State - Perhaps the most bipolar team in the conference. If they play like they did against Duke (or in the first half vs ND), a deep run wouldn't surprise me
Youngcurmudgeon - NC State - If they can hold it together for a full 40 minutes.
What's Notre Dame's key to win it all?
4pointshooter - End the defensive possession with defensive rebounds thus limiting the opponent's second chance points. Then hit the open shots that will be created via the movement and passing on offense.
alstein - Limiting turnovers - Some teams are just going to win the battle on the offensive boards against an Irish lineup that runs small. The key to offsetting that is just limiting turnovers, which Notre Dame is great at. If they can keep field goal attempts relatively even (or at least make up for the second-chance points with fewer turnovers), then I'll take Notre Dame's offensive efficiency all day long. I'll bet Duke feels the same way, so that could be a very interesting battle if the Irish show the composure they had in South Bend rather than Durham in the teams' previous match-ups.
CW - Absurd three-point percentage - This team is impossible to defend if everyone is hitting from deep, and if you're impossible to defend, it doesn't matter how the other team does on offense.
JoeSchu - Brey needs to channel his inner Rollie Massimino from '85 and find the perfect game. No turnovers, make shots. Try to limit teams to a single shot attempt per trip.
ndroyalsfan - While I'd like to think the defense will arrive just in time for March and start winning games for the Irish, I just don't see it happening. Fortunately, if ND executes on offense and hits open shots, they can outscore anyone in the conference. Three games of good shooting wins it for the Irish.
PadRah - Role players need to step up - Grant will be out for blood. When he creates open looks for guys like Jackson and Vasturia, they need to be converted for a deep run to come to fruition.
Youngcurmudgeon - Bonzie Colson - Yes, I can think of at least 4 guys who are going to have a greater statistical impact on the game than Bonzie. However, playing with a pair of seniors who will stay frosty in these do-or-die games, I like the spark that this confident youngster can create as the team grinds through the bracket.
How will the Irish fare?
4pointshooter - Win the whole damn thing.
alstein - Win over Wake Forest, Loss to Duke - I have a hard time picking against what looks like a locked-in Duke team in Greensboro. The Irish need to prove that they can get over the semi-final hump in a conference tournament (4 straight semi-final losses to end their Big East tenure) before I pick them to do so, especially with Duke as the likely opponent.
CW - Comfortably win their quarterfinal game before dropping a classic to Duke in the semifinals. After the series of Friday night heartbreaks at MSG, I just can't quite bring myself to believe.
JoeSchu - Surgically beat Miami, emotionally beat Duke, lose a VERY close one to UVa on tired legs that make efficient offense harder to come by.
ndroyalsfan - I see ND winning the quarterfinal game much like they did against Clemson turning a somewhat close halftime lead to a relatively comfortable victory. After that, I think they'll lose a close one to Duke who looks unbeatable right now. That being said, if ND does manage to get to the final, I like their chances against all of the top teams on that side of the bracket.
PadRah - They'll overcome a surprisingly tough Miami squad striving for one last signature win, knock off the upstart Wolfpack, and outlast the Hoos in a role reversal of the first ND/UVA matchup.
Youngcurmudgeon - What the heck, ND takes it in three.