The 2015 ACC Tournament has mostly held seed with the top three seeds advancing to Friday's semi-final along with the fifth seeded University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The first game pits UNC vs. the top-seeded University of Virginia Cavaliers. The second game presents the third match-up between the Duke University Blue Devils, carrying the 2 seed, against The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, carrying a 3 seed.
Late Thursday night in to Friday morning, Irish head coach Mike Brey talked about how ND's presence among these three founding ACC members meant the Irish had earned their place, saying: "I really feel we're in the ACC now. To come out tomorrow night in the semifinals. Three long standing founding members of the ACC and us, I feel like we're in it." Notre Dame's semi-final opponent Friday entertains no such sentiment. Walk around Greensboro and take in the atmosphere, and you get the distinct feeling that those in light blue and royal blue believe they own the league, and that ND's "half in" presence represents an unfortunate anomaly. Consensus among those selling tickets for tonight's games was that the Irish were cannon fodder for a pre-destined matchup between traditional conference foes in the final - even more so than the 7 point line Vegas is putting on tonight's game.
The tip goes up sometime around 9PM or approximately 20 minutes after the conclusion of the preceding game. Please check back on this post as some of our OFD hoops authors will be participating in a game thread. I'll try to throw some live tweets and pictures from Greensboro on my Twitter account @JoeSchuOFD.
Friday night represents the 3rd match-up between the Fighting Irish and the Blue Devils this season. We all know the story of the first meeting. Jerian Grant's do-everything performance and late-game heroics are well documented.
This was a game where ND found themselves down in the second half and found a way to hold the potent Blue Devil attack scoreless for a 5:30 stretch in the 2nd half. Good shooting, efficient offense, and timely stops propelled the Irish on to the national scene with their second straight ACC home victory over Duke.
Apparently, there was also a game in Durham a few weeks later. Sadly, all video has been burned and stats lost from that game, but it would be safe to say that game at Cameron was the polar opposite of the first. In that game, Duke was the one swarming defensively and shutting down the Irish with a stifling defensive effort that led to transition baskets and hot shooting for the Blue Devils. Once that freight train got rolling, there was nothing the Irish could do to slow it down. Most Duke (and ACC) fans believe that 30 point victory is the true state of the rivalry, despite ND winning 2 of the last 3 match-ups.
Duke's annihilation of the NC State Wolfpack in their quarterfinal was complete. Dan Shulman even said during the ND broadcast that the final score was flattering to State. Duke was able to control the entire game and get contributions from all 8 rotation guys in their line-up. Since that Irish victory January 28th, Mike Krzyzweski's squad have run off 12 straight victories, including victims Virginia, UNC (twice), and Syracuse (twice). Absolutely all the talk coming in to this game is about the mighty Blue Devils and the likelihood of the NCAA tournament selection committee awarding them a 1 seed.
From the Irish perspective, their first foray into tournament basketball was certainly interesting. Notre Dame quickly set aside fears that they'd enter tournament play tight or cold with a first half clinic on both ends vs. Miami. Unfortunately, a 10 minute scoring drought in the second half raised a number of specters and demons that haunt Irish hoops fans. The good news is that a very resilient and mentally tough bunch withstood that punch and found a way to deliver a victory. Survive and advance.
After spending the entire second half struggling to knock down open shots vs. the Miami 3-2 zone Thursday night, when the Irish have the ball, most expect Duke to employ a match-up zone look out of either a 2-3 or 3-2 initial shell. I think it will end up looking more like a 2-3 with Duke starting a 3 guard line-up with Matt Jones in the game and Amile Jefferson playing a 6th man role for Duke. This does a few things for Coach K's squad: it lets them rest legs, it presents multiple layers to defend rim attacks from Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant, and it keeps Jahili Okafor firmly camped in the paint. One of the first things to watch for in this game is how Duke elects to defend ND. If they follow the plan from the Durham game, it will be stifling man pressure on Grant with Cook and the other 4 playing man, but doing a lot of switching and communication on weak side movement. If they follow what worked phenomenally well in cooling off the hot Wolfpack, look for more or a pure zone look with some match-up principles. Also watch how they choose to defend Notre Dame's screen-and-roll game. Rather than drag Okafor out on the floor, if the Irish are successful in PnR looks, expect Duke to go to a more traditional 2-3 look to take away Auguste's roll to the rim.
On the other side, I expect the Devils to do what they do. They're going to run, they're going to dump the ball inside to Okafor, and they're going to hunt open 3's. I don't expect Brey to do a lot of double-teaming on Okafor. He's said in the past that he's inclined to give up a contested 2 point attempt in the post over doubling down and giving up open 3's on the recovery. That puts a ton of pressure on both Zach Auguste and Bonzie Colson to be able to at least slow down the bulky Duke freshman. He'll likely get his 20-25, but the Irish can live with that if they can keep Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook, Justise Winslow and/or Matt Jones from getting hot from deep. The other thing to watch is transition defense. In Durham, the Blue Devils consistently beat the Irish down the floor for wide open shots in transition. ND has to get back after a miss.
Consensus among the talking heads in the media is that the Irish should be able to score against the Blue Devils. Coach Mike Brey was confident in his press conference that his team can score. We shall see. The Irish will need to get back in to the 80's to have any chance in this one. Brey and others are more curious if the Irish can do anything to slow the Duke attack. Can Notre Dame get stops, and when they do, will they be able to secure the board and let their offensive efficiency dictate this game?
Here's what the ACC media team had to say:
I told ya the Irish don't get much respect. For a slightly more shamrock-tinted perspective, I bring you the one and only Jack Nolan:
As the Irish media men said, surviving a battle against the Hurricanes fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives could be good for Notre Dame. Jones was also 100% correct - the Irish need a complete performance tonight. They'll need at least 40 minutes of sharp shooting, efficient offense, and locked-in defending. Ken Pomeroy puts the Irish win probability at only 26% and Vegas has ND as a 7 point underdog. That happens to match the exact 81-74 projection from Pomeroy, and the prediction on the official ACC preview page.
Most people are going to be locked in on the performances of the two unanimous first team All-ACC selections, but keep your eye on the matchup between Demetrius Jackson and Tyus Jones. Jones is Duke's creator, and if DJ can disrupt him with ball pressure, that can help ND slow the Duke machine and allow the Irish shock the city of Greensboro, the state of North Carolina, and the entire ACC. Survive and advance.