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Rankings Round Up: Irish Back in Top 20

After a 3-1 stretch against four of the better teams in the ACC, the Irish climbed back into the Top-25 of both major polls. See where the Irish sit in the AP, Coaches, computer rankings, and where the experts see them landing in the NCAA Tournament.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
AP Poll Coaches Poll ESPN Power Rankings RPI BPI KenPom SBN Bracketology Palm Lunardi
19th 18th 16th 20th 20th 25th 5 Seed 5 Seed 5 Seed

After receiving votes in both polls last week, wins over Clemson and Louisville vaulted the Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball squad into the top-20 in the AP and Coaches polls. After falling out of the polls after a road loss to Syracuse on January 28th, the Irish have gone 3-1 with two wins over ranked opponents. While the Irish probably should have entered the polls last week after knocking off North Carolina, the question this week was not if the Irish would be ranked, but how high in the polls they would be. ESPN's voters in their Power Rankings has the Irish higher than any other metric. Perhaps swayed by some recency bias, they have the Irish at 16th.

The games against UNC, Miami, and Louisville helped boost the Irish strength of schedule, and their RPI in turn. ND has also been helped by some of their non-conference opponents playing better than expected. The Irish knocked off Stony Brook in early December, and the Seawolves have lost just one game since. They sit at 10-0 in the America East conference, and are 61st in the RPI. The non-conferences losses don't look too bad, either.The Irish loss to Alabama may have looked like a bad particularly one at the time, and while the Irish shouldn't have dropped the game, Alabama sits at a healthy 34 in the RPI, and is squarely on the bubble (Lunardi has them as his last team in). Even Monmouth is a top-50 RPI team, and is leading its mid-major conference, and Indiana is near the top of the Big Ten and in the top 40. While the RPI is obviously a flawed metric, the committee still uses it, so it's beneficial to be rated as highly as possible. ESPN's BPI has the Irish 20, just like the RPI.

After loving ND most of last season, KenPom's rating has the Irish lower than any other ranking system. According to Pomeroy's data, the Irish have the best offense in the nation, and it's not particular close. The Irish 125.2 ORtg is 3.3 points/100 possessions better than Duke who sits in second. Amazingly, Duke is actually just as close to the 8th place team, Iowa, as they are to ND. The Irish have the best turnover rate in basketball, and are well above average in offensive rebound percentage and eFG%. On the other side of the coin, for as good as the Irish offense is, the defense is still struggling mightily. The 106.5 DRtg is 231st in the nation. That said, the Irish have shown the ability to get stops down the stretch in recent games. The Irish have also been slightly unlucky in that opponents are hitting a higher share of FTs against ND than the national average. Additionally, Ken Pomeroy believes that good three-point defense is largely due to luck. If that's the case, the Irish have been very unlucky against the three, but anyone who has seen the Irish allow opponents open looks might disagree, pointing to ND's ability to give up numerous open looks from deep. ND is allowing opponents to shoot 39.4% from three point range which is nearly 5% more than the national average. While Notre Dame has probably been a little unlucky, it's hard to believe that opponents' success from deep isn't at least partially driven by poor defense from the Irish. For all the struggles on defense, cleaning the glass has been a bright spot for ND. Notre Dame grabbed more offensive rebounds than both UNC and Louisville during their three game winning streak. Despite facing teams with a strong inside presence in recent weeks, the Irish are solidly above average in limiting opponents to just one shot on offense. Unfortunately, that one shot is going in too much of the time.

Looking ahead to March, every projection has the Irish as a five seed. SB Nation and Palm (CBS) both have the Irish heading west to Denver for their first weekend. SBNation has the Irish facing Gonzaga before facing the winner of Dayton-San Diego State.  Dayton finished second in the Orlando tournament, but has few good wins since then and a terrible loss to LaSalle. Despite being ranked in the top-15 of the AP Poll, KenPom only rates them as the 39th best team in the country. They have a top-20 defense, but a somewhat pedestrian offense. The Flyers lost to St. Joseph on Wednesday, so they will probably be lower in the next round of projections, but they would be a nice matchup should the Irish face them. Palm predicts a matchup against Chattanooga before the Irish could face in-state opponent Purdue or San Diego State in the second round. A matchup against Purdue would be an interesting clash as the Boilermakers having multiple seven-footers that could give the Irish trouble. That said, whether or not Purdue's big guys could stay with ND on defense would also be interesting to watch. Lunardi predicts the Irish will head to Oklahoma City where they will face the winner of a first four game between Butler and Texas Tech. With the nail-biter last season in the tournament, I'd imagine most ND fans would rather face the Big 12 opponent. Should the Irish advance, they'd face either Kentucky in another rematch from last season's NCAA Tournament or Chattanooga. Pomeroy has Kentucky as the 7th best team in the country, and massively underseeded in the four line, but I think Irish fans everywhere would relish an opportunity to get a little payback for last year's Elite Eight game in Cleveland.