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Notre Dame Basketball: The Path to an ACC Crown

The Irish may have dropped their first ACC contest, but an ACC crown could still be in their future.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The No.15 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (16-3, 5-1 ACC) dropped their first conference game on Wednesday night at Florida State. They are now tied atop the ACC with the Seminoles as well as the North Carolina Tar Heels. Due to the nature of the league, it’s going to be a tough and hard fought race. Time and time again we’ve talked about how there is no easy win in the ACC this season. Take it from UNC and Syracuse as they lost to bottom feeders Georgia Tech and Boston College respectively. That being said, Notre Dame has shown they can play with anyone in the country - home and away. Because of this an ACC Championship is absolutely a possibility for the Fighting Irish and here is how.

Win Your Home Games

NCAA Womens Basketball: Pittsburgh at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Simply put in order to win the ACC, you can’t drop any home games. You want to know why a team like Kansas has won 12 straight Big 12 crowns? THEY DON’T LOSE AT HOME. Notre Dame has defended it’s home court this season, and most of it has been done without the backing of the student body. Now that we’re in ACC play, the students are going to show up and be rowdy.

The Irish lost just four home games over the last two seasons, so going undefeated at home is not out of the realm of possibility.

Now to the nuts and bolts of Notre Dame’s remaining home games. They Irish have seven home games left. I broke them down into three tiers. Tough, Tougher and Toughest.

Toughest - Virginia Cavaliers (Jan. 24th) Duke Blue Devils (Jan. 30th), Florida State Seminoles (Feb. 11th)

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

These are the toughest home games Notre Dame has left. The Irish have owned Duke since joining the ACC. They hold a 5-1 record over the Blue Devils in ACC play. On top of that, Duke is an absolute mess right now. Coach K is out, Amile Jefferson is out and Grayson Allen keeps making idiotic decisions on the court.

The Irish showed us Wednesday night that they are capable of playing with Florida State, and that was in Tallahassee. The Irish can certainly beat them at Purcell Pavilion with a few more home calls and a rowdy crowd behind them.

Looking at recent history, Virginia might be the toughest of these three. The Cavs aren’t are strong as they’ve been the past two years, but UVA is one team the Irish have struggled with since joining the league. In fact, the Irish have yet to beat Tony Bennett’s squad. But like I said, UVA isn’t as strong this season, so I’d like the Irish at home in this one.

Tougher - Syracuse Orange (Jan. 21st), Wake Forest Demon Deacons (Feb. 7th)

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Look I know what Syracuse’s record is and it’s not pretty, but at the end of the day Syracuse is a program you have to respect no matter what their record is. The Irish get them this Saturday. It’ll be the first home game since the students have been back from break. It’ll also be somewhat of a homecoming for the team itself since they’ve been on the road the past three games. Expect the Irish to be jacked up to play this one.

Wake Forest is team to look out for. Head coach Danny Manning has this program headed in the right direction. The Demon Deacons are just 11-7 and 2-4 in the ACC, but they’ve played everyone close. They took UNC down to the wire, as well as Clemson, Xavier and Northwestern. This game also comes right before Notre Dame’s rematch with Florida State, so it could be a bit of trap game for the Irish. Nevertheless, this is a game Notre Dame should win.

Tough - Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (Feb. 26th), Boston College Eagles (March 1st)

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Boston College Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Tech is under first year head coach Josh Pastner and he has his Yellow Jackets playing pretty well to start ACC play. They stand at 3-2 in ACC play with wins over Clemson, UNC, and a talented NC State team. By the time Notre Dame gets them though, Georgia Tech will have run most of the gauntlet of the ACC and might be worn down because of it.

Boston College won zero ACC games last season, so far this year they have two against Syracuse and NC State. Its hard seeing them getting many more than three or four ACC wins and its even harder seeing the Irish being one of those. The BC game will also be Notre Dame’s senior day. They’ll make sure to send Steve Vasturia, V.J. Beachem, Austin Torres and Patrick Mazza out with a win.

Even if the Irish dropped one of these games, it still wouldn’t be the end of the world. Ideally though, Notre Dame needs to win all seven remaining home games.

The other contenders have rough road slates ahead of them

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Florida State, North Carolina and Louisville are the three other contenders for the ACC championship. Sorry Duke and UVA, I don’t believe in you right now.

Florida State still has to go to Clemson, Notre Dame, Duke and Syracuse. The Tar Heels still have road matchups with Duke, NC State and Virginia. Louisville still has trips to Florida State, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia.

I venture to say Notre Dame has a much more favorable remaining schedule than their three main competitors.

Hey, just split you road games

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Virginia Tech Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

The Irish have five road games left, so it is impossible for them to go .500, but you get my gist. Thanks to Notre Dame’s 5-1 start and 3-1 start on the road, they’ve put themselves in a position where they just really need to go 2-3 or 3-2 on the road the rest of the way.

The Irish have two tough road tests left with North Carolina (Feb 4th) and Louisville (March 4th). The other three come against NC State (Feb 18th), Georgia Tech (Jan 28th) and Boston College (Feb 14th).

North Carolina will be tough no doubt, but the last time Notre Dame traveled to Chapel Hill they came away with a improbable win. It’d be hard to expect the Irish to win this one, but always hope for the best. It’s always hard to beat the same team twice in one year, so a win at Louisville will be tough as well. But as we’ve seen in past matchups with Louisville anything is possible.

The other three games though Notre Dame has a great chance winning. If the Irish could win out at home and then take two to three road games, that would leave the Irish with 14-15 ACC wins. Last year’s ACC Champ, North Carolina, went 14-4 in the ACC and was a No.1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Irish somehow get to 14-4 or 15-3, you’d think that would give them a great shot to have the same fate as last year’s UNC team.

It’s early and there is still tons of basketball to be played, but start believing Irish fans, an ACC Championship could be a real possibility. This team is for real.