It’s never nice to drop two games in one week, one of them being to an unranked team. Luckily for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, they are far from alone.
The Irish are one of nine teams ranked higher than 15th in the AP Poll to falter this past week in what has been a wild college basketball season so far. The Irish are joined by fourth ranked Kentucky and sixth ranked Florida State to go winless in the past two games.
As a consequence of their inefficiency, Notre Dame has backtracked six spots in the AP rankings released this afternoon, falling from 14th to 20th. They are still a respectable 6-3 in the ACC, although that is not a proper measuring stick for the Irish given that they have dropped three of the past four games. Now at a fork in the road, the Irish can rebound in a big way by plowing through Tobacco Road or continue to fall from the top of the ACC and towards the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The solutions to Notre Dame’s recent struggles are fairly simple: assert themselves in the paint and get back to taking care of the ball. The Irish committed 21 turnovers last week, while being bested on the boards to the tune of a -24 rebounding margin. Fortunately for the Irish, Duke comes to town tonight and will be warmly welcomed by Bonzie Colson, who has made a living off besting Duke defenders in the paint since his sophomore season.
Despite the loss on Saturday, V.J. Beachem shot the ball particularly well, as did Matt Farrell. For the Irish to weather this storm of recent struggles and get through this week with their heads above water, the two seniors will have to step up and pile on the points. Virginia, a stout defensive group, shut down Beachem on Tuesday (as well as the rest of the team), but I would say that he has bounced back after Saturday’s performance.
Another Irish upperclassman looking to rebound is Steve Vasturia. The senior had arguably his worst game of the season on Saturday after a terrific start to ACC play. Perhaps his next opponent is just what Vasturia needs to return to his clutch shooting that propelled the Irish to three ACC wins to open up conference play. After all, Vasturia is no stranger to big shots against Duke, particularly on his home floor (see the end of this highlight)...
The road for the Irish won’t get any easier after tonight’s matchup, as they will then travel to Chapel Hill to take on the Tar Heels. If Notre Dame can down Duke tonight, they can enter the contest with North Carolina just one game back of the first-place Tar Heels, or even tied with them if they were to falter against Pittsburgh tomorrow. The Tar heels dropped from ninth to 12th in the AP rankings after getting smoked by Miami this past weekend. They will be looking to get back on track this week, as will the Irish.
Meanwhile, Duke will be looking to build on the momentum of their comeback win against Wake Forest. The Irish and Blue Devils are seemingly trending in different directions heading into this matchup, but once the lights come on at Purcell Pavilion, none of that matters. Hopefully for Mike Brey and his group, they continue their dominance over one of college basketball’s elite programs.