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Notre Dame Basketball Weekly Recap: Irish win two thrillers, move into AP Top 20

Notre Dame is off to a great start in ACC play. Can they continue their streak in the upcoming week?

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

What a week it was for the Irish, using late game heroics (mainly from Steve Vasturia) to come away with two conference victories at home, one of them being against ninth ranked Louisville (who has since dropped to 14th). The Irish started the week in the AP Top 25, and two impressive wins last week moved them up to 20th, and at the top of the ACC standings. They could easily have been in the ACC cellar had it not been for their baby-faced assassin.

AP Top 25

1 Baylor (55) 15-0 1,608
2 Kansas (8) 14-1 1,517
3 Villanova (1) 15-1 1,499
4 UCLA (1) 16-1 1,433
5 Gonzaga 15-0 1,366
6 Kentucky 13-2 1,327
7 Duke 14-2 1,173
8 Creighton 15-1 1,111
9 Florida State 15-1 1,071
10 West Virginia 13-2 972
11 North Carolina 14-3 902
12 Butler 14-2 880
13 Oregon 15-2 869
14 Louisville 13-3 744
15 Xavier 13-2 651
16 Arizona 15-2 634
17 Purdue 14-3 584
18 Wisconsin 13-3 581
19 Virginia 12-3 580
20 Notre Dame 14-2 468
21 Saint Mary's 14-1 377
22 Cincinnati 13-2 256
23 Florida 12-3 252
24 Minnesota 15-2 167
25 USC 15-2 20
25 Kansas State 13-2 20

In an exhilarating finish last Wednesday, Vasturia nailed a running jumper in the final minute to seal another thrilling victory against Louisville at home. On Saturday, it was Rex Pflueger’s nifty pass to Bonzie Colson to put the Irish ahead of Clemson for good in the closing minutes of the second half, followed by a nail in the coffin courtesy of Matt Farrell’s three point jumper (which should have counted for four points given how far beyond the arc he was). Nevertheless, both were encouraging wins for the Irish that revealed a lot of positives about this team moving forward.

In the most important news of the week, we learned on Saturday that V.J. Beachem does indeed have an offensive pulse. The long dormant star for the Irish poured in a career high 22 points to lead the Irish’s comeback effort against Clemson. Beachem shot 6-10 from three in the winning effort, but it was more than just his rediscovered shooting touch that was encouraging for Mike Brey and the Irish.

Beachem appeared far more active on the offensive floor, moving while away from the ball and finding himself available for kick-outs from the paint when Farrell or Vasturia looked to drive to the rim. This was hardly the case for Beachem against Louisville, when far too often he could be seen standing still around the perimeter and immediately giving the ball up to a teammate despite having a clear height advantage over Cardinals’ guards such as Ryan McMahon. Beachem isn’t a skilled driver like Farrell or Vasturia, but it is good to see him using his height to shoot over defenders, unlike the Louisville game. Hopefully for the Irish, Saturday’s game has returned Beachem to form at a time when they will need him most as the meat of the ACC schedule approaches.

Another welcoming sight for Irish fans is the team’s ability to score in crunch time, going against the grain of multiple second half collapses suffered by the Irish prior to ACC play. Notre Dame battled with a tough and physically superior Louisville team down the stretch, trading scoring runs until Vasturia’s clutch jumper helped the Irish prevail.

Saturday’s duel with the Tigers was hardly a game of runs, instead a constant back-and-forth affair for most of the game’s final 20 minutes. Frustratingly, the Irish could not seem to get a defensive stop down the stretch, but the offense kept them in it. The defense was able to get a stop when they needed it most, and Farrell’s three from way downtown immediately followed the defensive stand. In the incredibly tough ACC, the Irish will need to continue to score late in games as they will find themselves in plenty more dogfights the rest of the way.

Looking ahead to this week’s slate, the Irish will have two road tests in Miami and Virginia Tech. The Irish, never the most elite at stopping three-pointers, will have a major test on Thursday when they face Miami freshman DJ Vasiljevic, who nailed six threes en route to an 18 point night in the Canes’ last game against at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. The Canes lost the game 70-55, ending a seven game winning streak, and will be looking to rebound at home against the Irish.

Miami brings a potent defensive threat, ranking second in the conference to Virginia in scoring defense. Notre Dame’s high-powered offense will have to be at their best, while also eliminating turnovers, which have increased in recent weeks. Luckily for the Irish, they have faced two straight opponents who are strong in the paint and create mayhem at the rim, so in a sense Brey has been preparing his team for Miami since last week.

The Irish will face a very different style on Saturday against Virginia Tech, who isn’t known for their defense but ranks in the top three in the ACC in many offensive categories, including three point percentage. We could be in for a shootout on Saturday, in which case the Irish will need to come up with some stops, hopefully earlier than they did against Clemson.

It won’t be easy on the road, but it is not outlandish to think the Irish can escape this week with two wins and a 4-0 conference record. After all, they have plenty of momentum after last week’s performances.