The path begins this afternoon, as the 10th-seeded Irish play the 15th-seeded Pittsburgh Panthers in the second game of the tournament.
So what should you know heading into the Irish’s first ACC Tournament game on their inevitable run to glory? Let’s dive in.
- This will be the 64th meeting (dating back to 1928) between the Fighting Irish and the Panthers, with Notre Dame leading the series 33-30
- Mike Brey is one victory away from reaching 500 wins in his career. Already the all-time wins leader in men’s basketball at Notre Dame, Brey looks to become the 23rd active Division 1 coach to win 500 games. Brey’s 400th win at Notre Dame came against Pittsburgh last week, and it was also his 750th career game. Saturday’s game at Virginia was his 600th game as coach of Notre Dame
- Pittsburgh is 3-2 against Notre Dame since the two teams joined the ACC, winning the first three meetings since the two teams changed conferences. Notre Dame has won the last two matchups, emerging victorious in last year’s game (a 78-77 overtime win on New Year’s Eve) and winning in a blowout last Wednesday, beating Pitt 73-56 on Senior Night in BONZIE COLSON’s return from injury
- Pittsburgh enters the game as one of the worst Power 5 teams in recent memory. The Panthers’ national ranks include 348th in scoring offense, 182nd in scoring defense, 336th in shooting percentage, 200th in field goal percentage defense, 299th in three-point shooting, 339th in turnover margin, 338th in rebounding margin, and 290th in assist-to-turnover ratio
- Pittsburgh is ranked 236th overall on KenPom.com (293rd on offense, 167th on defense). Meanwhile, the Irish are ranked 28th overall (19th on offense, 63rd on defense)
- Prior to this past Saturday, TJ Gibbs had scored in double figures in 18 consecutive games dating back to Dec. 21, 2017. However, that streak ended in ND’s regular season finale as the Virginia Cavaliers held him to just 8 points on 2-of-7 shooting in the Irish’s 62-57 loss
- Senior guard Matt Farrell was named to the All-ACC Third Team on Sunday. He was an honorable mention selection last year as a junior. Despite missing five conference games this season with a severely sprained ankle, Farrell averaged 16.7 points per game, 5.5 assists per game, and shot 41% from three-point range. He also leads the conference in three-point field goals per game in conference play (3.92)
- Notre Dame boasts an impressive resume of victories at the Barclays Center, including the 2016 Legends Classic Championship and two victories in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Of all ACC teams, Notre Dame has the most appearances (nine) and wins (seven) - followed by Duke (6-0), Pittsburgh (4-4) and Florida State (3-1)
WHEN: Tuesday, March 6, 2018, 2:00 p.m. ET
WHERE: Barclays Center, Brooklyn, New York
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2 national broadcast with Anish Shroff (play-by-play), Dan Dakich (analyst) and Maria Taylor (sideline). Also available anywhere the WatchESPN app is accessible.
ACC Network with Tim Brando (play-by-play) and Mike Gminski (analyst). Available at any ACC Network affiliate.
Notre Dame Basketball Radio Network with Jack Nolan (play-by-play) and Zach Hillesland (analyst). Available locally at WSBT AM 960/FM 96.1, worldwide on WatchND.tv and via any network affiliate
Pittsburgh Panthers (8-23, 0-18 ACC)
Not much has changed since the preview we put together for you all last week. The Panthers have had a rough season and have not won a game since ACC play began in late December. Furthermore, the Panthers had one of their best players, Ryan Luther, go down for the year with an injury. Luther was averaging a double-double at the time he was injured.
Now, the Panthers rely on a pretty young group of players, including freshmen Marcus Carr (9.7 ppg, 4.1 apg), Parker Stewart (8.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Shamiel Stevenson (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg), Terrell Brown (4.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.4 bpg), and Khameron Davis (4.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg).
Those rookies are led by a couple veterans — Jared Wilson-Frame (12.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and Jonathan Milligan (5.1 ppg).
Panther to Watch:
Jared Wilson-Frame, G, Junior
Wilson-Frame is the leading scorer for the Panthers at nearly 13 points per game, and also adds 3.5 rebounds per game and shoots 84% from the free throw line.
Despite BONZIE COLSON and the Fighting Irish putting a 17-point beating on the Panthers in last week’s game, Wilson-Frame was the lone bright spot for Pitt, scoring 20 points on 5-of-13 three-point shooting and grabbing 5 rebounds.
If Pittsburgh wants to stand any chance of hanging around in this game, Wilson-Frame will need to have another scoring performance like that, along with some help from the young guns on the team.
TJ Gibbs, G, Sophomore
Honestly, I don’t think there is really an X-factor for ND to win this game. But in terms of a guy the Irish need to perform well, in my opinion, it’s definitely TJ Gibbs. In a low-pressure game against a bad opponent, he needs to regain his shooting stroke and settle himself down a bit before the gauntlet truly gets going this week (same goes for John “Mutton” Mooney).
This is the perfect time for Gibbs to do that, and I have a feeling that the guy who’s scored 15.6 points per game and shot 41% from deep this season will get it going again, allowing for the Irish to take a big first half lead and get the starters some quality rest in the 2nd half to keep everyone fresh for the Hokies.
Notre Dame 84 - Pittsburgh 65
Last week, Pittsburgh only had to deal with 21 minutes of rusty, first-time-back-in-a-game-situation-in-two-months BONZIE.
This afternoon, they will have to deal with a BONZIE who just put up 24 and 15 on the best defense in the country (on the road) and who is hell-bent on leading his squad on a run this week to grab an NCAA Tourney bid.
COLSON will score plenty, Gibbs and Farrell will do their thing shooting-wise, and Martinas “The Bird Whisperer” Geben will get himself a couple powerful thunder-dunks. The Irish will roll and advance on to the higher-stakes games, starting with a Virginia Tech Hokies matchup tomorrow evening.