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2018 ACC Tournament: Irish Survive Pittsburgh Scare - What We Learned

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The Fighting Irish nearly blew the season against the worst Power 5 team in the country. What did we learn???

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame vs Pittsburgh Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team narrowly — and when I say “narrowly,” I mean by the slimmest of margins — avoided a horrifyingly embarrassing upset yesterday, beating the winless-in-the-ACC Pittsburgh Panthers 67-64 to advance to the second round of the ACC Tournament.

Now, the Irish will face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies at 7 PM ET this evening. But before they do so, what did we learn from this first round escape of a Panther upset?

Not That Much

My first and most important answer to the question of what we can learn from that game yesterday is, simply, nothing. Hurray for that answer!!!

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame vs Pittsburgh Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

I think the Irish just played a terrible game and Pittsburgh hit a few shots down the stretch they normally don’t, and that combined for a perfect storm of ugliness. I don’t think it means the Irish are suddenly not a tournament-worthy team, nor do I think it necessarily means they will come out flat tomorrow night against a much better opponent with a lot more seemingly at stake (considering the idea of losing to Pitt was never something anyone on the team or in the media or otherwise thought possible).

Instead, I think we can just chalk this up as a terrible game coming at the right time, as the Irish would have lost yesterday to probably any other ACC opponent.

The Irish Are A Win Away From Serious Inclusion in the Tourney Bubble Discussion

As I watched some of the BYU-Gonzaga game last night, the ESPN broadcast brought on their resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi to talk about various teams and seeding and bubble status. Right when I began watching, he was discussing Notre Dame, and his answer and certainty really surprised me.

His message was strong and clear: if the Irish defeat Virginia Tech, he thinks they’re in, as they’re clearly a tournament team with BONZIE back and BONZIE has shown he is clearly back (averaging 18.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 45% shooting in his three games since returning from a broken foot). Lunardi even moved the Irish up to his “First Four Out” group despite the near-embarrassing loss to Pitt, meaning he has them on the brink of being in and just needs to see them beat one decent team with BONZIE at full strength.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame vs Pittsburgh Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

So, folks, I think if the Irish come out and beat the Hokies tomorrow night in the biggest game of the season for ND, they’ll likely have shown enough to the selection committee to earn at least a spot in one of the play-in games in Dayton. Beating Duke the following night would lock up a spot, but the more I hear and read, the more I think the Irish really just need to win tomorrow night and they’re going to do it. No other bubble teams have had the injury issues that the Irish have had all season — not just with BONZIE, but with Matt Farrell missing significant time, DJ Harvey being lost for the season, etc. The Irish are back at near-full strength (still missing Harvey, obviously) and can prove they belong in the Big Dance tonight.

If TJ Gibbs and Matt Farrell Shoot Similarly Tonight As They Did Against Pitt and Virginia, the Irish Will Lose and Will Be NIT-Bound

Take a look at the shooting from Matt Farrell and TJ Gibbs for the entire season:

  • Farrell: 16.8 ppg, 43% shooting overall, 41% from three point range
  • Gibbs: 15.6 ppg, 42% shooting overall, 41% from three point range

Now, take a look at how those two have shot in the past two games for the Irish:

  • Farrell: 13.5 ppg, 27% shooting overall (7-of-26), 32% from three point range (6-of-19)
  • Gibbs: 9.5 ppg, 29% shooting overall (5-of-17), 14% from three point range (1-of7)
NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Notre Dame vs Pittsburgh Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Now, obviously the scoring going down makes some sense considering COLSON’s return and the amount of scoring slack he’s able to pick up. But if the secondary shooting around BONZIE is going to be at a 28% clip overall and 27% clip from deep, Notre Dame isn’t going to beat any team worth a damn. And, at this point in the ACC Tourney, every team is at least worth a damn.

So, in my very humble opinion, tomorrow night’s game is going to be very interesting. BONZIE COLSON will clearly get his, no matter the opponent and no matter if he’s having an off shooting day or not.

But Farrell and Gibbs are CRUCIAL to this team having any sort of shot, and so if they aren’t shooting efficiently, there isn’t enough help throughout the rest of the roster to pick up the slack. It will be BONZIE scoring ~20 points, The Bird Whisperer picking up his typical 12-and-10 double-double, and the rest of the team adding very little (Rex Pflueger cannot be relied upon to score 13 in most games, as he did yesterday against Pitt).

Here’s hoping those two guards put it all together and get hot at the right time. They’ve already proven to us that they can be absolutely unbelievable when they’re feelin’ it. But now, we just need them to actually start feelin’ it.