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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Virginia Cavaliers Preview

A daunting two game stretch is about to begin.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the worst 72-hour stretch the last place team in the ACC (well, technically tied for last — and technically ahead of Miami and Wake Forest due to overall record...but still) could possibly ask for, as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish square off against the #3 Virginia Cavaliers at Purcell Pavilion tomorrow afternoon before playing host to the #2 Duke Blue Devils on Monday evening.

The Irish are 11-8 overall and 1-5 in conference play, having dropped three straight since barely eking out a win at home against the Boston College Eagles two weekends ago. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, are atop the ACC standings with a 5-1 ACC record and a 17-1 overall record.

It’s the longest of shots, no doubt, but let’s dive into the details and see what ND is up against tomorrow when Virginia comes to visit.

Quick Facts

  • Notre Dame and Virginia will be meeting for the 14th time, with the Cavaliers leading the all-time series 11-2. The Irish won the first meeting when Notre Dame knocked off top-ranked Virginia and Ralph Sampson on a last-second jump shot by Orlando Woolridge, but then Virginia won the next nine in the series before the Irish finally broke through for a 71-58 win in the 2017 ACC Semifinals, earning the program’s second ACC championship game berth in its first four seasons in the conference (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • Mike Brey has 11 victories over top-five ranked teams at Notre Dame — with seven of those wins earned as an unranked team (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • The last time Notre Dame faced back-to-back top-five opponents at home was during the 2003-04 season, when the Irish lost 66-58 to #4 Pittsburgh and then defeated #5 UConn (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Junior forward John Mooney has posted three consecutive monster efforts (16 pts, 19 reb at No. 13/15 North Carolina; 19 pts, 16 reb vs. No. 16/17 NC State; 22 pts, 14 reb at Georgia Tech) that have moved his season averages to a double-double (14.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg). He joins Minnesota’s Jordan Murphy (14.6 pts, 12.1 reb), Kansas’ Dedric Lawson (19.5 pts, 10.9 reb), Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ (19.8 pts, 10.3 reb) and Maryland’s Bruno Fernando (14.4 pts, 10.4 reb) as the only major conference players averaging a double-double
  • Add in Mooney’s .534 field-goal percentage and the list of players averaging double-doubles and shooting over .535 from the field is trimmed to just Mooney, Happ and Fernando. Add in Mooney’s .425 three-point field goal percenage - and he becomes the only major conference player to average over 10 points, 10 rebounds, .535 FG% and .400 3FG% (minimum of 30 attempts). Junior forward John Mooney has raised his level of play to an all-conference level in 2018-19 and currently leads the ACC in rebounding (10.8 per game) and in double-doubles (11 in 19 games played). One of five major conference players averaging a double-double this season (14.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg), Mooney entered the season with 4.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg averages. Junior John Mooney is on a run of five games with double-doubles, posting a 19.8 ppg and 15.0 rpg average over those five games (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • T.J. Gibbs is just 34 points away from reaching 1,000 in his career at Notre Dame and will become the 63rd Irish player to reach that career scoring plateau (per Alan Wasielewski)

WHERE, WHEN, AND HOW TO WATCH

Where: Purcell Pavilion — Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Saturday, January 25th at 1:00 PM ET
How to Watch:

Virginia Cavaliers (17-1, 5-1 ACC)

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

In case it isn’t made clear by their near-perfect record or #3 ranking, let me reiterate: VIRGINIA IS AN INCREDIBLY GOOD BASKETBALL TEAM.

The Cavaliers are #1 in KenPom.com’s efficiency rankings (#4 on offense, #2 on defense), and are doing some crazy elite things on both sides of the ball.

Their defense is #1 in the country in scoring (52.9 ppg allowed), three point field goal defense (24.6% 3FG% allowed), #3 in scoring margin (+21.1 is their average margin), #5 in overall field goal defense (37.8% shooting allowed), and #32 in turnover margin (+3.5).

Meanwhile, their offense, which is typically an afterthought when discussing Tony Bennett’s program, has been fantastic as well. They’re #1 in the country in turnovers (just 8.8 per game), #4 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.65), #8 in free throw shooting (76.9%), #10 in three point shooting (39.7% from deep as a team), and #35 in overall shooting (48.4% from the field).

On the other side, the Irish compare unfavorably in just about every category, save for turnovers (#3 in the country with just 9.6 per game) and fouls (#1 with just 13.7 per game). The Irish are #73 overall in KenPom (#69 on offense, #103 on defense), and have some truly bad rankings in major, important statistical categories.

On defense, ND ranks 199th in the country in three point field goal defense (allowing 34.2% from deep), 116th in scoring defense (allowing 69.1 ppg), and 80th in overall field goal defense (allowing 41.4% from the field). Not great for a team about to play the 10th-best three point shooting team and 35th-best shooting team overall.

Offensively, the Irish rank a putrid 306th in overall shooting (41.5% from the field), 212th from long range (33.7%), and 152nd in scoring offense (74.7 ppg). Needless to say, that kind of offensive production does not bode well for playing one of the best defenses in the country.

The Cavaliers are led by a trio of talented guards, starting with 6’2” junior Kyle Guy. You may remember Guy as the young gunner with a man-bun who was barked at by Bonzie Colson a couple years ago after Colson swatted his shot into nothingness in the ACC Tournament. Guy has only gotten better and become a more complete offensive player since then, and is now leading this offensive efficiency titan in scoring, averaging 15 points per game to go along with 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 87% shooting from the charity stripe, and a SCORCHING HOT 45% average from deep. The kid can play.

6’7” sophomore wing De’Andre Hunter is right behind Guy in scoring, putting up 14.4 points to go with 5.3 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. He shoots 53% from the floor overall, 80% from the line, and an equally-scorching 44% from long range, adding fantastic length and size to the Cavaliers’ perimeter while still bringing the shooting and efficient ball handling that Tony Bennett loves.

6’5” junior Ty Jerome is another guy Irish fans will recognize, as he’s been a major contributor, like Guy, since his freshman year. Jerome averages 13.1 points per game and hits 40% of his threes, giving UVA yet another guy who can knock down shots from basically anywhere past mid-court. He also snags 4.1 rebounds per game and dishes out a team-leading 4.8 assists, and also averages nearly 2 steals per game on defense with his good size and fantastic hands.

NCAA Basketball: Florida State at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Outside of that guard trio, the Cavaliers have some serious height and length they like to employ as well, with Braxton Key, Mamadi Diakite, Jack Salt, and Jay Huff all measuring 6’8” or taller. Huff is the tallest of the group at 7’1”, but the sophomore plays just 9 minutes per game. Nevertheless, he’s certainly made the most of that time so far, averaging 5.4 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1 block, 71% shooting, and 64% shooting from three point range.

Key, Diakite, and Salt are more important guys in the rotation, as the 6’8” junior Key averages 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds, the 6’9” junior Diakite scores 6.6 points and grabs 3.6 rebounds (while also shooting 55% from the field, 86% from the line, and 33% from deep), and the 6’10” senior Salt plays within himself to average 4.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 57% shooting each game. Those guys, along with Hunter and Jerome also having some good size, will likely give the Irish some fits both with their defense and on the glass, as the shorthanded Irish don’t have a ton of length or size to draw from.

5’9” freshman guard Kihei Clark has been a solid addition this year as well -- he’s averaging 4.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, a steal, and 83% free throw shooting on the year, so look for him to be a spark plug and playmaker when Guy/Jerome take a breather.

Overall, this Virginia team has already won vs. the Wisconsin Badgers, at the Maryland Terrapins, vs. the Florida State Seminoles, and at the Virginia Tech Hokies, so it’s clear at this point that their 17-1 record is no fluke or mirage. They did not play their best at #2 Duke last weekend and still managed to only lose by 2 points, so that may be the scariest fact about them overall. These guys can play both sides of the ball as well as anyone in the country, and the Irish likely won’t have many answers on how to hang around in this one.

Cavalier to Watch

NCAA Basketball: Virginia at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

De’Andre Hunter, Guard, Sophomore

I don’t think anyone on this Notre Dame team has the athleticism, size, and experience necessary to match up with Hunter. This would certainly have been Rex Pflueger’s man-to-man assignment if he were healthy, but without Rex, I just don’t see anyone who will be able to slow Hunter down. Goodwin may be the best bet, but he can’t guard Hunter the whole game, and I don’t think anyone else can both defend him on the perimeter and also have the size to challenge him if he drives to the hoop. I think he’ll have a big day.

Irish X-Factor

Prentiss Hubb, Guard, Freshman

For the Irish to have any chance against this Virginia defense, they need to take care of the ball and need someone who can pick his spots in terms of penetrating, driving to the rim, kicking it out for threes, etc. Hubb is the primary ball handler for this squad at this point, so this falls to him. If he can play within himself and make good decisions that don’t lead to late-in-the-shot-clock deep three pointer attempts from him, maaaaaybe the Irish can have a shot in this one. Hubb has to play the best game of his young collegiate career for that to happen.

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

Prediction

If Red Panda were performing at halftime, my answer would be different, but unfortunately Irish fans won’t be seeing her until the Duke game on Monday. I think the Cavaliers have too much length and shooting and experience, and Tony Bennett’s defensive system is way too efficient for one of Brey’s worst offenses ever to beat it.

I say Virginia wins this one 73-57.