Folks, it looks like today, March 12th, is finally the day this Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball season comes to a merciful close.
Your 13-18 (3-15 ACC) Fighting Irish, as the honorable 15th seed (out of 15), will take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the 10-seed, in the first round of the ACC Tournament.
The Irish, of course, are in this position because of the loss they suffered to the then-last-place Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, dropping a close, ugly game 56 to 53 and giving Pitt their first win since mid-January.
Now, the Irish must face a Yellow Jacket team that thrives on defense but is nearly as bad as ND is offensively. The last time these two played, the Irish somehow won by 10 at Purcell Pavilion. That was February 10th, and it was the last time Notre Dame won a men’s basketball game. They’ve since lost seven straight.
With the slide the Irish are on, it seems unlikely this young team has the energy or confidence to turn things around with an upset win in the first round. With that said, though, let’s check out the match-up and see what it looks like.
- This will be the 21st meeting between ND and Georgia Tech, with the Yellow Jackets currently leading the all-time series 11 to 9. Notre Dame leads the ACC series 7 to 5, though (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
- With 348 rebounds this season, John Mooney is now 6th on the single-season rebound total list during the Mike Brey era. He is just 3rebounds behind Luke Harangody (351) and 6 behind Jack Cooley (354) to move into 4th place (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Notre Dame is 8-4 all-time in the ACC tournament, failing to win a tournament game just once (the team’s first season as a part of the league in 2013-14). The Irish won the 2015 ACC Championship and advanced to the 2017 ACC Championship game (per Alan Wasielewski)
- John Mooney finished with 13 double-doubles in ACC play this season, which is a mark surpassed by only Tim Duncan’s 15 double-doubles in league play during the 1996-97 season. Mooney was named a Third-Team All-ACC player on Monday (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Notre Dame is 3rd in the country in fouls committed per game at 13.9, just behind the nation-leading Loyola-Chicago Ramblers and Dayton Flyers at 13.8. The Irish are 6th in the country in turnovers per game with a 9.5 average (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Due to a series of injuries, the Irish backcourt of junior T.J. Gibbs and freshman Prentiss Hubb have combined to play 97% (543 min) of a possible 560 minutes over the past seven games. Hubb, as of March 10th, is 2nd in the nation for total minutes played by a major conference true freshman with 1,032 (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Four freshmen — Prentiss Hubb (39), Dane Goodwin (36), Nate Laszewski (35) and Chris Doherty (4) combined for 114 minutes played against Pittsburgh on Saturday. That is the most for three true freshman in a game during the Mike Brey era (per Alan Wasielewski)
Where: Spectrum Center — Charlotte, North Carolina
When: Tuesday, March 12th at approximately 2:30 PM ET
How to Watch:
- TV: ESPN with Anish Shroff, Dan Dakich and Maria Taylor; WatchESPN; Raycom Sports with Tim Brando, Mike Gminski and Brian Oliver
- Radio: Notre Dame Basketball Network with Jack Nolan and Zach Hillesland; also available on the Notre Dame app
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (14-17 6-12 ACC)
Like most of his Yellow Jacket squads, Josh Pastner’s 2018-2019 GT team is fantastic defensively. They’re 18th in the country in FG% defense, 49th in scoring defense, 8th in blocked shots per game, 7th in 3-point % defense, and 33rd in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metrics. They’re a nightmare for GOOD offensive teams to try to consistently score on — let alone Notre Dame.
If you haven’t been paying attention this season and are curious what that last sentence meant (because there’s no way a Mike Brey offense is at all close to being bad, right?), let’s stop and chat for a second.
This Notre Dame team isn’t actually bad on offense, you guys. Bad offensive teams don’t rank 343rd of 351 teams nationally in overall shooting percentage. They don’t rank 303rd in three-point percentage, nor do they shoot threes at a frequency good enough for 36th in the country, despite that percentage made. Bad offensive teams don’t rank 212th in scoring margin or 276th in scoring offense or 215th in assists per game.
No, no, this team isn’t bad offensively — THEY ARE HORRIBLE.
Luckily for the Irish, the Yellow Jackets are not good enough offensively to blow out such a low-powered offensive opponent. Georgia Tech itself is 214th in shooting percentage (334th in 3FG %), 329th in scoring offense, 301st in turnovers committed per game, 303rd in offensive rebounding, 272nd in rebounding overall, 262nd in assist-to-turnover ratio, 236th in scoring margin, 176th in assists, and 212th in free throw percentage.
So, this one is probably going to be a “first one to 60 wins” type of game. And that’d be fine with the Yellow Jackets, as they absolutely have the superior defense and at least a few athletes that can mix it up, even if their offense is putrid itself.
GT is led by 6-foot sophomore guard Jose Alvarado, who averages 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 steals (7th in the ACC) per game. He’s not a very good perimeter shooter (29% this year) but has the talent and knack for scoring at the hoop to cause some issues for Hubb and Gibbs.
Texas Longhorn transfer big man James Banks III is the reason the Yellow Jackets rank so highly in blocked shots, as the 6’8” junior is swatting 2.5 shots per game (8th in the country, 1st in the ACC) while also chipping in 10.5 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting a very efficient 56% from the field. He’s had his ups and downs in his collegiate career, but he’s become a key cog in this Georgia Tech defensive machine this season.
Another couple key guys on the perimeter include talented 6’4” freshman Michael Devoe (9.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.4 spg, 39% 3FG) and long, athletic 6’5” senior Brandon Alston (7.3 ppg, 39% 3FG). Both guys can knock down shots and could be dangerous if Alvarado is able to penetrate and kick to them for open looks.
6’9” senior forward Abdoulaye Gueye can be a dangerous weapon as well, as his length allow him to do some damage inside. He averages 6.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1 block, and 52% shooting from the floor.
Finally, a couple key sophomore rotation guys you’ll want to keep an eye on include 6’9” forward Moses Wright (6.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg) and 6’5” guard Curtis Haywood II (5.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2 apg), as both can step up and make some big plays for this team in this one.
Overall, don’t expect Georgia Tech to exactly light up what should be a vulnerable Notre Dame defense, and instead look for the Yellow Jacket defense to smother the Irish and control the game, stifling them and forcing enough bad threes to allow for GT to win this one down the stretch with some buckets from Alvarado, Devoe, and Banks.
Yellow Jacket to Watch
James Banks III, Forward, Junior
If Banks III is playing his normal brand of devastating rim protection and efficient offensive production, expect the Irish to really struggle. ND NEEDS John Mooney and others to be able to get some buckets inside, and God knows Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski are both still developing and needing strength training as defenders in the paint. I think Banks III has a very solid game on both ends of the floor and wreaks enough havoc to be the difference in this game.
Prentiss Hubb, Guard, Freshman
To have any chance against this defense, the Irish need to attack the hoop, draw fouls, and not settle for forced, low-percentage threes. Hubb is the key here, as he is easily the best penetrating guard on the roster right now, and his ability to drive-and-kick to open shooters, drive-and-dish to big men like Mooney and Durham, or attack the hoop and get to the line will be CRUCIAL in breaking down the Yellow Jacket defense and ensuring the Irish don’t have too many scoreless stretches that lead to insurmountable deficits.
This Notre Dame team will finish the year in the same fashion they started it and in the same fashion they proceeded through it — they’ll put up a fight, make some horrible, ugly plays down the stretch, and ultimately have no one to turn to in crunch time.
Georgia Tech wins it 63-55.