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ACC Tournament: Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Louisville Cardinals Preview

Somehow, someway, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team is still alive. CAN THEY KEEP THE MAGIC GOING???

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Well, guys, if you didn’t have enough proof already — I am an idiot. Here are a couple things I said in my preview of the 1st Round ACC Tournament game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets yesterday:

  • “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.”
  • “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.”
  • “No, no, this team isn’t bad offensively — THEY ARE HORRIBLE.”
  • “...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.”
  • “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.”

And, of course, the Irish proceeded to go and do this:

Sure, Georgia Tech is a horrible offensive team, and ND had already beaten them once before this year. But for a Notre Dame team to win this after going a month without beating anyone — and to do it by playing uncharacteristically good offense against one of the best defenses in the conference — is simply fantastic to see, and will make an off-season full of questions and concerns a little more palatable.

Now, the Irish move on to face the 7th-seeded Louisville Cardinals tonight. ND was already competing with just 7 scholarship guys as it was yesterday (with one of those seven being Chris Doherty, who at this point is used to just give John Mooney, Juwan Durham, or Nate Laszewski a brief (less than 5 minutes per game) breather.

However, yesterday in their win over the Yellow Jackets, Laszewski was undercut on a shot attempt at the rim, causing him to land hard on his tailbone. X-rays came back negative, so his status is not definite either way, but in a best-case scenario the Irish will have 6 scholarship guys plus Laszewski and his injured tuchus. Worst case, of course, means that Chris Doherty is going to have to play more than a couple minutes, seeing as the next guy after him is walk-on senior Liam Nelligan.

NCAA Basketball: Notre Dame at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

So, will an ND team who just had one of their better performances of the year be able to do it again, shorthanded, against a better team today in Louisville? Let’s take a look at the match-up and see how likely that is...

Quick Facts

  • This is the 39th meeting between these two teams, with Louisville leading the all-time series 23-15 (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • With 358 rebounds this season, John Mooney is now fourth on the single-season rebound total list during the Mike Brey era (since 2000-01). He is just four rebounds behind Bonzie Colson (362) in third place (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • John Mooney finished the win over Georgia Tech with 20 points and 10 rebounds, his fifth 20-point, 10-rebound game of the year. He becomes the sixth Notre Dame player to post 20 double-doubles in a season (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Junior Juwan Durham contributed 12 points, five rebounds and four blocks off the bench on Tuesday against Georgia Tech. It was the eighth time this season Durham has blocked four or more shots and he is now sixth on the Notre Dame single-season block leaderboard with 62 this season. He is just the fourth Notre Dame player to block at least 60 shots in a season (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame is 9-4 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) (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Freshman Nate Laszewski scored a career-high 23 points in the regular-season finale at Pittsburgh on Saturday, recording the first 20-point game of his career. He followed that up with 14 points in the first 17 minutes of the ACC first-round victory over Georgia Tech before being undercut on a layup and injuring his lower back. He will be a game-time decision for the second round game vs Louisville (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Freshman Dane Goodwin has scored in double-figures in three consecutive games after his 15 points against Georgia Tech on Tuesday. It is the first time in Goodwin’s young career he has hit double figures in three consecutive games (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Notre Dame scored 52 points in the first half of the victory over Georgia Tech on Tuesday, which is the most since they scored 57 against Jacksonville on Dec. 20, 2018. It is the sixth-most by a team in the ACC tournament over the first 20 minutes of a contest (per Alan Wasielewski)

Where: Spectrum Center — Charlotte, North Carolina

When: Wednesday, March 13th at approximately 7:00 PM ET

How to Watch:

Louisville Cardinals (19-12, 10-8 ACC)

The Irish and Cardinals played each other just 11 days ago, so I won’t go into the same mundane detail on Louisville’s players’ season stats and the team’s national ranks in various categories. If you want a directional look at where the Cardinals stand, please check out my preview from that game here.

With that said, let’s talk about how that game went, and what we might be able to expect this time around, as the Irish have become even more shorthanded since then.

The Cardinals topped the Irish 75-61 at the KFC Yum! Center in that one, as star player and recently-crowned ACC Most Improved Player Jordan Nwora scored 20 points and snared 11 boards. Malik Williams’ 16-and-13 double-double and Christen Cunningham’s 14 points helped the Cardinals put together a second half that simply buried the flailing, less-than-confident Irish.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Boston College Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

ND did get 22 and 13 from John Mooney (close runner-up to Nwora for ACC Most Improved Player) and 16 points and 6 assists from Prentiss Hubb in that one, but otherwise the rest of the Irish simply did not play good basketball. T.J. Gibbs, D.J. Harvey, Juwan Durham, and Dane Goodwin combined to shoot 7-for-29 from the field, and ND just couldn’t keep pace with Louisville, who also out-rebounded the Irish in humiliating fashion, 49 to 30.

What’s interesting to note, though, is that that win was one of just three Louisville accumulated since the beginning of February. Granted, the Cardinals played a pretty rough slate of ACC opponents, but they managed to go just 3-7 down the stretch after starting conference play by winning 7 of their first 8. This Louisville team is not exactly peaking right now, folks.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, you could argue Notre Dame won’t have nearly enough firepower to trip them up. The Irish have also won just three games since the beginning of February, and those wins only came against Boston College and Georgia Tech. Plus, of course, the Irish were 1-7 in ACC play when February began — so their slide through the final two months has been much more reflective of their talent than Louisville’s probably has.

With all that said, the Irish just put together a VERY impressive offensive performance — particularly in the first half. Georgia Tech is a fantastic defensive team — one of the best in the ACC — and the young, undermanned Irish squad tore it apart, not only by getting hot from outside but also by working it into the middle of the zone with passes/dribble penetration. They were playing legitimately good offensive basketball, which led to the 20-point halftime lead that was juuuuust enough for the Irish to hold on and win in a much less impressive second half (albeit one where Nate Laszewski was sorely missed after his injury).

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Georgia Tech vs Notre Dame Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If Laszewski is able to play, then maybe the Irish can keep the good mojo rolling into tonight and play some more really good offense and hang around with Louisville. However, with the Cardinals’ length and rebounding ability, it’s going to take a big, joint, physical effort from Mooney, Durham, Laszewski, and Doherty in order to limit second chances for Louisville and give the Irish offense a chance to score enough to keep ND in it.

I don’t see that happening — Durham and Laszewski are still a year+ away from having the strength needed to compete that effectively on the boards, and since Laszewski won’t be 100%, Doherty having to play more probably won’t be a great thing for offensive efficiency. However, I told you all yesterday that the GT game would be ND’s who knows, at this point. Jon Rothstein said it best, you guys:

Let’s see what happens.

Cardinal to Watch

Malik Williams, Center, Sophomore

The dude is a powerful 6’11” center who put up 16 and 13 less than two weeks ago on this Irish squad. With Laszewski hurt and the team already having played yesterday with a short rotation, Notre Dame will be undermanned and tired and Williams may be able to do what he wants on the boards and scoring down low. Mooney, Durham, Doherty, and Lasz (if he plays) will need to get super physical and double their defensive/rebounding efforts if they want to do enough to slow Williams today. He could be the difference with his physicality and size.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Irish X-Factor

Nate Laszewski, Forward, Freshman

The Irish desperately need him to play, not only for his shooting and as another tall guy to help on defense and on the glass, but also because without him they will have 5 players + Chris Doherty to work with against a Louisville team that knows it needs a decent showing in the ACC Tourney to secure its teetering NCAA Tournament spot. If Laszewski can’t go with his tailbone injury, it will be VERY hard for the Irish to hang around in this one.

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


The effort ND put forth yesterday was inspired and provided some hope for the off-season and heading into next year, but against a long, big team that can dominate the Irish on the boards on a normal night, I’m not sure being shorthanded will allow ND to have any sort of chance in this one. I think the Cardinals wear Notre Dame down and win this one going away.

Louisville wins it 78-60.