Well, friends, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s hoops team’s slim chances to make the NCAA Tournament as an at-large team got even slimmer last Saturday, when the Irish dropped what many called a must-win game on the road at Wake Forest, losing by 11.
True, the game on Wednesday night against the Florida State Seminoles was always the much more important game here in terms of finally earning a win over a good, NCAA-Tourney-locked-in team.
But another not-great loss to a team with a losing record certainly doesn’t help the Irish show the committee they’re peaking at the right time, and so ND could very well have to completely win the ACC Tournament now, even if they beat FSU and win a couple games to kick off the conference postseason.
Let’s not jump ahead, though, because for the Irish to have any sort of shot at sneaking into a play-in game as an at-large team, Notre Dame will HAVE to beat the #7 Seminoles at home on Wednesday night.
Considering the Irish nearly took them down on the road in late January, is it possible Brey and the boys once again resurrect themselves with a huge late-season win against the Seminoles? Let’s dive into the details and see.
- ND and Florida State will be meeting for the 11th time, with the Seminoles leading the all-time series 6 to 4, including an 85-84 win in Tallahassee back in January (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communications Director)
- Notre Dame has never lost to Florida State at Purcell Pavilion, however — they’re 3-0 there against the Seminoles, with their last victory being an 84-69 win in 2018 (per Alan Wasielewski)
- FSU is currently #16 overall in the KenPom.com rankings, with the #35 offense and #18 defense; the Irish, meanwhile, are #62, rating 38th on offense and 118th on defense
- Notre Dame leads the country in turnovers committed per game (9.5), assist-to-turnover ratio (1.74), and fouls committed per game (12.4), and is 10th in the country (and 1st in the ACC) in assists per game (16.6) (per Alan Wasielewski)
- John Mooney is 2nd in the nation in rebounding, leading all major conference players with his 12.8 average (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Mooney has 24 double-doubles on the season (leads the nation) and has done so in just 28 games, with the next-closest player being William & Mary’s Nathan Knight, who has 22 in 31 games played; Mooney is also the only player in D-I averaging 16 and 12 this season (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Mooney is also the only player in ACC play since 1997-1998 to have consecutive seasons with 13+ double-doubles in league play. He also joins Tim Duncan and Shelden Williams as the only ACC players to post consecutive seasons with 20 or more double-doubles in the past 25 years (per Alan Wasielewski)
- T.J. Gibbs leads the ACC in 3-point shooting in conference play, making 48% (45-of-92) of his threes through 18 league games (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Rex Pflueger has now played in 138 games for the Irish, and is on pace to break the career record set by Pat Connaughton (139) against Virginia Tech on Senior Day (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Notre Dame men’s basketball is currently at 1,898 total victories, closing in on becoming the 8th program to reach 1,900 victories, joining the Kentucky Wildcats, Kansas Jayhawks, North Carolina Tar Heels, Duke Blue Devils, Temple Owls, Syracuse Orange, and UCLA Bruins (per Alan Wasielewski)
Where: Purcell Pavilion — Notre Dame, Indiana
When: Wednesday, March 4th at 9:00 PM ET
How to Watch:
- TV — ESPN 2: Mike Couzens (play-by-play), Jordan Cornette (analyst)
- Radio — Notre Dame Radio Network: Jack Nolan (play-by-play), Zach Hillesland (analyst); available locally on WSBT AM/FM and worldwide on und.com
#7 Florida State Seminoles (24-5, 14-4 ACC)
Despite a tough one-point loss on the road at Clemson last Saturday, the Florida State Seminoles are still one of the best teams in the country, and, despite currently being a half-game back in the standings, absolutely sit in the driver’s seat for the ACC regular season title, considering their season sweep of the Louisville Cardinals.
Florida State this year is pretty similar to most Leonard Hamilton teams — extremely deep (9 guys averaging 10.5+ minutes per game), very long and athletic and a handful on defense, and with multiple guys who can be THE GUY from night to night.
Hell, the leading scorer for FSU in the January meeting between these two teams was sophomore forward Wyatt Wilkes (19 points), who has averaged just 3.6 points per game overall in 2019-2020.
More often than not, THE GUY has been one of G Devin Vassell or Trent Forrest, who average 12.9 and 11.7 points per game, respectively. The sophomore Vassell is 6’6” and the senior Forrest is 6’4”, enabling both to wreak havoc in plenty of other ways that aren’t scoring.
Vassell, for instance, leads the team in rebounding with 5.2 per game, and also manages to dish out 1.6 assists and swat 1 shot per game.
Furthermore, whereas Forrest is much less of an outside shooting threat (31% 3P) and more focused on driving to the hoop (shooting 46.5% from the field and snagging 4.3 rebounds himself) or finding teammates for easy buckets (averaging 4.1 assists), Vassell shoots a blistering 42.6% from 3-point range, giving Forrest his best option on the perimeter for a drive-and-kick.
The defense these two contribute, of course, also plays a large role. Forrest especially is a shut-down defender who averages 2 steals per game and has been a lynchpin on the perimeter for Hamilton’s defense for a few years now.
Vassell’s length comes in handy there as well, especially at the rim, and other lengthy wings like M.J. Walker (6’5”) and Anthony Polite (6’6”) will combine to make life very hard for Prentiss Hubb, T.J. Gibbs, Rex Pflueger, and Dane Goodwin on the outside.
Those latter two guys also chip in some key components offensively, as Walker scores the third-most points per game on the team (10.4) and knocks down 35% of his threes, while Polite chips in 6.1 points, 3 rebounds, 1.2 steals, and 35% three-point shooting of his own.
The Seminoles’ big men, of course, are just as big and athletic, spearheaded by forwards Patrick Williams (a 6’8” freshman) and Malik Osborne (a 6’9” sophomore).
Williams scores 9.4 points per game while grabbing 3.8 rebounds, swatting 1 shot of his own each game, and shooting 46% from the field and 34% from deep. Osborne is a little more focused on throwing his body around inside, scoring 6.2 points and snaring 5 rebounds while blocking nearly 1 shot per game himself. He’s efficient in his shot-taking, though, making 47% overall and actually knocking down 37.5% of his long balls on the season.
And, just when you think that core group is already a lot for the short-handed, not-huge Irish to handle, the Seminoles will also throw 6’8” forward RaiQuan Gray, 7’1” center Balsa Koprivica, and 7’0” center Dominik Olejniczak at you.
Gray plays the most of those three, scoring 6 points, grabbing 3.8 rebounds, and averaging both 1 steal and 1 block per game, but the twin towers of Koprivica and Olejniczak also have their moments, averaging about 10 minutes per game each while combining for 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1 block, and exceptionally-efficient shooting from both, as one might expect from guys who can touch the rim flat-footed (67% for Koprivica and 59% for Olejniczak).
To quit rambling and just sum all this up — Florida State has a whole slew of guys they will run in and out of the game to keep legs fresh and long arms intervening and frustration for opponents high. No one that averages more than about 1 minute per game on the season is shorter than 6’4”, and most are 6’6” and up. There’s a reason the Seminoles are 10th in the country in blocked shots per game, 13th in steals per game, and 17th in turnovers forced per game. They have the length and athleticism to cause TONS of issues.
With that said, the Irish do have some skills that help them combat that pesky length. The Irish are 1st in the country in fewest turnovers committed per game AND assist-to-turnover margin, meaning their ability to take care of the ball should help limit some of the Seminoles’ effectiveness, at least in terms of creating turnovers.
What the Irish need is for the Seminoles’ 105th-ranked three-point FG % defense to show itself a bit and for their 21st-in-the-country three-point attempts per game to hit at a higher clip than their season average of 34.2%, which is 140th in the nation.
That will mean more than just Gibbs’ ACC-leading outside shooting, as guys like Nate Laszewski, Dane Goodwin, and, yes, Prentiss Hubb will need to hit some outside shots. Hubb is a guy many ND fans would say they’d like to shoot fewer outside shots, but his 24 points on 5-of-11 shooting from deep was the main reason the Irish had a shot to win that January match-up.
If he can hit some big shots down the stretch and the rest of the ensemble does their part, then maybe the Irish can keep up with the Seminoles and have a shot to win one with some home-court advantages they didn’t have in Tallahassee (although we won’t hold our breaths on getting any better refereeing this time around).
Overall, I think the Irish will play much better in this game than they did against Wake Forest, but due to the weakened momentum post-Demon-Deacons-loss and the fact that the Seminoles are simply a better, deeper team, I think the Irish ultimately fall short in this one.
Seminole to Watch
RaiQuan Gray, Forward, Sophomore
Gray had a very solid game in January against the Irish (13 points on 6-of-10 shooting, 4 rebounds, 1 block), and I think his size and length will continue to be an issue for Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski down low, and John Mooney can only do so much on defense while also helping carry the offense and working so hard on the boards to combat the Seminoles’ size.
Someone like Gray has the chance to have a sneaky-good game on Wednesday night.
Prentiss Hubb, Guard, Sophomore
I think John Mutton will give the Irish a solid double-double, per usual, and T.J. Gibbs will kick in 10-15 points. But unless Hubb once again has himself a fantastic game and makes BIG plays in the second half, I don’t see the Irish scoring enough to keep up with Florida State.
I almost picked Lasz or Goodwin for this as the guys who could change the game by hitting 5-7 threes on a career night, but I think more likely the Irish need their hot-and-cold, game-changing yet also head-scratching point guard to put it all together again and push this team to a SORELY-needed upset.
My heart is screaming for me to believe this ND team, who’s shown they will never quit, no matter the game or season outlook, will scrap and claw and put themselves in a position to keep fighting for this season with a huge upset.
But I just don’t think I can actually predict that, knowing what we’ve seen to-date and knowing how good Florida State is when they’re even remotely “on.”
Florida State wins this one 81-68.
I hope to God I’m wrong — YA GOTTA BELIEVE IN SOMETHING, FOLKS!!!