After getting into a bit of a groove with a couple games against the dregs of the ACC, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-8 overall, 2-5 ACC) are stepping back into the ring with a conference heavyweight tonight at the Purcell Pavilion. The #20 Virginia Tech Hokies (11-3 overall, 5-2 ACC) arrive in South Bend tied for third in the conference, having already handed the Irish a 77-63 defeat in Blacksburg earlier this season.
In addition to trying to extend their fledgling winning streak, the Irish also hope end a losing one: an 0-27 skid against ranked opponents that stretches back over three years, all the way to the birth of Maui Mike Brey against the #6 Wichita State Shockers on November 22, 2017.
A humiliating indicator of the wilderness years we have endured since the end of the Bonzie Colson era of Irish hoops, this streak could be snapped tonight by an upset of the Hokies. The question is: can it happen? ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Irish a fighting chance, with a 43.1% likelihood of a win, and the line for this game is even, all of which suggests an upset is a very real possibility.
Whether that upset happens will likely depend once again on the play of the Irish guards, who have fluctuated wildly this season in contrast to the consistently solid frontcourt efforts of Juwan Durham and Nate Laszewski. The good news is that the Irish have seen major improvements in that area in recent games. Prentiss Hubb in particular has found a winning stroke in the last two wins for the Irish, including a 5-7 mark from beyond the three-point line against the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday. The Irish will need similar production from Hubb and/or Dane Goodwin if they are going to upset the Hokies, who boast an efficient backcourt led by Tyrece Radford in addition to the powerful inside presence of Keve Aluma.
Mike Brey will likely not repeat last week’s strategy of starting his “blue” team of reserves, who struggled mightily to score in the opening minutes against Miami and allowed the Hurricanes to get an early lead on Sunday, but we will see tonight whether the motivational impact of that move on the starters continues. A win here is crucial for an Irish team looking for any way to turn its season around, and they could get it if they continue to play with the fire and teamwork we have seen in recent games.
WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH
When: 7:00 PM EST
Where: Purcell Pavilion, South Bend, IN
How to watch: ACC Network Extra
As always, the comment section of this preview will serve as the official game thread for this matchup. It’s now or never time for this Irish team - if you’re feeling UPSET SZN energy, leave it here!