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Notre Dame Men’s Basketball: Fighting Irish VS Wake Forest Demon Deacons, ACC Tourney Preview

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The Irish, hot off their first win over a ranked opponent in more than 3 years, kick off their postseason with a game against #14 seed Wake Forest

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It’s absolutely wild when you think about it, but it’s been essentially one year since COVID reared its ugly head in March 2020 and forced all of sports — including our beloved March Madness — to come to an indefinite standstill. At the time, the 2019-2020 Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team was set to play Virginia in the second round of the ACC Tournament after defeating Boston College in round 1.

That team never got to play that UVA game, and now here we are, after a year of living amidst a pandemic and having seen a full but very weird college basketball season play out with postponements, cancellations, etc., about to start postseason play once again, in hopes that this year’s NCAA Tournament — which will take place entirely in the greater Indianapolis area — actually has the chance to play out.

Your Fighting Irish will most likely not be a part of that Madness, what with their 10-14 overall record and 7-11 performance in ACC play. However, if Notre Dame were to rattle off 5 wins in 5 days and take the ACC title, then of course they would sneak in with an auto-bid.

Is that likely? Of course not, especially with a team as temperamental as this one. But this past weekend, in the regular season finale and amidst plenty of “is this Mike Brey’s last home game?” discussions, the Irish showed they still have some fight and can still compete with the best teams in the conference.

So, keeping that in mind and knowing the ACC is down this season, #11 seed Notre Dame will begin the ACC Tournament tomorrow evening against the #14 seed Wake Forest Demon Deacons, with wild visions of a miracle winning streak now seeming incredibly possible, albeit extremely unlikely.

OPPONENT OVERVIEW: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

ND has to feel good about their chances of surviving until at least Wednesday, as the Demon Deacons were one of the only opponents the Irish absolutely handled during the regular season. The two squads met in early February at Purcell Pavilion, where the Irish were led to a 79-58 blowout victory by Juwan Durham (18 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks), Prentiss Hubb (10 points, 10 assists), Cormac Ryan (13 points), and Dane Goodwin (10 points).

Wake WAS missing a couple key players at the time, as both Ian DuBose and Tariq Ingraham were out for medical reasons. DuBose will be back for tomorrow’s match-up, but Ingraham was declared out for the season in late December as he recovered from having COVID. Still, the Irish DOMINATED across the board, shooting 51% from the field and 44% from long range while owning the boards 44-31.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It’s certainly been a rough overall season for the Demon Deacons, as they’ve dealt with plenty of COVID/injury issues while going 6-15 overall and 3-15 in ACC play specifically. They kicked off the year with a 3-0 start against some doormat teams (Delaware State, Longwood, Catawba), while also having several other games postponed or canceled. Once they hit ACC play, their record quickly crashed to the earth, losing their first 6 conference games before finding some footing in a 3-2 stretch wherein they defeated Pittsburgh, Miami, and BC.

Since then, Wake has lost 7 straight games, most of which have not been close. One exception was their loss at Florida State, in which they took the Seminoles to overtime in an arena where Leonard Hamilton’s squad has been exceptional and nearly unbeatable of late.

Still, despite that nice showing on the road against a top team, the Demon Deacons are limping into the postseason as one of the worst Power 5 conference teams in the country. They’re rated 170th on KenPom.com (199th on offense, 148th on defense), and appear to be equally not-good on offense and defense:

  • Offensive National Ranks: Scoring (288th), FG% (295th, 3P% (123rd), FT% (140th), Rebounds Per Game (297th), Assists Per Game (294th), Turnovers Per Game (227th), A/TO Ratio (290th)
  • Defensive National Ranks: Scoring Defense (219th), FG% Defense (321st), 3P% Defense (332nd), Rebounds Allowed (134th)

KEY PLAYERS

The Demon Deacons’ leading scorer this season has been 6’2” junior guard Daivien Williamson, who’s emerged as a go-to guy for Steve Forbes’ team with averages of 12.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 44% from the floor and 34% from deep.

He’s joined in averaging double figures by Ian DuBose, a 6’4” graduate senior guard formerly of Houston Baptist University who’s had to miss some time this season for medical reasons, but who’s done a little bit of everything in the games he’s been able to play in, averaging 11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 46% overall and 34% from three-point range. He and Williamson will be the key guys for the Irish to lock-down on — if Prentiss Hubb, Cormac Ryan, Trey Wertz, Nikola Djogo, and Dane Goodwin can limit their scoring, the Demon Deacons will struggle to score 60.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I mentioned Tariq Ingraham earlier, and it’s certainly a tough note for Wake Forest that the 6’9” redshirt freshman is out for the year due to COVID. He only appeared in 2 games against the early dregs of the schedule, but his 19-point, 7-of-7 shooting, 5-rebound performance against Delaware State certainly showed that his size and talent could have been useful as the team got into ACC play. Look for Ingraham to be back next season and potentially contributing substantially to Steve Forbes’ rotation.

After Williamson and DuBose, the Demon Deacons sport a number of tall, long athletes who chip in on scoring and rebounding. Forwards Isaiah Mucius, Ismael Massoud, and Ody Oguama are all 6’8” or taller and play 20-25 minutes per game. Mucius, a junior, leads the trio in scoring with 9.8 points per game (to go along with 4.9 rebounds and 35% 3-point shooting), while Oguama (a sophomore) leads the team in rebounding with 5.4 boards per game. He also shoots 47% from the floor.

NCAA Basketball: Wake Forest at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Massoud does a little of everything with his size and skill, scoring 8.2 points per game while grabbing 3.3 boards and shooting 34% from three. Meanwhile, 6’5” senior guard Jonah Antonio is potentially the best three-point and free throw shooter on the team, hitting 40% and 91% respectively on the season to drive his 6.7 points per game.

The rotation is rounded out by guard Jalen Johnson (6’6” senior), Carter Whitt (6’4” frosh), and Jahcobi Neath (6’3” sophomore), who combine for 13.3 points per game despite none of them shooting particularly efficiently from the field.

FUN FACTS RELATED TO THIS GAME!!!

  • Notre Dame and Wake Forest will be meeting for the 13th time on Tuesday night, with the Irish holding a 7-5 advantage in the series (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
  • Notre Dame is 4-1 all-time in Greensboro Coliseum and has won 4 in a row there after losing their first-ever ACC Tourney game in Greensboro against Wake in 2014; those 4 wins came in 2015 (3-straight over Miami, Duke, and UNC to win the conference title) and then last season against BC before the season shut down (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • This has been Notre Dame’s 8th season as an ACC member, and in those 8 seasons the Irish are 10-5 in the ACC Tournament — only Duke (12), Virginia (11) and North Carolina (12) have more wins in ACC Tournament play since Notre Dame joined the league, and the Irish’s ACC Tourney accomplishments in that time include the 2015 title and advancing to the 2017 championship game (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Prentiss Hubb (14.7 ppg, 6 apg, 3.3 rpg) was named Third Team All-ACC today, and Nate Laszewski (13.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 60.3% FG, 46.2% 3P) was given Honorable Mention
  • Prentiss Hubb is 10th in the country in total assists and 14th in assists per game, and his 120 assists in ACC play this year is tied for the 8th-most assists in a single ACC season since 1996-97. He was one of just five major conference players to eclipse 100 assists in league play this season, and finished second behind Jerian Grant’s 2015 season (125 assists) for the Notre Dame record of assists in league play (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Against Florida State, Prentiss Hubb surpassed the 1,000-point plateau for his career, becoming the 65th Notre Dame player to reach that mark in program history. He’s the 24th player of the Mike Brey era to score 1,000 points and the 6th to do so in three years or less (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Since 2000-01 (first year of the Brey era), Notre Dame is second among all Division I teams with 1,000-point scorers (Villanova is first with 26) (per Alan Wasielewski)
  • Between Wake Forest (Sunday Okeke, Ody Oguama, Emmanuel Okpomo, Grant van Beveren, Isaiah Mucius, Jahcobi Neath, Quadry Adams) and Notre Dame (Prentiss Hubb, Nikola Djogo, Langston Wertz III, Lasewzki, Goodwin, Zona), there are some fun names in this one (per Pat Rick, Expert on Great Athlete Names)

WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WATCH

WHEN: Tuesday, 3/9 @ 7:00 PM EST

WHERE: Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC

HOW TO WATCH: ACC Network with Dave O’Brien and Cory Alexander

HOW TO LISTEN: Notre Dame Radio Network with Jack Nolan

GAME THREAD

Assuming you’re now COMPLETELY BOUGHT-IN on the Irish rattling off 5 wins in 5 days to win the ACC Tournament and would like to weigh in on the team’s performance in this game, this article’s comment section will serve as your game thread.