After beating NC State 69-57 on Saturday the Notre Dame men’s basketball team had played a total of five games in eleven days. Two of those games came against the other top two teams in the ACC standings. Those games were back to back and required the Irish to travel down to Miami the day after facing Duke (the number one team in the ACC). They came out .500 in those two games, which after the showing against Duke most of us would’ve taken. Notre Dame now sits at second in the ACC behind only Duke, who is now ranked #7 (but will drop after last night’s loss) in the nation per this week’s AP Top 25.
Where exactly is this Irish team in the grand scheme of things heading into the final month before March? As of today, Joe Lunardi has Notre Dame slated as a “Last 4 Byes” team. That is a big change from this time last week when he had them as a “First Four Out” team. Right now he has the Irish as an eleven seed facing Xavier, this is bound to change but I believe he has it just right at this point.
I was a little nervous about their chances at the tournament after the Duke game. But look at it like this - Goodwin, Laszewski, and Wesley combined for a total of 10 points, the Irish as a team shot 27.9% from the field (average 52.4% on the year), and they only made three shots from beyond the arc (average 8.7 per game on the year). You would believe against a top ten team this would have been a massive blowout. Yes, they lost by fourteen but I think it could’ve been much worse. They held the Blue Devils to 57 points, their lowest total in a game this season (80.2 per game).
After coming out flat like that, they could’ve let it ride with them down to Miami and they didn’t. Then on Saturday after allowing NC State back into a game they had full control of, they were able to put their foot down and finish out. As I said above I believe this is a tournament team. While getting past Duke will be difficult, (a team that did look vulnerable last night against Virginia) I believe that both the ACC regular-season title and the ACC tournament title are within reach this year. It will require them to take care of business in the final ten games of the season. Wake Forest will be the only team they will face that is fifth or better in the ACC standings at this time. If the Irish can do what they are capable of (and stop with these scoring droughts, and coming out flat) I think they will take care of business and make this a fun March that we haven’t experienced in a few years.