The 3-0 start in the ACC is obviously fantastic, but now we get to see what the Irish are really made of. The three-game road trip (thanks ACC) begins tonight in Coral Gables, and in case you are still in college football mode, it is incredibly difficult to win on the road in this conference. Brey’s “Road Dawgs” have one of only seven road victories in the entire conference, as home teams are 21-7 to this point.
ACC Road Wins
Dec. 28 – Virginia 61 Louisville 53
Dec. 31 – ND 78 Pitt 77 (OT)
Dec. 31 – FSU 60 Virginia 58
Dec. 31 – Clemson 73 WF 68
Jan. 3 – UNC 89 Clemson 86 (OT)
Jan. 7 – Louisville 65 GT 50
Jan. 11 – UNC 93 WF 87
Miami, VT and FSU are 6-0 at home so far in the ACC, which raises the possibility that the Irish could limp home at 3-3. With FSU looking the part of a Top 10 team, the next three days are going to be huge for Notre Dame, as a Top 4 ACC finish and double-bye could depend on getting one of these next two.
Here’s what you need to know about the next three Irish opponents.
Thursday – Miami
The ‘Canes are 11-3 (1-1 in the ACC) and have a different look than the team that beat the Irish twice last season (including a serious whipping in Purcell just before the end of the regular season). Gone are Rodriguez, McClellan and Jekiri from a team that reached the Sweet 16.
Ja’Quan Newton (15.2 PPG) and Davon Reed (14.0 PPG) have become the main threats for the ‘Canes after spending last year as role players. Miami has an impressive freshman, Bruce Brown, who at 6’5, averages 7.3 rebounds per game to go along with 10.9 PPG.
Miami really hasn’t beaten a good team to this point in the season. In the non-conference, Stanford and Rutgers is about it. They started the ACC season by throttling NC State at home, but then went to the Carrier Dome and lost by 15 to ‘Cuse. They’ve had eight days since that loss to prep for the Irish, which could be an advantage. Plus, they’ve won 21 in a row at home.
Keep an eye on Anthony Lawrence, Jr. The sophomore only played six minutes in the loss to Syracuse, but torched the Irish for 18 points last year in the 79-70 Miami win at home. Noticeably, Brey took him out of the game in South Bend, as he did not score.
As with every game, rebounding is going to be key for the Irish. In the 68-50 drubbing last March, Miami won the rebounding battle 39-26. The ‘Canes rank 22nd nationally with a +7.4 rebound margin.
Chance of Winning – 60%
Vegas has Miami as a 2.5-point favorite, which is a little concerning. This may be the best opportunity for the Irish to pick one up on this trip, and I think Stove and the boys get it done.
Prediction: Notre Dame 76 Miami 71
Result: ND 67-62
The Irish gutted another one out after blowing a second half 11-point lead. Farrell was the man down the stretch, again. Stove made a key late bucket, again.
The 10-0 spurt to start the second half was refreshing. But getting crushed on the boards (28-16) was tough to watch. Both teams shot the ball poorly, with ND shooting 25% (5-20) from deep.
Bonz really struggled (2-12, 8 points and 11 rebounds) with Miami’s athleticism, and the Irish as a whole had 12 shots blocked. ND actually shot 45.4% on shots that didn’t touch a Miami defender.
Austin Torres was fantastic. Eight minutes…eight points. At the under 12 in the second, Torres was tied with Beach for a team high in points. Farrell, Beach and Stove then took over down the stretch after letting Miami back in it.
One down, two to go.
Saturday – Virginia Tech
Buzz’s Hokies are 13-3 (2-2 in the ACC) and have epitomized how the ACC season had started, with two solid home wins (Duke and Syracuse) and two bad road losses (NC State by 26 and FSU by 15). VT has won 15 straight at home, including five consecutive ACC home wins.
The Hokies went a surprising 10-8 in conference play last season, and have almost everyone back this year. This includes Ahmed Hill (15.1 PPG), who missed last season due to an injury. Four other Hokies average double digits, led by Zach LeDay (16.6 PPG / 7.3 RPG). Hill (45.1%) and VT’s sixth man, Seth Allen (46.2%), can really shoot it from deep, as the Hokies shoot 40% as a team (20th in the nation) from behind the arc.
The Irish won a tight one last year at home, 83-81. LeDay scored 22 and Allen added 20 for VT. Chris Clarke (12.3 PPG and 7.6 RPG), a spark plug this year for the Hokies, did not play in last year’s game.
The concern in this one is that the Irish have a really quick turnaround after the Miami game, while VT played on Tuesday night at home. Well, that and the fact that Buzz has a pretty damn good team.
Chance of Winning – 40%
This one scares me, as the Irish have less than 48 hours to recover after a tough, draining road win. As Brey said after the game, Buzz was probably sitting at home in his PJs scouting the Irish after knocking off Cuse on Tuesday. Though I am a homer typically, Saturday in Blacksburg will likely be the first ACC loss for Notre Dame.
Prediction: VT 89 ND 80
Result: ND 76 VT 71
Boy, was I ecstatic to be wrong about this one. Check out the recap, here.
Wednesday – Florida State
Speaking of good teams, FSU currently sits at 16-2 and went into Saturday as the only other undefeated team in the ACC, before losing in Chapel Hill. They’ve won at Virginia, and just spanked Duke at home. How they lost to Temple, I have no freaking clue.
Dwayne Bacon (17.8 PPG) is their stud, and he was just named as one of 25 players on the mid-season Wooden Watch for player of the year. Don’t get me started that Bonz isn’t on that list, while arguments could be made for Farrell and Stove too.
The ‘Noles have a potential lottery pick in Jonathan Isaac (12.1 PPG / 7.2 RPG) and the steady Xavier Rathan-Mayes (11.1 PPG / 4.6 APG). XRM had 21 in the win over Duke, and is somehow only a junior. FSU has a hell of a bench, as Leonard Hamilton regularly plays 10-12 guys a night. Terance Mann (ease his pain) has averaged 17.5 PPG and 8 RPG in the last two Ws over VT and Duke.
Last year’s trip to Tallahassee did not go well for the Irish, as they seemed to forget how to play basketball in a 21-point loss. Beach, Bonz and Stove were a combined 6-25 shooting, although Matt Ryan had a nice game (8 points in 15 minutes). To show how far Farrell has come, he played five minutes and did not register a stat.
Chance of Winning – 25%
FSU’s athleticism and depth might be too much for a road-weary Irish squad at the end of this trip.
Update: The Irish are +6 tonight, which is probably the right spread. My wife has become a pointspread genius as she accurately predicted it.
Three quick keys to an Irish W:
1) Take advantage of the FT line. ND is only shooting 15 FT per game in ACC play, and their percentage is 77.3% in those games. They are going to have to get to the line 20+ times and knock down at least 80% to steal another one.
2) Hold their own on the glass. The Irish have been outrebounded in four of five ACC games. That’s not a surprise. If they can keep it around their current rebound margin over the last five games (-3.4), they’ll be right in this one. An FSU volleyball session at the rim, and we may see another drubbing.
3) 15 points from Beach. In the four games other than Clemson, Beach is 1-14 from deep and averaged 6.3 PPG. The Irish have a chance if they get an inspired effort out of #3.
Did I think there was a chance of ND completing this road-trip at 3-0? Hell no. While I still think the 25% chance of a W tonight is accurate, I’m not picking against the Irish again.
Prediction: ND 77 FSU 75