I can’t get enough of this capricious, rowdy, dicey, topsy-turvy college basketball season. That’s in part because of statements like this, which are now somehow entirely reasonable: Notre Dame should be considered a legitimate candidate to win the ACC’s regular season.
It seems out of the blue, but that’s the reality of where things stand now. The Irish have the best per-possession offense in the country, have won three straight — including wins over top-10 North Carolina and Saturday’s takedown of No. 13 Louisville — and are looking at a challenging but absolutely winnable final five games.
It’s not out of the question to consider ND finishing 14-4 in the league and heading into the ACC tournament atop the conference’s standings. I’ll get to that in just a moment.
First, a thought on the Irish’s 71-66 win over the Cardinals. It was a relief for Mike Brey in that his team really didn’t shoot well (this happens most of the time for teams playing against Rick Pitino’s clubs), yet made up for it by not accruing a bunch of fouls and still being able to win time and again on the glass. The Irish looked like a top-15 team on Saturday. The win didn’t come easy, and Louisville showed plenty of pushback. But by the end, this looked like a team that could again be dangerous in the NCAA Tournament. (You surely remember how Notre Dame nearly knocked off undefeated Kentucky in last year’s Elite Eight.)
Demetrious Jackson, a player in the running to be a lottery pick come June, had perhaps the best game of his career. Heck, let’s just call it his best. He tied his career high with 27 points, but the previous 27-point output came against St. Francis (PA) in the season-opener. Louisville, even though it’s no longer eligible for the postseason, is still one of the 25 best teams in the country.
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Steve Vasturia, one of the nation’s most overlooked big-shot players, added 20 for Brey’s team. Louisville had some really nice moments from Damion Lee and Donovan Mitchell, but both couldn’t get good looks and/or had costly turnovers down the stretch.
So the Irish are now 9-4 in the league, and certainly in the picture to win the conference’s regular-season title. UNC leads the league at 9-2, but remember it still has two games against Duke and has to go on the road against Miami. Speaking of Miami, it also should be right there at the top near the end, but the Hurricanes also have a lot of tough opponents left. It seems like the team that wins this league will have four losses, minimum, and five is certainly on the table.
If you’re curious about seeding, Notre Dame has got to be a 5 at this point. Brey’s team has won against Louisville, UNC, Iowa and Duke. The three “bad” losses are to Pitt, Monmouth and Alabama, three teams still very much vying for at-large status.