Historic Irish Comeback Sets Up Play-In Game Against Duke

For about 30 minutes last night, the Irish continued their terrible play from Tuesday afternoon and looked about ready to bow out of the ACC Tournament and straight into the NIT. But out of nowhere, the Irish, led by their seniors, mounted a comeback for the ages to take down the Virginia Tech Hokies and keep their postseason hopes alive.

To come back from down 21 in just 15 minutes, you need to start doing everything right. The Irish did exactly that. The Hokies’ Chris Clarke hit a three with 10:57 left in the game. From then on, the Irish only allowed 5 points until Virginia Tech hit a couple desperation threes at the end. Yes, 5 points. In over ten minutes of game time. The energy on the defensive end in that time increased immeasurably from where it had been the previous 30 minutes. The Irish forced the Hokies into some bad shots late in the shot clock, forced a few turnovers, and finally started cleaning up the defensive glass.

Notre Dame did a total 180 on the offensive end as well, scoring 50 in the second half after an atrocious 21-point first half output. A run of three-straight threes from Bonzie Colson, Matt Farrell, and TJ Gibbs right after that Clarke three was the most rapid swing. But beyond that, there was an intent and a crispness that just wasn’t there earlier in the game. Getting to the free throw line was probably the biggest factor, although I count 12 of the free throws as coming in the last two minutes when the Hokies were fouling on purpose. The Irish also shot 57% from the field in the second half, including 7 of 13 (54%) from three.

Like I said, you need to just start doing everything right, and Notre Dame basically did for the last ten minutes of this game. And let’s not forget a little luck o’ the Irish:

After a brutal 1 of 10 first half, Colson went 3 of 4 in the second including that shot of the game and finished with 12 points and 7 boards. Farrell had a game-high 22, and interestingly, the Irish had a little success using him off-the-ball a little more and Gibbs initiating the offense. This set-up gave Farrell a few open threes in rhythm, and Gibbs finished with a team-high 7 assists in part thanks to this wrinkle. Let’s also not forget Rex Pflueger, who was excellent, adding 14 points and a game-high 9 rebounds.

Win, and You’re In

As it stands now, the college basketball media seems entirely split as to whether the Irish are deserving of an at-large bid. Obviously, some of that depends on what the other bubble teams still playing in their conference tournaments do. In that sense, Washington, Arizona State, Syracuse, and Oklahoma did the Irish a favor last night. Texas and Marquette both nearly lost ones that would’ve eliminated them entirely. We should be actively rooting against Louisville, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Providence, and UCLA while we wait all day for the Irish to tip off tonight.

Ultimately, I have my doubts. On paper, the resume just doesn’t stack up quite yet. I think the committee will fall back on those dreadful numbers against top competition and keep Notre Dame out. Let’s also not sugarcoat it, the Irish have two of the worst losses of any team on the bubble (neutral vs. IU and home vs. Ball State), and everyone is now quick to point out the obvious, that Bonzie Colson played in those games. There are just too many outs for the committee to justify passing on the Irish in favor of another team. Just my two cents.

With all that said, assuming at least a couple of those other games break the right way, Notre Dame has a very simple opportunity in front of them. Beat Duke tonight (7pm ET, ESPN), and I think very few will argue that the Irish are in the tournament field. That would be the marquee victory that the Irish have very narrowly missed out on all ACC season. Then, all of a sudden the resume looks more in line with most pundits’ subjective perceptions that this team with Bonzie is NCAA Tournament worthy.

Matching Up with Duke

Easier said than done, of course. Duke, as you might have heard, is a good basketball team. The Blue Devils are battling it out for a 1 seed themselves and, more generally, I think Coach K values the ACC Tournament on its own merits. Duke wiped out a short-handed Irish team in Durham a few weeks ago in a game that was only close in the second half thanks to some outrageous John Mooney shooting that isn’t going to be replicated tonight.

If Notre Dame comes out as flat tonight as they did last night, Duke will finish the job that Virginia Tech couldn’t. The Irish need a real 40 minute effort, which won’t be easy given how gassed the team looked throughout most of last night’s game. I’m going to double-down on my Martin Geben pick to click from last night. Geben didn’t do much last night. But he’ll need to neutralize Wendell Carter on the glass and maybe get him into foul trouble. The pick-and-roll with Geben should also be more successful against Duke than Virginia Tech’s packline-lite defense from last night.

This time of year is always dominated by NCAA Tournament seeding and bubble talk (and this article is obviously no exception). That said, I think that sells short just how freakin’ fun Championship Week and this tournament is. I want to keep going and make a fourth-straight semifinal, purely for continuing ACC Tournament excitement. We also owe these guys some revenge for stealing a banner that our guys couldn’t quite close out last year (but probably would’ve if Bonzie didn’t roll his ankle). So let’s just keep chugging along in this tournament and see if we can make some more ACC history before worrying about the NCAAs. Anything can happen this time of year.

By |2018-05-09T22:25:26+00:00March 8th, 2018|Basketball|24 Comments

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Joe Schueller

I need to confess. I nearly turned it off. I completely lost faith. I ended up using the ESPN app on my AppleTV and had the game on simultaneously with the USWNT game. I’ve never seen a switch flipped like that. It wasn’t like ND was getting unlucky. It was 30 minutes of being thoroughly outplayed and somehow VT got off the gas, and we just pounced. The stretch of 3 different guys making 3’s was amazing. Talk about the T all you want. When Bonz’s first one goes down, everyone seemed to get a little bounce, then Matt, then TJ in transition and BOOM, combine it with a kill and you have a 3 possession 9-0 run.

More importantly, after spending all that energy to erase a 21 point lead, they were able to see it out. That’s amazing. I saw that we ended on a 34-11 run. Tripling up a fellow P5, presumed to be in the tournament team is really really really impressive.

Obviously life would be better if we could just play 40 minutes like that, but life isn’t quite that simple.

It is amazing to me how quickly #narrative turns. After the Virginia game, the Irish were media darlings. The poor performance vs. Pitt Tuesday and digging that hole yesterday seems to have turned that tide. Just about everyone I’ve looked at today has the Irish outside looking in. The IU and BSU losses continue to hang like an albatross. They’re the “go to” for whichever talking head is assigned the anti-ND side of the argument.

It would really take something special to take down Duke tonight. How many miracles can we ask for?

Joe Schueller

For my fellow stat nerds, this was a bizarro Brey win…

Irish were 105.8 offensive efficiency to VT’s 96.9. I don’t have the energy to go through that by the box score, but you have to imagine that 106 is driven largely by the final 10 minutes. If you roughly assume that 34 of the 67 overall possessions were in the 2nd half, then a 50 point half is 147 OE.

Here’s why I say it is bizarro:
VT outshoots ND 48.3 to 47.2
VT takes better care of the ball at 14.9 to ND’s 16.4 TORate
ND wins the game by winning the rebounding battle 26.5 to 19.4 OR% and getting to the line 47.2 to 15.0 FTA/FGA.

In a 6 point win, ND lost the points from 2FG’s 20-34, won the points from 3’s 30-24, and won the FT scoring 21-7. They offset the difference inside the arc from the stripe and used timely 3FG shooting to make the difference. Wild.

Andy Roberts

I don’t see how we can beat Duke coming off consecutive gassers like these. But this team has shown over and over that it can’t be counted out.

I don’t think we’re in without a win tonight. (Thanks again,Carolina refs.) So let’s get it.


What about Brey’s argument to the effect that it’s not even about being one of the top 68, when I have my guys we’re a top 20 team?

Of course the resume is a little weak without Bonzie. If ND is going to “get credit” for the Bonzie injury then you’d have to assume something like an additional 3 wins (out of the 10 losses do we think it is crazy to think that ND would have won 3 more games with Bonzie than without him?). Would a 23-13 team with wins over middle of the pack ACC teams be a much easier team to put in? If so, then as long individual members of the committee take into account the injury I think we are already in (as long as nothing crazy happens with non-tournament teams winning tournament bids).


Duke is primarily playing zone- does that negate the pick and roll action with Geben?

Joe Schueller

We’ve screened the zone, especially even front zones effectively. It does take away Geben on the roll, and you’ll see almost no slips. It does, however, start dribble penetration that lifts the help from the weak side and opens up Marty to “roll” into a pin down or flare screen on the backside guy for an open 3. I don’t think we’ll go completely away from it, but it will be diminished.

I’m more curious to see what Brey does with the ball. If it were me, I’d put it in TJ’s hands. If you’re not making pocket pass decisions on PnR, then let TJ do your initial handle and be the first to shape the defense, then let Matt catch while they’re recovering with the option to catch & shoot or attack. Play him more like a slashing wing than a PG. I’m not sure Brey goes that way because the instinct will be to put the ball in his senior’s hands.


If you’re giving the Irish any benefit of the doubt at all for the Bonzie injury, they have to be in! Look at St Mary’s and their 2 out of conference neutral losses and their only top 50 win is at Gonzaga. I don’t see how you can put them in over Notre Dame and I don’t know how you can put Oklahoma in over Notre Dame with how bad they look. Even Florida St, who looked lifeless for most of yesterday, I don’t see them as better either


Exactly. And ND’s BPI (is that worth anything?) is 32. If that’s even close to being accurate – that’s not even taking into account injures – that would be safely in the field.


I think we should be in, but I don’t trust the committee to put us in.

Although I think Duke is overrated (aren’t they always?), their size combined with our fatigue scares me. We need to shoot well from 3 and it would be nice to get some quality minutes and scoring from Djogo & Mooney.

A lot of minutes from the starters (except Geben) the last 2 days, not that we really had a choice.


Wow. That was an unbelievably gutty performance over the last 10 minutes. What a hell of a comeback.

Brendan R

Hey guys – we set up a gameday chat for today. Join us at http://www.18stripes.com/gameday!