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.
That 21 point comeback is the greatest in @NDmbb history, surpassing the 20 pt rally vs. Villanova on 2-18-12 to win 74-70 in OT.
— Alan Wasielewski (@NDmbbSID) March 8, 2018
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:
— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) March 8, 2018
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.