After a thrilling comeback Wednesday night to keep their tournament hopes alive, Notre Dame ran into a buzzsaw on Thursday night. The Duke offensive juggernaut handled the Irish with relative ease and ended their too-brief ACC Tournament run.
Marvin Bagley III completely stole the show, scoring 33 points on just 23 field goal attempts and grabbing 17 boards. Bagley is an easy top-five pick in next year’s draft, but his effort is at the level of someone at the end of draft boards lobbying for a spot. He can shoot from outside, but he’s just devastating inside as he towers over just about everyone else in college basketball.
Duke was able to isolate Bagley inside because of some outrageous shooting early in the ballgame. Grayson Allen hit five threes seemingly before the first commercial break, and the Irish had to adjust. Notre Dame had a lot of success limiting threes after that initial Allen burst, but they did so at the expense of points in the paint. Duke, especially Bagley, got whatever it wanted at the rim, and Irish defensive stops were few and far between in the second half.
The game was pretty much decided in a frustrating three minute stretch early in the second half. Duke was able to extend their 4-point lead to 12 thanks to some horrific turnovers from the Irish that led to easy buckets on the other end. The lead hovered in that low teens range for most of the rest of the game until Notre Dame waved their white flag late.
As was the case for much of the season, Notre Dame’s inability to hit threes was the biggest difference on paper. The Irish shot just 22% (5 of 23) against a team that was daring them to shoot it two steps behind the arc. You hate to say it, but you have to wonder the difference Matt Ryan could’ve made for this team this year.
Duke was content to let Bonzie Colson and Martin Geben operate in the paint with space. They added 18 and 14 points, respectively, with another 10 coming from John Mooney. Unfortunately, the Irish only got 20 points combined from Matt Farrell and TJ Gibbs on a combined 8 for 23 shooting. If one of them shot well, the Irish have a chance.
Farrell did have a career-high 12 assists in his final ACC game.
I would be remiss not to mention the 6 missed free throws, which was very unlike this group. Add in the -11 rebounding margin, and that’s just not a recipe for an upset.
— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) March 9, 2018
And Now, We Wait
For his part, Mike Brey said afterwards that he is done campaigning and that the team would be “honored” to play in the NIT. I suspect that’s where the Irish will end up. Most prognosticators seem to think so.
There was some help elsewhere, as Utah, Texas, Marquette, and Baylor all lost last night. But there were some key wins by others (Providence, Alabama), and ultimately, Notre Dame’s resume just doesn’t really stack up. Any mention of some leeway for the Colson injury is almost immediately met by mentions of Ball State and Indiana, which makes sense. It does certainly feel unfair because with Bonzie, this team almost certainly has at least 2 or 3 more key ACC wins that would easily put them over the top. But, hey, that’s life sometimes.
If you’re looking for any sources of hope, there are a couple. For one, the team sheets that the committee uses to evaluate teams now includes so-called “predictive” rankings. Unlike “results-based” measures that just care about wins and losses, these measures try to evaluate how well you actually played. These measures love Notre Dame’s near misses against good opponents and a bunch of their blowouts against decent ones.
Notre Dame ranks 31st in KenPom, 32nd in ESPN’s BPI, and 27th in Sagarin. This is better than most other bubble teams, although Louisville is right there, and Baylor and Texas aren’t too far behind. Most everyone else, you’ll have to drop into the 40s and 50s in these rankings to find them.
Since this is pretty new, no one really knows how the committee will weigh these measures versus the traditional W/L measures.
Factoring in the Injury
Then, there is the Colson injury. The only remote comparison I can think of is Jim Boeheim’s suspension in 2016. Syracuse did not have a very good resume with Boeheim and certainly not without him. Many bracketologists had them missing the tournament altogether. Not only did Syracuse make it, however, but they made it easily with a 10 seed. So, that was an ACC team with good analytic rankings and a big asterisk hanging over their unimpressive resume. Maybe the committee will do something similar for the Irish.
The committee did something similar for Wichita State that year. Fred VanVleet missed some time early, and the Shockers lost a few of those games. The committee gave them one of the last four spots, though, without much of a resume but with some outstanding analytics and that injury to consider.
So who knows? The committee has been changing how they do things over the last couple years, and Notre Dame’s case is about as unique as they’ve had to deal with. Maybe they’ll talk themselves into an Irish bid. I’d give it maybe a 10-15% chance but think most likely that the Irish will be in the “First Four Out” category and get a top seed in the NIT.
Nothing left to do except wait until Sunday.