Notre Dame might be regretting its move to the ACC right now. The Irish are 11-9 overall, but just 2-5 in the conference.
They have spent their last two games on the road, dropping a close one at Florida State and then another one at Wake Forest. The ACC is fairly stacked this season, but the lack of competitiveness from the Irish is disappointing. The loss of Jerian Grant is easy to point to when looking at these conference losses.
Without Grant, the team lost 19-plus points but he also had a tendency to turn the ball over in crunch time (see: Dec. 21st vs Ohio State). The overall productivity of the offense has just dropped, and even though the Irish have kept games close, the execution and ability to generate a lead has disappeared.
The Irish lost on a floater with just four seconds remaining against the Seminoles. Notre Dame never had control of this game, but made a furious rally in the second half. They just couldn’t dig themselves out of a hole established in the first.
Against Wake Forest, the Irish held a lead with less than two-and-a-half minutes to play. The Demon Deacons immediately took back the lead, and never gave it up. Over the final 30-seconds, Wake cashed in six free throws while the Irish missed three straight three-point attempts.
Looking at the schedule, the Irish really only have four or five games left that they should win. Notre Dame still has to play at No. 2 Syracuse, at Virginia, No. 18 Pitt, and at North Carolina. Pomeroy ratings give the Irish just four more wins this season. Clearly not enough to make the NCAA Tournament, even after beating Duke. They pretty much have to upset Syracuse and Pitt to get a bid at this point.
Tonight, the Irish will host Virginia, a team that is just on the outside of the AP Top 25. The Cavaliers are 15-5 and an even more impressive 6-1 in the ACC. Their lone conference loss came at Duke.
Virginia is extremely efficient on defense, with the fourth best D rating in the country. Opponents shoot just 37.8-percent from the field against the Cavaliers (ninth best in the country). They also force turnovers on 20-percent of their opponents possessions.
The Notre Dame defense hasn’t been all that solid this season. The Irish are allowing opponents to shoot just over 44-percent from the field. They are especially bad at defending the three point line, allowing nearly 37-percent shooting. They are also bad at forcing turnovers. While that may seem dismal, the good news is that Notre Dame doesn’t foul very often which will help tonight as the Cavaliers are pretty good at getting to the free throw line.
But even when Virginia gets to the charity stripe, they don’t seem to capitalize on it and connect on just 66-percent of attempts. At the other end of the court, the Irish struggle to get to the free throw line which plays into the Cavaliers who don’t foul very often.
This is a strength vs strength game, but it plays into Virginia’s hands. They can simultaneously shut down the Irish offense while scoring regularly against a mediocre defense.
If the Irish want to start making noise in the ACC it has to start Tuesday night with a win over the Cavaliers at the Joyce Center in South Bend. But I don’t see that happening. Notre Dame’s losing streak stretches to three as Virginia comes to town and gets the win.