Notre Dame Basketball: Let ACC Play Begin


Notre Dame basketball has done everything expected of them thus far. But as ACC play begins this weekend, what’s Notre Dame’s real expectations?

At 11-2, Notre Dame is heading into conference play as geared up as possible. They have two top 25 games behind them, even if they didn’t win, and a record worthy of keeping them in ACC contention debates. None of this means anything, though, once they tip off against Pitt on December 31.

In college sports, nothing matters before conference play begins. You can go 13-0 and beat everyone and anyone outside your conference, but as without a winning conference record, it means almost nothing. For Notre Dame, their real challenge begins now.

The Fighting Irish begin their ACC play against Pitt. From there, they face 14 different ACC teams in 18 conference games. Of those 14 teams, five of them currently sit within the top 25.

Notre Dame will play Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Florida State, and Virginia all at least once during the second half of their season. This isn’t an uncommon ACC schedule, but it shows just how difficult the Irish have it playing in the toughest conference in college basketball.

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This is nothing to worry about for Notre Dame. They have to play a few tough teams, yes. But the Irish are one of those difficult teams as well. Notre Dame currently sits at #24 in the country and has competed with two top 25 teams already this season.

It isn’t like there’s an ACC team that is still undefeated. Everyone in the conference has taken early season losses to big teams already. At 11-2, Notre Dame is right in the middle of the ACC contenders.

The Irish’s only mistake this season hasn’t been their losses to Villanova and Purdue, but not developing a bench during easy games. Notre Dame has played eight games this season where they’ve won by double digits. Outside of those eight games and their two losses, the Irish have played two teams that were considered “close competition.”

What they didn’t do during the 11 games of noncompetitive games was build their younger players to help their starters. In the long run, playing seven players throughout a game and having your starters play 25-plus minutes a night is going to hurt the Irish. In a conference as competitive as the ACC, Notre Dame can’t afford to play their key players 30 minutes a game.

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Before I say that Notre Dame is in trouble, though, let me remind you, they have one of the most talented backcourts in the NCAA. Notre Dame may not have depth, and it may cost them games down the road, but if their starters are hot, there are few teams in the country that can beat them.

Their front court may be a problem against some teams, but if Bonzie Colson can handle the paint the Irish usually find a way to win. He may be 6’5, but his 16.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game prove he’s capable of controlling the post.

It’s ACC season. It’s time to put everything Notre Dame has done and failed to do behind them. Because when tip-off starts in Pittsburgh Saturday, the Irish’s season begins. Their chances are high for a team many considered lucky even to get into the NCAA tournament this season. The Fighting Irish have everything it takes, though.

If their stars hold up, and their unsung heroes sing, Notre Dame could find themselves the leaders of the toughest conference in basketball.