Notre Dame is set to square off with the Duke Blue Devils in the 2017 ACC Tournament Championship – their second trip to the ACC title game in three years and the third straight year the Irish will face Duke in the ACC Tourney. Notre Dame has won the last two ACC Tourney showdowns with Duke – can they make it three in a row?
Earlier this year Duke made short order of Notre Dame on the Irish’s home court. Duke beat the Irish 84-74 after jumping out by 12 points in the first half and coasting to victory. The Irish were as ice cold as the winter weather in South Bend in their January 30th loss to the Blue Devils. They hit on just 7 of 21 three point attempts and made just 67.9% of their free throws. That free throw percentage might be OK for some teams, but Notre Dame led the nation in free throwing shooting this year at just over 80%.
That loss to Duke, however, was right in the middle of Notre Dame’s mid-season funk that nearly derailed what has now become yet another very good season from Mike Brey’s troops. The Irish loss to Duke was their third in a row of a string of four straight losses that left them 17-7 on the season.
Notre Dame is 8-1 since that four game losing streak with the lone loss coming to Louisville on the road. Three of those wins have come over ranked opponents as well – two over Florida State and one over Virginia. The win over Virginia was Notre Dame’s first win over the Cavaliers in almost 40 years.
Duke has turned their season around a bit as well. Duke suffered back to back losses to Syracuse and Miami last month, they are 4-1 since with three of those wins coming in the last three nights.
Notre Dame is no stranger to beating Duke in the ACC Tournament. Last year the Irish beat Duke 84-79 in OT in the quarterfinals before falling to North Carolina in the semis. Two years ago the Irish took down Duke 74-64 in the semifinals before advancing to the finals and beating North Carolina for their first ACC Tournament title.
Of course, Duke is no stranger to beating Notre Dame on the football field either. The Blue Devils upset Notre Dame in 2016 prompting the abrupt firing of defensive coordinator Brian Vangorder. Perhaps we owe them a bit of a thank you for that one.
Duke’s late season slip-ups forced dropped them to the 5th seed in the ACC Tournament. That 5th seed doesn’t carry the same double bye that Notre Dame was given as the #3 seed.
Since the ACC Tournament has gone to the current format with double byes going to the top 4 seeds, no team has won the tournament without the double bye. For Duke to become the first team to do that, they would have to win their fourth game in as many nights when they take on the Irish later tonight.
Notre Dame’s win over Florida State might look closer on paper than Duke’s semifinal win over North Carolina, but the Dukies win likely took much more out of them. North Carolina held a double digit lead in the second half before Duke came storming back to win relatively easy. That comeback, combined with the energy they spent the previous two nights, should give Notre Dame an edge heading into tonight.
Will that edge be enough? Not if Notre Dame shoots they way they did in January against Duke. The Irish have been lights out from three point range so far in the ACC Tournament. If they keep that up tonight, there is a very good chance that tomorrow at this time we could be talking about the Irish taking another ACC Tournament.
Game time is 9:00 PM ET and will be televised on ESPN.