The eagerly-awaited return of Bonzie Colson finally took place last week as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish closed out the regular season with a pair of impressive performances that resulted in a split of their two contests. That gives them a season mark of 18-13 and an 8-10 mark in the ACC.
In the latter case, that’s good for the 10th seed in this tournment. That means that the Irish will begin what they hope will be a long week of play on Tuesday at the conference tournament in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
While the selection process is never guaranteed when it comes to the NCAA tournament, getting to the 20-win mark could help make Notre Dame a more inviting choice, especially after their highly-competitive effort against top-ranked Virginia. However, anything short of that figures to relegate the Irish to the NIT, a prospect they’d presumably accept in grudging fashion.
Notre Dame Basketball’s Week in Review
In their first of two games last week, the Irish had little trouble against Pittsburgh. Bolstered by the enthusiasm of Senior Night and, more importantly, the return of Colson, the Irish ran off 11 unanswered points in the first half. After the break, they were never threatened and coasted to the 73-56 win.
Facing the No. 1 team on their home court, the Irish offered maximum effort and came close to pulling off a stunning upset of the Virginia Cavaliers before dropping a 62-57 decision. The Irish held a four-point lead with 13 minutes remaining and with 3:27 to go, they trailed by a single point at 55-54. Their chance to tie the game or take the lead in the final 30 seconds of action came up short because of a shot clock violation.
ACC Tournament: Game One
Given the ease with which the Irish dispatched Pitt last week, indications are strong that they’ll be able to advance to the second phase of this mountainous task. The 8-23 Panthers had a noteworthy 8-5 record when they entered ACC play and then quickly saw the bottom fall out of their season.
In their 18 conference clashes, Pittsburgh went winless. Given that futility, the expectation is that, barring a major upset, their season will mercifully close in the late afternoon hours of Tuesday.
The Remaining Challenge
Should Pitt be defeated, the next challenge for Notre Dame becomes tougher as they take the court against the tournament’s seventh-seed, the Virginia Tech Hokies, at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. Back on January 27, these two teams battled in South Bend, with a dramatic Irish comeback from a 15-point deficit falling short in the 80-75 defeat.
One of the chief issues in that tentative Wednesday game would be to find a way to shut down the Virginia Tech long-range shooters. The Hokies drilled 14 three-pointers in that earlier victory. Still, Notre Dame will have access to two major weapons that were unavailable in the previous matchup because of injury: Colson and Matt Farrell.
Winning that clash sends the Irish to a Thursday night battle at the same time against second-seeded Duke. The lone meeting between these two teams came in Durham, with Notre Dame entering it having dropped five straight games. What had been a competitive affair ended up with the somewhat misleading final score of 88-66 in favor of the Blue Devils.
The 22-point final deficit came largely in the final 10 minutes, with the depleted Irish running out of gas. Once again, both Colson and Farrell were unable to play because of injury, which offers Notre Dame fans hope about this contest. The reason also stems from the the fact that it would be in neutral surroundings, in contrast to the suffocating presence of the Cameron Crazies.
A loss to Duke wouldn’t necessarily eliminate the Irish from NCAA consideration, especially if they’re able to stay with the Blue Devils. A victory would send Notre Dame to a Friday game against one of four teams: Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse or Wake Forest, with the third-seeded Hurricanes the highest-ranked squad among this group. The winner of that possible clash would advance to Saturday’s conference final.
While expectations are measured with respect to the Irish’s chances in the ACC’s, the wild card of having Colson back could make things interesting. He averaged a double-double in his two games last week and offers Notre Dame a badly-needed injection of hope when it comes to being chosen on Selection Sunday.