Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 9, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 46 of 55 NOV. 9, 2019 47 MEN'S BASKETBALL season. Though, considering Notre Dame went only 1-9 away from home last year, winning two of these three roadies might be a blessing. Home games against Florida State and Miami come late in the season, when perhaps this Irish group might be better finding its way. STEALS Looking at this list of conference juggernauts, with an added non-con- ference road game in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against a very good Maryland team, it's hard to find much thievery available for the Irish here. Non-conference (one): at Mary- land (23-11). ACC (eight): at North Carolina (29-7), at NC State (24-12), Louis- ville (20-14), at Florida State (29-8), at Clemson (20-14), at Virginia (35-3), at Duke (32-6) and North Carolina. Clemson struggled last season af- ter making the Sweet 16 two years ago, so there's a shot there. The sea- son opener for Notre Dame against a new-look North Carolina team might bring another chance to steal one, as could the rematch with the Tar Heels at Purcell Pavilion late in the season. Beyond that, this looks like a tough category for the Irish to make much headway. Moral of the story: if Notre Dame wants to make a charge at the NCAA Tournament, it better hold up during a busy November that includes seven games, and then do much better than the 11-8 home record it posted last season. SEASON PREDICTION Brey does his best work when his team is considered an afterthought, as it is this year. The best example comes from 2014-15 when his Irish went 32-6 overall, won the ACC Tournament title and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament after going 15-17 the previous season. But 2019-20 doesn't carry the same bounce-back vibe of five years ago, so even getting into the NCAA Tour- nament discussion this season would be an important step for the program. We predict Notre Dame to go 18-13 overall and 9-11 in conference play, which will likely leave the Irish on the outside looking in. ✦ Irish Picked To Finish Seventh In ACC Popular opinion in the ACC this year is to go ahead and pencil in Duke, North Carolina, Louisville and Virginia as the elites, then watch the other 11 teams battle below. The questions remaining are how will the new 20-game conference schedule impact NCAA Tour- nament bids, and can Notre Dame can find its way back into March Madness after a two-year absence. Following is a synopsis league look based on the preseason projections voted on by the ACC media. 1. Duke — Remarkably, the Blue Devils haven't won the ACC regular-season title since 2010, but with another star-studded freshman haul and future NBA roster the consensus is that drought will end. 2. North Carolina — Talk about reloading; the Tar Heels lost their top five scorers from last year, but another stellar recruiting class led by guard Cole An- thony keeps them in the conversation as ACC champs. 3. Louisville — With 20 wins and an NCAA Tour- nament berth last season, first-year head coach Chris Mack exceeded expectations. Six of the top seven scorers return, led by Jordan Nwora. 4. Virginia — Picking the Cavaliers fourth seems absurd after they went 35-3 overall and 16-2 in conference play last year en route to their first-ever national championship, but rebuilding looms. 5. Florida State — Don't expect the Seminoles to match the 29 overall and 13 league wins from last season, but they'll still be one of the league's biggest and deepest teams (again). 6. North Carolina State — Missing the NCAA Tournament last season after going 24-12 overall and 9-9 in the league was bitter for the Wolfpack, but six of its top seven scorers return. 7. Notre Dame — When healthy, the Fighting Irish started 10-3 last year with wins over Purdue (Elite Eight) and Illinois. Injuries and youth led to a last-place league finish, so the only way to go is up. 8. Syracuse — Atypically, the Orange return only one player who averaged seven points last year and hasn't recruited well enough to stay among the elites of the league. 9. Miami — Hurricanes head coach Jim Larranaga has never had back-to-back "down" seasons, so after last year's five-win ACC debacle expect a bounce back. 10. Pittsburgh — After joining Notre Dame last season with only three conference wins, second-year head coach Jeff Capel has better footing and a solid returning cast for the Panthers to make a jump. 11. Clemson — On a downward slide since the Tigers went to the Sweet 16 as a No. 5 seed two years ago, only two regulars return from a team that missed the Big Dance last year. 12. Georgia Tech — A sub-.500 team last season, head coach Josh Pastner returns a solid backcourt that should allow the Yellow Jackets to be more competitive. 13. Boston College — In five seasons, Eagles head coach Jim Christian has never pulled his team out of the bottom third of the league standings, so expect more of the same. 14. Virginia Tech — The Hokies made the Sweet 16 last year for the second time in school history, but head coach Buzz Williams left for Texas A&M and Tech returns only one starter. 15. Wake Forest — But for a $18 million buyout, Demon Deacons head coach Danny Manning would likely already be out of a job. He lost a dozen games last year by at least 15 points. — Todd D. Burlage Mixed Bag In Two Exhibition Wins There were both positive and negative takeaways — and some troubling similarities to last year's 14-19 season — during Notre Dame's two exhibition games: a 72-43 win over Capital University Oct. 29 and a 61-51 victory versus Bellarmine University Nov. 1. The primary positive was senior forward John Mooney picked up where he left off last season with a pair of double-doubles (12 points and 11 rebounds versus Capital, and 15 and 12 against Bellarmine). The Irish defense also played well in each win, holding their two foes to a com- bined 31.5 percent shooting (35 of 111). The negative is that the poor long-range shoot- ing that plagued Notre Dame last season resur- faced in both games (24.5 percent). The Irish shot only 4 of 18 from long range against Capital and 8 of 31 against Bellarmine. At one point in the latter game, Notre Dame missed eight straight and 10 of 11 three-point tries. — Todd D. Burlage Senior forward Mamadi Diakite is expected to lead the way for defending national champion Virginia. PHOTO BY MATT RILEY

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