Notre Dame kicks off a critical three-game road trip Thursday as the Irish head south to take on Miami.
The Irish have struggled at Miami is recent years – Notre Dame has not won in Miami since joining the ACC and has a 2-3 overall record against the Hurricanes since 2013. Thursday will be the 21st all-time meeting between the two schools with the series deadlocked at 10-10.
The Hurricanes swept the Irish a season ago. Notre Dame’s trip to Miami began an offensive funk for the Irish that lasted for much of the latter half of the regular season last year. The Hurricanes defeated the Irish 79-70 and the game was never that close.
In the second meeting, this time in South Bend, the Irish put forth a lifeless performance and were blown out at home for one of the few instances during Brey’s tenure.
Notre Dame’s two wins over the Hurricanes in ACC play were both memorable games. The first win came in February 2015 where the Hurricanes got out to a big lead in South Bend behind the hot shooting of Angel Rodriguez (who I swear was in college for eight years) before Jerian Grant led an impressive second half comeback for the Irish.
ND’s last win over Miami came in the quarterfinals of the 2015 ACC Tournament. The Irish built an 18-point halftime lead, but the Hurricanes mounted a furious comeback to actually take the lead with a few minutes remaining in the game. Jerian Grant again took over the game and helped the Irish survive to a 70-63 victory.
Miami comes into Thursday with an 11-3 mark and a 1-1 record in conference. The Hurricanes have won seven of their last eight games, but their season has had little surprise – they have beaten everyone they should have, but do not have a signature win.
Miami’s best wins to date are a neutral-court victory over Stanford (a bubble team at best) and N.C. State at home in their ACC opener. The Hurricanes lost by 15 to Syracuse in their previous game.
Jim Larranaga has really put Miami on the map as a basketball school. When he left George Mason, many figured his taking of the job was a nice way to spend his final years in the profession. Instead, Larranaga has created a winning culture in the basketball program at a football school – not dissimilar to what Brey has done at ND.
The Hurricanes do not have the talent that they have had in the previous four years where they consistently finished in the top half of the ACC standings, but they are still a tournament team and are especially dangerous at home.
It is funny how certain teams lack fan support, yet maintain a strong home court advantage – Miami is Exhibit A of the phenomena. The Hurricanes have won 23-straight home games coming into Thursday’s matchup, but rarely have sell outs and student turnout is sparse at best (i.e. tickets are going for as low at $6 on Stubhub for Thursday’s game).
Obviously, good teams win at home and Miami has been a top-20 team in the country for the breadth of that streak, but it’s interesting that the Hurricanes have has such success against elite programs when BankUnited Center is easily in the bottom half of the ACC as far as intimidating venues/crowds go.
In challenging road games last season (Miami, Florida State, Virginia) the Irish dug holes in the first half that they were unable to recover from.
They key for the Irish Thursday will be to withstand the early surge from the Hurricanes like they did against Pitt. This is just Notre Dame’s second true road game and they will have to exhibit the same mental and physical toughness they exemplified at Pittsburgh.
“Game situations” is the hot phrase around the program. The coaches and players feel that if the game is in doubt in the final minutes, they have enough poise and experience to make the big plays to win the game.
A 2-1 mark for this road trip would be a huge win for ND and Thursday’s game is the most gettable game of this tough trifecta of games.
As witnessed by their demolishment of Duke last night, Florida State could very well be the best team in the country and playing at Virginia Tech is no bargain. If the Irish could start of this road trip with a win, that would take some of the pressure off.
Road games are where veteran leadership takes centerstage. Vasturia made winning plays at Pitt and the Irish will need big performances from their leaders – Farrell, Colson, Beachem, Vasturia. Beachem’s good game against vs. Clemson will set him into gear, while strong performances from Farrell, Colson, and Vasturia have been a given all season.
If Notre Dame’s juniors and seniors play well, the Irish have a great chance of leaving Coral Gables with a win. If they don’t, expect a similar result to last year’s games.
Dick Vitale is the analyst for ESPN’s broadcast Thursday. Prepare with the mute button or earplugs accordingly.