After notching wins in the first two legs of their road trip, No. 15 Notre Dame faces their biggest challenge to date as the Irish travel to Tallahassee to take on No. 10 Florida State, Wednesday.
The Seminoles could very well be the best team in the country. For years, FSU possessed size, length, and athleticism, which made them a formidable opponent, but this year they also have a potent offense, which makes them a legitimate national title contender.
Florida State suffered their first conference loss Saturday at UNC. Despite the loss, the Seminoles played well and playing well on the road has been far from a trademark of the program over the years. Florida State is always good for a big win and a few upsets at home, but would often fold in hostile atmospheres – that didn’t happen Saturday.
The Seminoles have a 16-2 record and have four wins over top-25 opponents. Wednesday’s game vs. Notre Dame represents their fifth consecutive game against a ranked foe. FSU also has a notable win over probable tournament team Minnesota – their resume to date is as good as anyone’s in the country.
Dwayne Bacon leads FSU with 17.8 ppg, while Jonathan Isaac is second in the team averaging 12.5 ppg and leads the ‘Noles with 7.5 rpg.
The Irish struggled in their trip to Tallahassee a season ago. FSU dominated ND to the tune of a 77-56 victory and this game took place in the midst of Notre Dame’s offensive struggles in the second half of last season. (In case your are wondering, there will be no mention of the 2011 NCAA Tournament game between ND and FSU, still too soon).
Notre Dame’s last win against FSU came in December of 2014 and I believe it was one of the biggest wins in program history. This game was ND’s first ACC game of their second season in the conference following a disastrous 6-12 conference mark in their inaugural season.
The 2014-15 Notre Dame team had talent, but they needed belief and the win over FSU gave them that belief and confidence. The Irish came out firing and the contest was Zach Auguste’s coming out party. ND won the game handily and was the origin of the wave of ACC success that has followed.
As mentioned in our previous two previews, if the Irish were able to record two wins on this tough road trip, that would be a tremendous accomplishment. They already have two, so in in a sense, they are playing with house money Wednesday.
As tough as this road stretch is, there is no let up – the upcoming slate may be even more challenging. After Notre Dame plays FSU, they host Syracuse and Virginia – a pair of teams that have had their number since joining the ACC.
Vegas has Florida State as a five-point favorite and the Seminoles’ advantage in the front court is obvious. Brey, however, as never altered his gameplan or philosophy when his opposition has a significant size advantage.
Think back to the Kentucky Elite Eight game and, more recently, the Purdue game in December. Both of those teams had a tremendous size advantage, but for as much trouble as the Irish may have on the glass, Brey thinks his opposition will have an equally tough time matching up with his four-around-one offense.
Team rebounding can negate some of the size advantage and Brey bets that the headaches the Irish can cause a team on the defensive end will force his opponent to change their philosophy and go small. Now, we saw Purdue do that and have great success, but the point is Brey and the Irish dictate how the game is played and force the opponent to adapt to ND’s style.
We’ve talked about the importance of senior leadership ad nauseam during this road trip, but its importance in undeniable.
It is pretty simple: if Farrell, Vasturia, and Colson play well, the Irish will have a great chance of winning, but if they don’t, this game could get away from them. Doubting this team is futile, they make winning plays when winning plays need to be made.
To escape Tallahassee with a win will require ND’s best and most complete performance to date. That’s a big ask, but I wouldn’t put it past them.
Follow along at The Otter Room’s Twitter page, @otterroom, for rapid reaction and live tweets throughout the game.