After exorcising one demon in Saturday’s win over Syracuse, the Irish will look to get another monkey off their back Tuesday as Notre Dame hosts Virginia.
The Irish moved up one spot to No. 14 in this week’s AP poll, while Virginia leapfrogged ND and now sits at No. 12.
Tuesday will be the 11th all-time meeting between the two programs and UVA has a dominant 9-1 advantage over the Irish. Notre Dame’s only win over the Cavaliers came in the first meeting in 1981.
The Cavaliers have been Notre Dame’s kryptonite since the Irish joined the ACC. With the the exception of the 2015 game in South Bend, the ND-UVA matchups have not been close. In the four matchups as ACC foes, Virginia has won by an average of 13.2 points.
The most staggering statistic regarding UVA’s dominance in the series is Notre Dame, a team who likes to push the pace and get out in transition, has accounted for just two fast-break points in the last four meetings against Virginia.
Tony Bennett’s crew plays the best defense year in and year out and while UVA might not have the offensive capabilities of previous seasons, the Cavaliers’ stingy D can make the most efficient offenses look bad.
The pack-line principles of UVA’s defense close off gaps, limit second-chance opportunities, and contest shooters on the perimeter. It is formula that has consistently stifled ACC opponents and has helped Virginia to 50 ACC wins since the 2013-14 season. The Cavaliers have also tallied two ACC regular-season championships in that span.
Part of the difficulty of playing Virginia is trying to avoid pressing on offense. If Virginia has an eight-point lead, that feels like the equivalent of other teams having a 20-point advantage.
UVA comes into Tuesday’s contest with a 15-3 record and a 5-2 mark in the ACC. Despite the gaudy record, Virgina’s lone marquee win came against Louisville. The Wahoos have lost to the other top teams they have faced this season (Florida State and West Virginia).
Tuesday’s game against the Irish commences a brutal two-game stretch for UVA as they follow up their road trip to South Bend with a road game at No. 1 Villanova on Sunday.
London Parantes, who has been at UVA since the Ralph Sampson days, leads the team in points and assists. Parantes is one of the best point guards in the country and has an uncanny understanding of the flow of the game. He can be a scorer or facilitator depending on what the game calls for.
Virginia not only tests a team with its defense, but also makes their opposition guard them for most of the shot clock. The Cavaliers are most comfortable with the game in the 50s or 60s. Most teams lose patience against a meticulous squad like UVA, the senior-laden Irish should have the experience to combat any frustration.
There are going to be instances Tuesday where ND’s offense is going to struggle, but the Irish can’t let any offensive struggles negatively effect their performance on the defensive end.
I equate Virginia basketball with Navy football. Both programs are incredibly well-coached and avoid beating themselves. Due to their styles, Virginia and Navy are also great frontrunners, which places an enhanced importance for Notre Dame to get off to a good start.
Tuesday, like most games, the Irish will go as Matt Farrell goes. The UVA defense can force turnovers and fluster opposing point guards and for as good as Farrell has been this year, he has had stretches where he was turnover prone.
If Farrell plays a good game and the offense clicks like it did Saturday, the Irish will win the game. Having the offense click against Virginia, however, is easier said than done. ND has to play true to their efficient offensive form. Virginia is tough to beat in the best of circumstances and they are nearly impossible to defeat if you play into their hands and commit unforced errors.
V.J. Beachem’s offensive explosion Saturday was great, but the Irish can’t count on him going for 30 against UVA – the senior will be the focus of the Cavaliers defense. Production from the bench (Gibbs, Pfleuger, Torres, Ryan) will be critical.
The importance of home-court advantage cannot be overstated. The energy in Purcell Pavilion gives the Irish a significant edge and if ND gets off to that all-important good start, the emotion of the home crowd will be enough to exorcise the final ACC demon and carry the Irish to victory.