I have been all over the place the last couple of days so apologies for not posting a UNC recap.
Quickly, that was probably the most encouraging loss of the season. Obviously, they could have used a few more rebounds, but they followed the recipe for success - kept Joel Berry in check, hit timely threes, and returned to form from the charity stripe.
The Irish withstood Tar Heel runs and able to claw back in the game. They were down four in the closing seconds, but just couldn’t close the deal like they have in previous close games.
Now, onto Wake Forest.
Tuesday will mark the seventh all-time meeting between Notre Dame and Wake Forest. The series is tied at three with ND having won the last three matchups.
The Irish swept the Demon Deacons a season ago. ND downed Wake at home 85-62 and gutted out a win at Wake 69-58 behind a great game from Zach Auguste.
The most notable matchup between the two programs came at the 2000 NIT Championship Game, which Wake won 71-61. However, the most important matchup as far as Irish fans are concerned came in the first round of the 2014 ACC Tournament.
The Demon Deacons comfortably downed ND 81-69 and provided the final punctuation on the worst season of the Brey era. The importance of the game was not what happened on the court, but rather what took place after the game.
Before heading back to South Bend, Brey gathered all of his returning players in a room at the Greensboro Coliseum to move on from the disastrous 2013-14 campaign and set the foundation for the following season. Leaders like Pat Connaughton emerged and ever since that meeting, the program has had a different, winning tenor.
The Demon Deacons are starting to climb out of the basement of the ACC - a place they have inhabited ever since the inexplicable firing of Dino Gaudio in 2010.
Wake comes into Tuesday’s contest having won two straight with a 14-9 overall record and a 5-6 conference mark. They currently reside at a tie for 10th in the crowded ACC middle of the pack.
The Deacs have hung with some of the better teams of the ACC, but haven’t been able to finish them off for a win. Their best chance to capture a signature victory came on Jan. 28 when they had Duke on the ropes at home, but a Luke Kennard three in the final seconds helped the Blue Devils escape Winston-Salem with the win.
The best win for the Demon Deacons do date is a 96-79 home win over Miami. Wake’s offense will provide a challenge for the Irish defense as they have averages 86.2 ppg in their last seven contests.
John Collins leads Wake with 17.6 ppg, while Bryant Crawford is second on the team averaging 14.9 ppg. Collins is also a force on the glass as the sophomore averages 9.4 rpg.
The Irish have lost four straight and fell out of the AP poll this week for the first time since early December. Despite Sunday’s defeat, the Irish showed signs of emerging from their offensive rut.
Matt Farrell still had some unnecessary turnovers, but he also had some effective drives and hit some timely threes. V.J. Beachem had a strong second half, while Bonzie Colson played well despite the UNC’s significant height advantage.
If those three players can play according to form Tuesday, the Irish will be fine. The value of this game is obviously regaining some confidence and putting an end to the four-game losing streak, but an ancillary benefit of playing a team like Wake on your home court is getting John Mooney some necessary minutes.
The freshman is the perfect strech-four and provides the Irish will another much-needed big body and offensive option in the front court. Brey was not going to throw him in the deep end at North Carolina, but the Wake game is the perfect situation to get him meaningful minutes.
Martin Geben and Austin Torres are clearly not offensive threats, but they have struggled getting rebounds and doing the “dirty work” in recent games, so if the Irish are to make a run in the final stretch of the ACC season, meaningful contributions from Mooney will be a must.
This a must-win not by what a win would mean, but what a loss would signify. Notre Dame will struggle with Wake’s offense at times and if this were in Winston-Salem, I would be singing a different tune. I can’t see ND struggling at home against the Demon Deacons. Vegas has the Irish as a 6.5 favorite and they will cover.