No. 19 Notre Dame will conclude their regular season slate Saturday with a road matchup against No. 8 Louisville.
Saturday will mark the second meeting between the Cardinals and Irish this year. Notre Dame prevailed in the first contest 77-70 and have won all three games between the two teams as ACC foes.
This is the 36th meeting between the two programs and Louisville leads the all-time series 20-15. Saturday will be just the third matchup in Louisville since 2012 and the Irish have won two of the last three games at the Yum! Center.
There is a plethora of scenarios that can decide Notre Dame’s ACC fate, but the simple solution is winning this game. If the Irish are victorious Saturday, they lock up the No. 2 seed in the ACC Tournament and can share the ACC regular season crown with UNC if Duke defeats the Tar Heels Saturday night.
If the Irish lose, however, the scenarios become a little foggier.
In the event of a Notre Dame loss, the Irish could finish anywhere from the No. 3 seed to the No. 5 seed without a double bye. Without going through the exhaustive tie-breaking situations, if ND loses and UNC defeats Duke, the Irish are assured of the No. 3 seed.
If a Notre Dame loss is accompanied by a Duke win, the Irish are more likely to fall to the No. 5 seed. There are myriad moving parts Saturday, but the Irish can squash that commotion if they defeat Louisville – not an easy task.
This game will be decided in the first ten minutes of the game. There is no doubt the Cardinals will come out with a ton of energy Saturday. They are in bounce-back mode after a tough loss at Wake Forest Wednesday and the senior day emotions will be running high.
The task for Notre Dame is weathering the early storm. Although the Cardinals are not the defensive juggernaut they have been in the past, their press is still effective, especially in a charged home environment.
Louisville is going to make their runs and they will have a spark out of the gates, but the Irish are a veteran-laiden team and they can’t press the panic button.
How the Irish backcourt handles the pressure will be key.
For as good as Matt Farrell has been this year, he is not the biggest guy and struggles against long athletes, which Louisville has in droves. The last time ND played in Louisville, they beat the Cardinals numerous times on the home run pass after a made basket. Expect Brey to attack the press with an aggressive gameplan like that.
If the Irish are able to steady the ship after the initial surge of emotion, the Irish matchup quite well with the Cardinals.
In years past, Louisville struggled to score from the outside, but generated most of their offense from turnovers and dominating the glass. While the Cardinals still have a tremendous height advantage, their defense has struggled.
If Notre Dame is able to limit their turnovers, the Irish should be able to take advantage of Louisville’s porous defense.
The biggest difference between Saturday and the teams’ first matchup Jan. 3 is Louisville’s ability to score in the half court. Donovan Mitchell has emerged as an ACC Player of the Year candidate and is a threat to score as soon as he crosses half court. The Cardinals no longer rely on their defense to create offense, they have a go-to guy who can score anytime he gets the ball.
Louisville still boasts a big front line capable of dominating the glass and taking advantage of any missed shots, especially against the undersized Irish.
Notre Dame is the better team, but the road atmosphere will be a challenge. The Irish have won five games on the road this year, but Saturday’s atmosphere may be the most intense they have faced yet.
However, the veterans on this team have been here before. They believe March is their time to shine and they don’t fear any team in the country. If the Irish are able to handle the early storm and turn this into a second half game, there is no doubt in my mind they will make enough winning plays in the second half to escape victorious.