Notre Dame is now ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, its first top 10 appearance since 2010-11.
Notre Dame has won five of six to open conference play for the first time since Mike Brey’s third year with the Irish.
After struggling at Purcell Pavilion – and everywhere else – during the 2013-14 season, the Irish appear to be back in stride on their home hardwood with victories in three of four conference games and 13 out of 14 overall.
Now comes the hard part.
Beginning Thursday, Jan. 22 through Tuesday, Feb. 10, the Fighting Irish (17-2, 5-1) play seven games – two at Purcell Pavilion and five at places that will make life much more uncomfortable.
It starts with Virginia Tech in Cassell Coliseum Thursday and continues Sunday in North Carolina State’s PNC Arena. After a return trip home to take on Duke (Wednesday, Jan. 28), the Irish travel to Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh for a Saturday, Jan. 31 tilt with the Panthers.
It’s back home on Wednesday, Feb. 4 to host Boston College before hitting the road again in Durham, N.C. to play Duke for the second time in 10 days, and then Littlejohn Coliseum to take on Clemson.
With bracketology projections as high as a No. 3 seed at the present time, Notre Dame’s mettle will be tested during the upcoming 19-day excursion.
Currently, Notre Dame is one of just three out of 15 ACC teams to remain unscathed on the road in conference play. The Irish knocked off North Carolina, 71-70, on Jan. 5 at the Smith Center, and then scratched and clawed their way to a 62-59 victory at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion on Jan. 14 without 6-foot-10 Zach Auguste.
Only No. 2-ranked Virginia, with victories at Miami, Notre Dame and Boston College, and No. 15 North Carolina, with conquests at Clemson and North Carolina State, join the Irish among ACC teams without a defeat on the road in conference action.
The odds of Notre Dame remaining undefeated on the road in ACC play over that 19-day span are astronomical, particularly if the Irish are able to defeat Duke at Purcell Pavilion on Jan. 28 before a visit to Duke’s feared Cameron Indoor Stadium on Feb. 7.
And yet Mike Brey’s squads have been a handful on the road during his 15-year reign at Notre Dame. In his first 14 seasons with the Irish, he has fashioned at least a .500 road record in seven of those campaigns, which is no easy feat in a sport in which the home-venue is king. Game-changing calls by the officials down the stretch favor the home team more often than not.
In 13 years in the Big East, Brey’s squads won nine times against ranked opponents, including No. 10 Georgetown in 2000-01, No. 24 Syracuse in 2003-04, No. 11 Georgetown in 2009-10, No. 2 Pittsburgh in 2010-11, and No. 11 Louisville and No. 24 Connecticut in 2011-12. No. 18 North Carolina became ranked road victim No. 10 two weeks ago.
Including the two victories this season, Brey is 53-68 on the road in conference play, which averages out to about a 4-5 record away from home per year. Coupled with Notre Dame’s general dominance at home – 94-29 in conference play under Brey, including a 3-1 start this year -- that’s a more-than-respectable road record.
It also should be noted that a large portion of the road games coached by Brey in the Big East/ACC have come against ranked opponents. In fact, 30 of Brey’s 68 road losses in conference play have been against ranked foes.
That’s a bunch of battles in snake pits like Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, Louisville’s Freedom Hall and KFC Yum! Center, Marquette’s Bradley Center, Connecticut’s Gampel Pavilion and Hartford Civic (now XL) Center, and Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center.
Two victories out of five road games while holding serve at home against Duke and Boston College would leave the Irish at 9-4 in ACC play with home games against Wake Forest, Syracuse and Clemson, and road games against Boston College and Louisville remaining.
Notre Dame is well-positioned for an upper-tier finish in the ACC if Brey and the Irish can approach their previous success away from Purcell Pavilion.