Ranked No. 8 nationally and in second place, 7-1 in conference, Mike Brey's Fighting Irish are a game away from the mid-point of their 2015 ACC season. The week ahead brings Notre Dame its marquee home matchup of the season, plus a trip to face a former Big East rival in their former house of horrors, the Petersen Events Center.
But after losing five straight at "The Pete" between 2003-09, Brey's Irish rebounded to win in both of their final two trips to the building -- including a 56-51 victory over then-No. 2 Pittsburgh in Feb. 2011 -- before both teams exited stage right for greener pastures in the ACC.
The league's top two players -- and two of the nation's six best -- square off Wednesday night in South Bend when Notre Dame and Jerian Grant host freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor and Duke. Okafor leads the league in scoring (18.5) and field goal percentage (67.1%) while ranking fourth in rebounds (9.0 pg). He's scored in double figures in 19 consecutive games, the first 19 of his collegiate career, four short of Duke's freshman record set by the immortal Johnny Dawkins in 1982-83.
Grant paces the conference in assists (6.2 per), ranks fourth in scoring with 17.1 ppg., and likewise ranks among the top 10 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio and two-point field goal percentage (62.3 percent). His shooting percentage at the rim entering Sunday night's game at NC State was a robust *79 percent (*statistic courtesy Grantland's Adam Doster).
While Okafor ranks as the likely No. 1 pick in next summer's NBA Draft, and is the odds-on favorite to win conference and national player of the year honors, it's Grant whose stock has risen most -- on all three fronts -- over the last two weeks.
Grant can state his case Wednesday night in front of a national audience.
TEAM OF THE WEEK (Jan. 19-25)
Duke dismissed Pittsburgh easily on Monday, then traveled out of conference to beat St. John's in Madison Square Garden, the latter providing Blue Devils head coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000 career victory. Duke moved up to No. 4 in the rankings as a result, coupled with its blowout win at Louisville on Jan. 17.
TOOK IT ON THE CHIN
As noted above, PIttsburgh traveled to Durham and was ripped by Duke, 79-65, then was handled on its home court by Louisville, 80-68. The Panthers shot just 9 of 33 from long range over the two-game set.
Cellar-dweller Georgia Tech continued to struggle offensively, losing by more points, 29, than they scored in a 57-28 loss to Virginia in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets shot 12 of 49 from the field and 0-12 from beyond the arc. They lost four days later at Boston College, the Eagles first conference win of 2015.
THE WEEK AHEAD
-- Toughest Stretch: Duke (at ND; at UVA)
-- Toughest Week Ahead, Part II: North Carolina (host Syracuse; at Louisville)
-- Smooth Sailing: NC State hosts Clemson Wednesday and is at Ga. Tech Saturday
-- On upset alert: Notre Dame in the Steel City on Saturday
-- Prediction for the Irish: 1-1 -- Same as last week…wrong last week, I might add.
Duke has been upset twice in its six conference games played to date, losing at home to Miami by 16 and by 12 to rival North Carolina State in Raleigh as a 9-point favorite. The fourth-ranked Blue Devils won't have to worry about the role of prohibitive favorites this week, first traveling to South Bend to take on the eighth-ranked Irish Wednesday, then to Charlottesville to face #2 Virginia Saturday.
The Cavaliers have the entire week to prepare for Duke's arrival after escaping upset at the hands of state rival Virginia Tech, 50-47 on Sunday.
Also of note, North Carolina hosts Syracuse Monday night in Chapel Hill before traveling to Louisville for a Saturday matchup with the #10 Cardinals.
STANDINGS AND SCHEDULE
#2 Virginia (19-0; 7-0) -- Host #4 Duke Saturday in Charlottesville
#8 Notre Dame (19-2; 7-1) -- Home vs. #4 Duke Wednesday; at Pittsburgh Saturday
#13 North Carolina (16-4; 6-1) -- Host Syracuse tonight; at #10 Louisville Saturday
Syracuse (14-6; 5-2) -- At #13 North Carolina tonight
#4 Duke (17-2; 4-2) -- At #8 Notre Dame Wednesday; at #2 Virginia Saturday
#10 Louisville (16-3; 4-2) -- At Boston College Wednesday; host #13 UNC Saturday
#23 Miami, FL (14-5; 4-2) -- Host Ga. Tech Wednesday; at FSU Sunday
NC State (13-8; 4-4) -- Host Clemson Wednesday; at Georgia Tech Sunday
Pittsburgh (13-7; 3-4) -- At Virginia Tech Tuesday; host #8 Notre Dame Saturday
Clemson (11-8; 3-4) -- At NC State Wednesday; host Boston College Saturday
Florida State (10-10; 2-5) -- Host Wake Forest Wednesday; host #23 Miami Sunday
Boston College (9-9; 1-5) -- Host #10 Louisville Wednesday, at Clemson Saturday
Wake Forest (9-11; 1-6) -- At Clemson Wednesday; host Virginia Tech Saturday
Virginia Tech (8-11; 0-6) -- Host Pittsburgh Tuesday; at Wake Forest Saturday
Georgia Tech (9-19; 0-7) -- At #23 Miami Wednesday; host NC State Saturday