While some focus on Notre Dame simply qualifying for a double bye in the ACC tournament – a top four finish in the 15-team league earns you a double bye – Mike Brey doesn’t like the message such thinking would send to his basketball team.
“Everybody talks about the double-bye, but I think that’s looking behind you,” said Brey Thursday morning as the Irish (23-4, 11-3) – in second place in the ACC -- prepare for a trip to Chestnut Hill to take on Boston College this Saturday.
“I told this group after the Wake game (Tuesday night), ‘Let’s keep the heat on the guys above us. Let’s keep the heat on them and see what happens.’”
The “guys above” Notre Dame are the remarkable Virginia Cavaliers, who are 24-1 overall and 12-1 in ACC play, two games ahead of the Irish with the tiebreaker in hand as well with their 62-56 victory at Purcell Pavilion in early January.
But if the Irish were to win their four remaining games – at Boston College, home against Syracuse, at Louisville and home against Clemson – and the Cavaliers concluded the regular season with setbacks at Syracuse and at Louisville – which could conceivably happen – Notre Dame and Virginia would have identical conference records.
“They would get the one seed on the tiebreaker, but you tie with them and you’re co-champions,” said Brey, citing how close the Irish came in 2010-11 when Pittsburgh won the Big East, one game ahead of the Irish despite Notre Dame’s victory in Pittsburgh.
First things first. A victory this weekend at Conte Forum would raise Notre Dame’s 2014-15 ACC road record to 6-2. That would be the most road victories by an Irish men’s basketball squad since Notre Dame joined the Big East in 1995-96 – a total of 20 seasons.
“To get to six road wins is a powerful thing,” Brey said. “We’ve gotten to five a couple of times. For the players, we’ve talked about the chase for a regular-season championship and it’s kept us in the moment. It keeps you looking up.”
For the eighth time in 15 seasons under Brey, the Irish will finish at least .500 on the road in league play. This is the sixth time Notre Dame has won at least five league road games, including a 5-4 mark in back-to-back seasons in 2010-11 and 2011-12. Brey’s first two Notre Dame squads (2000-01, 2001-02) finished 5-3.
Brey’s teams generally have been good on the road in conference play, posting a very solid 56-70 mark. Even last season, when nothing seemed to fall Notre Dame’s way on the road, seven of the eight losses were by single-digit margins.
This year the Irish have won at North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Clemson. The game at Clemson’s Littlejohn Coliseum on Feb. 10 meant that the Irish have now played at each of the ACC road venues with Louisville – where Notre Dame played in 2012-13 as members of the Big East – in the Yum! Center on March 4.
“I think we’ll be better in Cameron next time when we can bring some guys back and say, ‘Okay, I won’t be as distracted with the circus,’” said Brey, referencing Notre Dame’s 30-point loss in Durham on Feb. 7.
“(Playing on the road in the ACC) is getting a feel like it’s not completely foreign territory. I feel better about our road demeanor moving forward than I did when we joined the league. Maybe because, No. 1, I have a better feel for places now.”
The 2014-15 season has been one positive statement after another by the Irish after losing 12 of 18 conference games in 2013-14 as a first-year member of the ACC.
“I think it’s really powerful to be 4-1 against the Tobacco Road teams, which is the heart of ACC country,” said Brey, who has knocked off North Carolina and North Carolina State on the road, and Duke and Wake Forest at home with a setback at Duke.
Getting back to the bigger picture, Brey likes dangling the carrot of a potential ACC co-title to a team that seems to thrive on challenges.
“It keeps us in the moment,” Brey said. “It keeps us away from bracketology and all the NCAA tournament talk.
“It keeps you looking up as opposed to, ‘Are we going to slide (back) in the double bye?’ I think that’s a good frame of mind for us the last two weeks.”