Notre Dame finished its week 2-0 as expected, taking down conference lightweights Wake Forest and Boston College.
With two homes game (Syracuse Tuesday; Clemson March 7) and one difficult road outing (Louisville March 4) still on the docket, the Irish remain well-positioned for a double bye in the forthcoming ACC Tournament.
In fact, to lose that double bye, and thus be forced to play on Wednesday (four games in four days to win the tourney) rather than Thursday (three games/three days) Notre Dame would have to lose all three of its remaining games and North Carolina would have to go undefeated -- and the Tar Heels still must host Duke.
Our weekly breakdown of conference action -- the week that was, the week ahead -- is highlighted below. But first, a few matchups of relevance for Irish fans to monitor as the regular season winds down:
GAMES OF NOTE
Barring utter collapse, the following appears true of the 2015 conference race.
1. Virginia will win the crown outright
2. Notre Dame, Duke, and Louisville will receive double byes in the conference tournament
3. North Carolina is a dangerous No. 5 -- thus finishing No. 3 rather than No. 4 is important to Notre Dame (or Duke, or Louisville)
With that in mind, which remaining games matter most to Irish fans? We've identified eight:
1. Notre Dame at Louisville (March 7) -- Win here and the Irish will lock up No. 3 barring an unforeseen loss at home on Senior Day to Clemson.
2. Notre Dame at Syracuse (Feb. 24) -- A victory Tuesday in South Bend keeps the Irish in line for a No. 3 seed, and in this case, I'm referring to the more important NCAA Tournament. (Losing at Louisville in no way damages the Irish NCAA resume. In that particular measure, it's a win-win contest.)
3. Duke at North Carolina (March 7) -- A win by North Carolina, coupled with an undefeated finish by the Irish, would earn Notre Dame second-place in the regular season standings. That's a sure-fire No. 3 seed, and in this case, I'm again referring to the more important NCAA Tournament.
4. Virginia at Syracuse (March 2) -- Virginia needs to lose twice for the Irish to tie the Cavaliers for the regular season crown. This is the next potential land mine for Tony Bennett's impenetrable crew.
5. Virginia at Louisville (March 7) -- Pending the myriad games played prior, Irish fans will either root for out-of-reach Virginia to take care of business, or for the Cardinals to knock off the Cavaliers and thus allow the Irish a shared conference crown. (Virginia will win the tiebreaker in terms of tournament seeding.)
6. Clemson at Notre Dame (March 7)-- The Irish will win, of that I'm nearly certain, and Notre Dame's home crowd gets its last look at the greatness of Jerian Grant and all-time program teammate, Pat Connaughton.
7. North Carolina State at North Carolina (Feb. 24) -- A win by the Wolfpack would place the Tar Heels in danger of losing a No. 5 ACC Tourney seed (remember, Duke looms). Getting UNC's ample collection of talent as far away as possible from a matchup with Notre Dame in the ACC quarterfinals wouldn't hurt Brey's tournament cause.
8. Syracuse at Duke (Feb. 28) -- It's unlikely, but not implausible that Syracuse rises up and takes down the rolling Blue Devils on Saturday. Doing so would give the Irish a better chance at a No. 2 league finish.
A LOOK BACK, A GLIMPSE AHEAD
No major upsets impacted the conference race, though Miami took Louisville to the wire Saturday, a 55-53 defeat. Duke's thrilling home win over North Carolina on Wednesday greatly aided Notre Dame's cause as they look to lock up at least a No. 4 finish and resulting double bye.
Team of the Week (Feb. 16-22): Duke. The Blue Devils continue to score in bunches, finishing 2-0 with a win against arch-rival North Carolina to kick off the week. Duke has not lost since dropping a 77-73 decision to Notre Dame on Jan. 28 in South Bend.
They are at present, the second-best team in the nation behind undefeated Kentucky.
Took it on the chin: Boston College. The struggling Eagles suffered a rare 0-3 finish, losing in double overtime to Miami in a Monday make-up game (weather), losing a late lead at Florida State, and getting hammered in the second half by Mike Brey's Irish Saturday.
-- Louisville guard Chris Jones was suspended, reinstated, and dismissed from the Cardinals program in a six-day span. Jones missed a matchup at Syracuse (a Louisville loss), returned to help the Cardinals beat Miami Saturday (a game in which he scored 17 points and held Hurricanes guard Angel Hernandez to 1-12 shooting) and was subsequently dismissed Sunday.
Jones was a junior college transfer that fit seamlessly into head coach Rick Pitino's pressure attack.
-- Tough Sledding This Week: Syracuse travels to Notre Dame and Duke, that on the heels of a home loss to Pittsburgh Saturday. (The Orange defeated Louisville in the Carrier Dome last Wednesday). It doesn't get any easier for head coach Jim Boeheim thereafter -- No. 2 Virginia comes to town next Monday.
-- Easy Street: NCAA Tournament hopeful Pittsburgh receives respite with a one-game week, hosting only cellar-dweller Boston College.
Upset alerts (2-0 is tough): Recovering but winded Virginia travels to Wake Forest, then plays host to rival Virginia Tech. Will they finish 2-0 in a pair of heavy favorite scenarios?
-- Louisville travels to Georgia Tech and suddenly viable Florida State this week. The post-Chris Jones era begins outside the friendly confines of the KFC YUM! Center.
-- Look for North Carolina State to again give North Carolina all it can handle. The two square off at the Dean Dome on Wednesday and previously played to a two-point margin in Raleigh, a game won by the Tar Heels. North Carolina must turn around and host the resurgent Hurricanes on Saturday.
STANDINGS AND SCHEDULE
Virginia (25-1; 13-1) -- At Wake Forest Tuesday; home against Virginia Tech
Notre Dame (24-4; 12-3) -- Host Syracuse Tuesday
Duke (24-3; 11-3) -- At Virginia Tech Wednesday; host Syracuse Saturday
Louisville (21-6; 9-5) -- At Georgia Tech tonight; at Florida State Saturday
North Carolina (19-8; 9-5) -- Host NC State Tuesday; at Miami Saturday
Syracuse (17-10; 8-6) -- At Notre Dame Tuesday; at Duke Saturday -- YOWZA!
Pittsburgh (18-10; 7-7) -- Host Boston College Tuesday
Miami, FL (17-10; 7-7) -- Host Florida State Wednesday; host North Carolina Saturday
NC State (16-11; 7-7) -- At North Carolina Teusday; at Boston College Saturday
Clemson (15-10; 7-6) -- Host Georgia Tech Saturday
Florida State (15-13; 7-8) -- At Miami Wednesday; host Louisville Saturday
Wake Forest (12-15; 4-10) -- At Virginia Sunday
Georgia Tech (12-15; 3-12) -- Host Louisville tonight; at Clemson Saturday
Virginia Tech (10-17; 2-12) -- At Duke Saturday
Boston College (9-17; 1-13) -- At Pittsburgh Tuesday; host NC State Saturday