• Game 14: Notre Dame (9-4) @ Boston College (7-7;0-1)
• Date: Jan. 7, 2016
• Place: Silvio Conte Forum; Chestnut Hill, Mass.
• Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN3
• Opponent Nickname: Eagles
• Head coach: Jim Christian (17-25 at BC; 259-178 overall)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Chestnut Hill, Mass.
• 2014-15 record: (13-19; 4-14)
Battle tested with matchups against Michigan State, Providence and Duke already this season, perennial ACC cellar-dweller Boston College welcomes a scuffling Notre Dame team to Chestnut Hill tonight and a matchup between two rivals both in search of a 1-1 mark to begin conference play.
The Eagles rebounded from a six-game losing streak to win four consecutive before coming down to earth in an 81-64 loss to Duke to open ACC play. Notre Dame has won five straight against the Eagles, distancing themselves from what had been a 10-10 series record.
Notre Dame’s 77-66 loss Saturday at Virginia will rank among the least surprising events of the Irish season – the Cavaliers and head coach Tony Bennett have dominated Notre Dame in each of their past five meetings dating back to Bennett’s days at Washington State and a 61-41 clubbing of the Irish in the second round of the 20008 NCAA Tournament.
What cannot occur hereafter – at least if the Irish want a shot at the NCAA Tournament – is for Brey’s bunch to drop road games it should win, and tonight’s contest is at the top of that short list. Can Notre Dame finish 4-4 in road outings over the rest of its conference slate to complement what should be another seven or even eight-win slate in conference home games?
It’s clear a redefined focus is necessary to accomplish both reasonable goals.
FROM MEN TO BOYS?
"Today was kind of men among boys," Brey said after Virginia summarily dismissed his Irish last Saturday.
No argument here. Virginia is doubtless a team of grizzled, talented veterans. And Notre Dame, well…wait a minute, why aren’t the Irish? Zach Auguste is a senior that dueled with 2015 No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor on three occasions last season and dominated (on one side of the court) Kentucky in the Elite 8 last March.
The backcourt pairing of Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia has been lauded by their head coach as “the best defensive backcourt” in the nation and the tandem is in its third season together as a complementary duo.
Sophomore Bonzie Colson has locked horns with the likes of Okafor (on three occasions), North Carolina’s Brice Johnson and the first pick of the 2015 draft, Karl-Anthony Towns – and shown he could operate offensively and rebound against all of the above.
Shouldn’t the veteran Irish – reigning ACC Champions – be considered “men” as well? Notre Dame is no match for Virginia (and from Brey down through the bottom of the roster, they’re well-aware of that reality), and that’s fine, but expectations seemed to have been lessened after the best season in modern Notre Dame basketball history, and that’s a shame.
Senior guard Eli Carter leads Boston College with 17.3 points per game, adding a balanced floor game (4.5 boards and assists per contest). Carter though is a high-volume shooter, connecting at less than a 30 percent clip from beyond the arc and just 40 percent from the field overall. He’ll have his hands full this evening against Notre Dame’s Jackson.
Aiding Carter’s efforts are seven-foot one-inch center Dennis Clifford (7.1 rebounds per game) and freshman swingman Jerome Robinson (12.4 ppg). Robinson fared well vs. Duke in an 81-64 loss to the Blue Devils last weekend, hitting for 15 points with four assists, four steals, and seven boards.
--- Irish junior Demetrius Jackson fared well statistically vs. the Cavaliers, scoring 18 points with 6 assists and just one turnover. In Notre Dame’s five toughest matchups this season (2-3 vs. Monmouth, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Virginia), Jackson is 30 for 69 from the field (43 percent) 22 assists and nine turnovers – solid numbers but the current-edition Irish need a higher level of play from one of the nation’s best.
-- Bonzie Colson continued his solid offensive production Saturday, finishing with 14 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Colson has made good on 35 of his last 57 field goal attempts (61 percent!) while collecting 54 boards over that seven-game span dating back to a road win vs. Illinois.
-- Junior forward V.J. Beachem was shut down from long range Saturday in Charlottesville though he contributed 10 points on 5 of 10 shooting. Beachem’s 0-3 effort from long-range vs. the suffocating Cavaliers defense came on the heels of an six-game span in which he drilled 20 of 38 three-point offerings.
-- Senior Zach Auguste was predictably off his game Saturday against Virginia’s vaunted “Pack Line” defense. Auguste attempted two shots, missed them both, and committed more turnovers (3) than rebounds collected (2) over a dispiriting 22 minutes.
-- Steady junior Steve Vasturia came to play vs. the Cavaliers, scoring 14 points on 6 of 11 shooting in 38 challenging minutes. Vasturia has hit 11 of his last 18 offerings from the field (4-8 from downtown), that after a mini-slump that included 4 for 16 from the field and 0-8 from long range.
-- The Irish Illustrated pre-season preview ranked tonight’s contest as the 17th-toughest among 18 ACC games on the 2016 slate. The Irish are staked as nine-point favorites tonight in Chestnut Hill.
Prister/O’Malley Prediction: 75-63