• Game 27: Notre Dame (18-8; 9-5) @ Wake Forest (11-16; 2-13)
• Date: Feb. 24, 2016
• Place: Winston Salem, N.C.
• Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN3
• Opponent Nickname: Demon Deacons
• Head coach: Danny Manning (62-64; 7-26 at Wake Forest)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston Salem, N.C.
• 2014-15 record: (13-19; 5-13)
A HOLE, OR A MONSTER, IN THE MIDDLE?
Mike Brey’s traveling Irish will catch a break tonight as Devin Thomas, Wake Forest’s best player over each of its last three seasons, concludes his two-game suspension for violation of an athletic department policy.
Posting 15 points and 10 boards per game on the season, Thomas proved to be a handful for the Irish in Notre Dame’s 85-62 early February victory over the Demon Deacons, scoring 19 points on just 10 shots. He’s connected on a remarkable 31 of 48 field goal attempts in four career games vs. Notre Dame with the Demon Deacons winning twice (both in 2014).
Thomas’s absence could prove timely as Irish senior center Zach Auguste enters tonight’s contest with a balky knee, the result of a tweak suffered late in Saturday’s one-point loss at Georgia Tech.
Thomas’ suspension seemed to buoy his teammates in their last outing, a wire-to-wire destruction of lowly Boston College in Winston Salem. The Demon Deacons roared to leads of 14-0 and 29-2 over the ACC’s cellar dwellers, getting a huge lift from Thomas’ replacement inside, seven-foot one-inch center Doral Moore.
Moore finished with 19 points on 7 of 8 shooting with three blocked shots. The freshman played sparingly vs. the Irish in the teams’ first meeting, scoring on two dunks in 12 minutes long after the outcome had been decided. Said head coach Danny Manning of Moore’s breakout effort Saturday: “This is the best I’ve ever seen him play. Practice, high school, AAU — this is the best basketball I’ve ever seen him play for a 20-minute stretch.”
The Demon Deacons had lost 11 straight prior to their weekend win over the Eagles.
-- Notable for tonight’s contest: Notre Dame has prevailed in its last 12 outings following defeat. The Irish fell 63-62 at Georgia Tech on Saturday.
THE DANDY DOUBLE
Presently tied for fifth-place but just 1.5 games out of first (and, conversely, 1.5 games out of eighth) in the ACC standings, Notre Dame can extend its bid for a valuable two-game bye in next month’s conference tournament with a win tonight. The Irish would likely need three wins in their last four outings – resulting in a 12-6 finish – to attain that goal.
Deadlocked at 9-5 with Duke, above the Irish in the rankings are 11-3 North Carolina, 11-4 Miami, 10-4 Louisville, and 10-5 Virginia. Notre Dame defeated Duke, North Carolina and Louisville this season and thus owns an initial tiebreaker vs. each, though the Cardinals are ineligible for post-season play.
Miami, conquerors of Brey’s group in early February, returns for a rematch next week in South Bend. Only Virginia *owns a definitive tiebreaker over the Irish at present, the result of an easy win to open the conference slate.
(*Own is the operative word, because Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers program is the only one among the ACC elite that has continuously handled the Irish during their first three seasons of conference affiliation.)
Three wins vs. one defeat would likely secure a top four finish and the coveted “double bye.” It’s unlikely a 2-2 mark would do the same. Miami, Notre Dame’s chief foil in their march toward March, must face Louisville, the Irish, and finish at a pesky Virginia Tech squad to conclude its regular season.
Wake Forest has enjoyed solid play of late from two of its regulars to augment the recent ascent of Moore. Freshman guard Bryant Crawford was named ACC Rookie of the Week after scoring a combined 32 points with 12 boards, 12 assists, and eight steals in a close (overtime) loss at Pittsburgh and the aforementioned win over Boston College.
Crawford scored 20 vs. the Irish in the teams’ first matchup.
-- Senior Codi Miller-McIntyre broke out of a season-long slump with 14 points, nine boards, and seven assists vs. two turnovers in the streak-snapping win over the Eagles. Miller-McIntyre was held to two points with three turnovers in 24 frustrating minutes vs. Demetrius Jackson and the Irish earlier this season.
-- Irish junior forward V.J. Beachem looks to continue his hot shooting away from home. The ACC’s fifth-best three-point marksman has hit for 22, 14, 15, and 13 points, respectively, in his last four road outings, connecting on 23 of 41 field goals (56 percent) including 14 of 27 from long range.
-- After a breakout shooting effort vs. Louisville (6 of 12 from beyond the arc), Demetrius Jackson regressed to his frustrating season mean from long range, missing five of six three-point shots in a loss to Georgia Tech. Jackson previously missed 18 of 21 shots from the arc since returning from a one-game injury absence (hamstring).
The likely all-league guard has mitigated those misses with exemplary floor play, registering 12 steals, 28 assists, and 21 boards over the same six-game span.
-- Zach Auguste has collected double-digit rebounds in seven of his last 10 outings, never accounting for fewer than eight during that span. He’s likewise hit for double digit point totals in eight of his last nine. Auguste has been complemented by fellow big man Bonzie Colson – the sophomore has averaged 13 points and 8 rebounds over his last five contests.
-- Notre Dame opened as a seven-point favorite tonight in Winston Salem. Removing Saturday’s blowout victory over BC from the equation, Wake Forest has been beaten by 14 points (twice) and 18 points at home already this season. Conversely, the Demon Deacons took current A.P. No. 5 Virginia to the wire (a 71-70 defeat) and beat North Carolina State.
Expect the absence of Devin Thomas – a certified Irish killer over the last three seasons in four matchups – to prove too difficult for the host squad to overcome.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Notre Dame 83 Wake Forest 74
-- ACC Prediction Record: 10-4 Straight Up; 9-5 Against the Spread