• Game 27: Notre Dame (19-8; 10-5) @ Florida State (16-12; 6-10)
• Date: Feb. 27, 2016
• Place: Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, Tallahassee, Fla.
• Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
• TV: ESPN2
• Opponent Nickname: Seminoles
• Head coach: Leonard Hamilton (474-395; 274-185 at FSU)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
• 2014-15 record: (17-16; 8-10)
BEWARE THE WOUNDED ANIMAL
Installed as two point favorites in Tallahassee, today’s contest marks the first of *consecutive “toss-up” affairs for head coach Mike Brey’s Irish. Florida State is reeling on the heels of five consecutive losses but a return home will likely inject life into a talented, youth-filled attack.
The Seminoles play far better in the friendly confines of the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, losing by just two points to Pittsburgh and No. 12 Miami and by six to surging Georgia Tech while beating both N.C. State and Clemson in home tilts. Florida State also upset current national No. 3 Virginia in Tallahassee.
(*11-4, second-place Miami travels to South Bend Wednesday – a true “Pick ‘Em” game, both on paper an in terms of importance to both teams.)
Three-headed Monster? Sophomore Xavier Rathan Mayes – he of the 30-point, 4-minute, 38-second outburst (you read that correctly) one year ago today against Miami – plus the dynamic freshman duo of Malik Beasely and Dwayne Bacon lead head coach Leonard Hamilton’s charges. The Atlanta native Beasley averages 16 ppg., and better than five boards to accompany his 38 percent shooting efforts from long range.
Bacon could prove the toughest matchup for the Irish. A six-foot seven-inch swingman, the freshman averages just shy of 16 points and six boards while Rathan-Mayes, more productive last season than this winter, will likewise challenge the Irish backcourt. Rathan-Mayes’ shooting percentages are down across the board this season though he did erupt for 30 vs. North Carolina in an early January loss to the Tar Heels.
Bacon and Beasely combined for 35 points in the aforementioned January upset of Virginia in Tallahassee.
In congress with Irish guards Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia, look for ample court time for defensive-minded freshman Rex Pfleuger off the bench – it’s Brey’s best bet to combat the Seminoles trio of top players off the bounce.
Key to today’s outcome is the production of Irish senior center Zach Auguste. After struggling mightily in road games vs. Virginia (loss), Duke (win), Syracuse (loss) and Miami (loss), Auguste has shined away from home, connecting on 19 of his last 30 field goal attempts (63.3 percent) and, surprisingly, 11 of his last 14 free throws in a three-game span, one that includes wins vs. Clemson and Wake Forest and a last-second loss to Georgia Tech.
-- Junior guard Demetrius Jackson continues to struggle from long range but stuff the stat sheet nonetheless. Jackson has missed 33 of his 43 three-point attempts since returning from a hamstring injury in late January. (Remove a sterling 6 for 12 effort from beyond the arc at home against Louisville and Jackson is a sobering 4 for 31 from downtown over a six-game span.)
The all-league candidate has excelled otherwise, ripping down at least six boards in five of his last eight outings while dishing out 33 assists and collecting 13 steals in that same span.
Jackson has not missed a minute of action in the last five games, playing 200 of a possible 200 minutes.
-- Less heralded (but no longer “unheralded”) classmate Steve Vasturia continues his surge. The three-year starter has hit for double digits in 9 of his last 11 contests, twice scoring 20-plus in wins over Top 15 squads in that span.
Vasturia has hit 16 of his 29 three-point attempts in eight league road games this season. That 55 percent effort is in contrast to a 6-for-20 performance in seven conference home games.
A win today would provide Brey’s squad an unforeseen 5-4 road mark in conference play.
Considering the pre-season slate was highlighted by games at national powers Virginia and Duke, plus the program’s long-time House of Horrors the Carrier Dome, along with four teams – Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Florida State – that are markedly better at home, it’s a testament to the focus and growth of the present-day Irish that they’re in position to finish with an above .500 road mark in league games.
It would mark just the sixth such occurrence in the program’s 21 seasons of conference play. Brey’s ACC Champion Irish finished 7-2 in conference road games last season and rank as the only above .500 road squad to fare better than 5-4 away from home.
Look for the lightly favored Irish to fall behind a rejuvenated Seminoles squad in the first half but bounce back for a mid second-half lead – mirroring the squad’s effort at Georgia Tech one week prior.
Unlike that 63-62 defeat in Atlanta, look for Brey’s seasoned group to hold off their hosts’ final, end-game charge.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Notre Dame 79 Florida State 75
-- ACC Prediction Record: 11-4 Straight Up; 10-5 Against the Spread