• Game 30: N.C. State (15-15; 5-12) @ Notre Dame (19-10; 10-7)
• Date: March 5, 2016
• Place: Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame, Ind.
• Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
• TV: CBS
• Opponent Nickname: Wolfpack
• Head coach: Mark Gottfried (385-221; 106-67 at N.C. State)
• Conference: ACC
• Location: Raleigh, N.C.
• 2014-15 record: (22-14; 10-8)
BEWARD THE WOUNDED ANIMAL, PART II
We referenced one week ago in this space the danger Notre Dame faced in its visit to talented but struggling Florida State. Losers of five straight prior to the Irish visit to the Sunshine State, the Seminoles were quicker to the punch, far more focused, and simply outplayed favored Notre Dame for 40 minutes.
Expect Notre Dame – a team robbed of its identity and pride in its last two, miserable outings – to respond in kind today against North Carolina State. And while Irish fans in attendance won’t be nearly as vested in the outing’s Senior Day festivities as they were last season when beloved competitors Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton displayed their talents for the last time, the team will be.
Roommates Zach Auguste and A.J. Burgett will be honored pre-game but it’s more important that both could be feted post-game, as Burgett is expected to start for the second straight game and the senior must be more engaged than he was in Wednesday’s four minutes of inconsequential action.
As for Auguste, the double-double machine’s matchup Saturday is against ACC shot-block leader BeeJay Anya, the six-foot nine-inch, 265-pound junior who broke North Carolina State’s school record with his 208th blocked shot Thursday night.
Auguste fared well vs. Anya and the Wolfpack last season, scoring 10 points and grabbing 11 boards in a wild 81-78 overtime comeback win in Raleigh.
Any curiosities considering Notre Dame’s recent struggles (one win in its last four outings after previously beating North Carolina, Clemson and Louisville) can be satisfied by the following trio of personnel points:
1. The Guards Can’t Find the Range: Juniors Demetrius Jackson and Steve Vasturia combined to shoot 28 for 85 (32.9 percent) over the last four outings. When Notre Dame is at its best its generally because the guard tandem is clicking: a combined 46 points on 55 percent shooting at Duke and a combined 47 points (on 53% shooting) vs. the nation’s top defensive team, Louisville.
2. The (Other) Big Man Is Scuffling: Sophomore forward Bonzie Colson posted a combined 38 points and 28 rebounds in his team’s trio of wins against the Tar Heels, Tigers, and Cardinals. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5 rebounds in the four games since, three of them losses.
3. Lack of Wing Support: Starting forward V.J. Beachem performed well in Notre Dame’s one-point loss at Georgia Tech (13 points and 5 boards) but has no-showed since, hitting just 8 of 26 shots and, maddeningly, 3 of 7 free throws – the latter inexcusable for a shooter of his caliber.
Freshman Matt Ryan has shot it well but struggles defensively, mitigating his long-range impact. Telling in terms of the team’s overall performance level is that Ryan has hit four three-point buckets (4-12) during Notre Dame’s last four outings while making just two and failing to score twice during the squad’s aforementioned three-game winning streak.
Ryan’s classmate Rex Pflueger might be the answer going forward if only because he can be counted on completely on one side of the court (defensively).
Two of the three points above must flip the script if the Irish are to win Saturday and make post-season runs thereafter.
SOLO MISSION ACCEPTED
One season removed from the Sweet 16 and an unforeseen NCAA Tournament run that included a second round upset of No. 1 seed Villanova, head coach Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack have regressed this winter. Not included in that bottom-line reality is the ACC’s leading scorer, Anthony “Cat” Barber.
Second nationally in scoring since February 1 at 23.5 ppg., the sophomore sniper has hit for 20 or more in 11 of 17 ACC games and exceeded 30 points in six outings. He’s played 660 of a possible 680 league-game minutes to date and at one point played six consecutive contests without a minute of respite, scoring 29.1 ppg. in that span while shooting better than 51 percent.
Included in the do-everything guard’s season highlight reel is a 30-point effort in a blowout win over Miami (the Hurricanes are 8-1 since including two wins over the Irish.)
An 86 percent free throw shooter, Barber averages more made free throws per game than anyone else in the ACC has attempted. He augments that attacking style with a 35 percent mark from beyond the arc, but its teammates Maverick Rowan (211 attempted triples) and Caleb Martin (200) that do most of the Wolfpack’s damage from long range.
The pair ranks fourth and fifth, respectively, in attempted three-point shots among ACC players.
While Jackson will doubtless draw the initial assignment of slowing Barber, it will take a village to ensure the Wolfpack’s one-man show doesn’t turn Senior Day in South Bend into his personal showcase.
Look for the aforementioned Rex Pflueger to check the quicker Barber at times as well.
The Bottom Line: Mired at 5-12 in league play, the Wolfpack is just 1-6 in league road games. Favored by 8.5 points, expect Mike Brey’s Irish to return to form Saturday afternoon and finish off the regular season with an 11-7 conference mark.
Thereafter they’ll await the outcome of the North Carolina/Duke affair in Durham. Should the Tar Heels take down their archrival inside Cameron Indoor Stadium, Notre Dame would earn the fourth seed in next week’s ACC Tournament and a subsequent, not to mention much-needed, “Double Bye” which equates to a berth in the league’s quarterfinals.
O’Malley/Prister Prediction: Notre Dame 80 N.C. State 71
-- ACC Prediction Record: 11-6 Straight Up; 10-7 Against the Spread