No. 7 Virginia Tech (21-10, 10-8) vs. No. 10 Notre Dame (19-13, 8-10)
Time: 7 p.m.
TV: ESPN2 and/or the ACC Network
From 1997 through 2011, either Duke or North Carolina won the ACC Tournament every year but once. The one exception was 2004, when the Maryland Terrapins upset the Blue Devils in the finals 95-87 in the Greensboro Coliseum. Things have been a bit more open in recent years.
Here are the ACC Tournament winners since 2012…
2012: Florida State
2015: Notre Dame
2016: North Carolina
That’s a different team every year, after so many years of the same two teams winning it over and over. ACC purists from the Tar Heel state certainly didn’t enjoy recent ACC entries such as Florida State, Miami and Notre Dame winning the league. In fact, the Irish have played in the finals two of the last three seasons.
Notre Dame has won at least one ACC Tournament game in each of the past three seasons. After winning the tournament in 2015, they beat Duke and were then eliminated by UNC in 2016, and then advanced to the finals and lost to the Tar Heels again in 2017. In fact, a Mike Brey coached team has failed to win a conference tournament game just twice in the last decade: 2008 and 2014.
Buzz Williams has had success in the ACC Tournament at Virginia Tech, winning a game in each of his first three seasons. He wasn’t quite as successful in the Big East Tournament while at Marquette. His Eagles lost their first game in the Big East Tournament in his last three seasons at that job.
Williams has a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Brey, going back to their days as opposing coaches in the Big East. Here are Williams’ career results against Brey…
2018: 80-75 win
2017: 76-71 loss
2016: 83-81 loss
2015: 85-60 loss
2013: 72-64 win
2013: 73-65 loss
2012: 76-59 loss
2011: 79-57 win
2011: 80-75 loss
2010: 63-60 loss
2009: 71-64 win
Total: 4-7 record
There have been close games, and there have been blowouts, but overall Brey’s teams have held the advantage over Williams’ teams, though obviously Williams’ first season in Blacksburg really shouldn’t be taken into account.
Notre Dame is a much stronger team than their record indicates. Bonzie Colson, the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, missed most of ACC play with a fractured foot. Matt Farrell, Notre Dame’s second best player and starting point guard, also missed some time with an injury as well. Both players were out for Virginia Tech’s 80-75 victory in South Bend back on Jan. 27. When both of those players were assumed to be healthy, the Irish were picked to finish third in the league this year.
Imagine the Hokies playing large stretches of the season without Justin Robinson and Kerry Blackshear, and how different they would look and play without those two players. That’s what Notre Dame had to go through this year, yet they could still be in a position to make the NCAA Tournament if they can defeat Virginia Tech.
Here’s the starting lineup Notre Dame would likely use against the Hokies:
G Matt Farrell (6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 16.8 ppg and totaled 139 assists. Farrell was a third-team All-ACC player at the end of the season. He is a 40.8 percent shooter from three-point range.
G TJ Gibbs (6-foot-3, 188 pounds, So.): Averaging 15.6 ppg and has 94 assists and 31 steals. Gibbs shoots 41.1 percent from the outside this season, and scored 27 points against Tech in the first meeting.
G Rex Pflueger (6-foot-6, 206 pounds, Jr.): Averaging 8.1 ppg and totaled 94 assists. Pflueger had 15 points against the Hokies back in January.
F Bonzie Colson (6-foot-6, 224 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 20.9 ppg and 10.6 rpg, and has 37 blocks and 28 steals. Colson played in just 16 games and missed most of ACC play for the Irish. Despite it being just his second game back, he had 24 points and 15 rebounds in 37 minutes at UVA over the weekend.
F Martinas Geben (6-foot-10, 252 pounds, Sr.): Averaging 11.2 ppg and 8.2 rpg. Geben is a traditional big man who has been a good low post presence for the Irish.
The Irish could have an issue with depth. In their final regular season game, a 62-57 loss at No. 1 Virginia, their starters barely left the court. Here’s a look at their minutes breakdown…
TJ Gibbs: 38 minutes
Bonzie Colson: 37 minutes
Rex Pflueger: 36 minutes
Matt Farrell: 34 minutes
Martinas Geben: 33 minutes
Nikola Djogo: 16 minutes
John Mooney: 4 minutes
Austin Torres: 2 minutes
Against Pittsburgh in the ACC Tournament, a 67-64 win by the Irish, only seven players saw playing time.
If the Irish find themselves in tough game against the Hokies, Mike Brey could choose to shorten his rotation much as he did against UVA.
The bottom line with the Irish: Mike Brey finally has all his players healthy on a team that was picked to finish third in the ACC. They would likely be a tough out for anybody in this game, not just the Hokies, simply because they know their backs are against the wall and they have to win if they want to make the NCAA Tournament. The good news is that the Hokies will have an extra day of rest that the Irish won’t have, and they’ll have a chance to leverage that extra rest into victory.
This is also the somewhat rare occasion that many expect a No. 10 seed to beat the No. 7 team. In effect, that makes the Hokies underdogs, though the official Las Vegas line has yet to be released. Virginia Tech has performed well with their backs against the wall this year. Though Notre Dame is very good with all their players in the rotation, Tech will certainly have a chance to win. If they can beat the Irish, they could perhaps move themselves off the 8-9 seed line for the NCAA Tournament that most believe they are on right now. Being a No. 7 seed would give them a better chance of advancing past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
If the Hokies get past the Irish, they’ll face Duke on Thursday night at 7 p.m.