Only in the fertile mind of a competitive coach can one envision Notre Dame (15-16, 6-12) making a run through the ACC tournament to the championship game, which is what it would take - a total of five victories - to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
All Notre Dame would have to do is win two games against beatable competition, and then defeat a likely gauntlet of Duke, Virginia and Syracuse or North Carolina.
The Irish don’t have the offensive firepower or the defensive prowess to compete for the tournament crown, and they are just bad enough to make an exit from next Wednesday’s first-round action before the Greensboro Coliseum is half full.
Yet for all of Notre Dame’s struggles under Mike Brey in the NCAA tournament, this remains a program that is accustomed to spending some time at its conference tournament site. The Irish haven’t exited the conference tournament after one game since the 2007-08 season when Marquette bounced Notre Dame out of Madison Square Garden.
The Irish made it to the final four of the Big East tournament each of the last four seasons, falling to Louisville in each of the last three.
While the 2013-14 season bears virtually no resemblance to Brey’s recent squads that were 38-16 in conference play the previous three seasons, Notre Dame - at least based upon their competitiveness in defeat in its first campaign in the ACC - could prove to be a more difficult out than their current record indicates.
Among the bottom six teams in the ACC, which includes Wake Forest, Miami, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia Tech, the Irish had the smallest margin of defeat in ACC play (7.91 points per game). Of Notre Dame’s 12 losses, only two were by double digits. The other 10 losses were by an average of a mere 6.7 points per game.
The next fewest double-digit losses among the bottom six in the ACC was by Miami, which had four. The Hurricanes also had the second lowest margin of defeat at 8.45. Next came Boston College (9.07), Georgia Tech (11.25), Virginia Tech (12.13) and Wake Forest (14.45).
Of course, the Irish - as the No. 12 or 13 seed -- have to defeat just one of those five other bottom dwellers in the ACC tournament, which as of today would be Georgia Tech. The Irish split a pair of games with the Yellow Jackets, defeated Boston College twice, knocked off Virginia Tech at home in overtime, and lost on the road to Wake Forest and Miami to finish 4-3 against the bottom portion of the ACC.
The winner of the No. 12 vs. No. 13 seed game scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET will take on the fifth-place finisher in the ACC. As of today, that’s Pittsburgh, whom the Irish lost to in overtime last weekend.
Yet if Clemson defeats the Panthers at the Tigers’ Littlejohn Coliseum Saturday, a victory by the Irish in the first round of the ACC tournament would send them to Thursday afternoon action against Clemson, whom the Irish defeated at home in double overtime on Feb. 11. The offensively-challenged Tigers are always just one poor shooting game away from an early exit.
At this point in the season, the Irish are fighting for little more than respectability and pride as well as a spot in a minor post-season tournament. Yet with nine days to prepare, they’ve been competitive enough with post-season veterans Eric Atkins, Garrick Sherman, Pat Connaughton and Tom Knight to make a little noise in the ACC tournament.