NOTRE DAME (20-7, 9-5) at NC STATE (14-13, 3-11)
Where: Raleigh, N.C., PNC Arena (19,772)
Rankings: Notre Dame is ranked 25th in the Associated Press poll; NC State is unranked.
Matchup History: Saturday is the 11th all-time meeting between Notre Dame and NC State. The Irish hold a slight 6-4 advantage, having won the last two matchups. The last time Notre Dame played at PNC Arena it came away with an 81-78 overtime win over the Wolfpack Jan. 25, 2015.
“First of all, given the coach’s situation, that stirs the intensity and energy and fanbase and the team. They have really good players. Certainly they've got a top-five pick handling the ball. They’ve got a physical front line, there’s a reason they were picked high (in the ACC). They’ve got ability. There’s certain nights they’ve put it together, and my feeling is they’re going to play great and we are going to have to play fabulous to win a road game. You’ve got to throw out the record right now of NC State given the dynamics around the program.” — Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey on facing NC State, which fired head coach Mark Gottfried on Thursday
“I’m also not trying to overcoach too much right now. There will be a time to really start shoving buttons. We ain’t on the bubble if you know what I mean. I’m trying to figure out how to pace this thing.” — Brey on handling this year’s team
“Everything that happens is my responsibility. I get it. Just like if you beat Villanova in the NCAA tournament or you go to the Sweet 16 you get a lot of praise a lot of times as a coach. Other times you take the hits. That’s part of what we do.” — NC State’s Mark Gottfried after Wednesday’s loss to UNC
Notre Dame Rolling: Despite a slow start against bottom-dweller Boston College on Tuesday, Notre Dame bounced back with an 84-76 win over the Eagles, its third-straight victory. Trailing by 10 at halftime, the Irish roared back to score 45 points in the second half while holding the Eagles to just 27. Since a Jan. 21 game against Syracuse, Notre Dame has led at halftime of just one game: Feb. 11 vs. Florida State.
“Be more rested,” Brey said of how the Irish can play better in the first half. “It may have been a little fatigue, may have been a little bit of (BC) being ready to play. Hopefully we can defend better. We’re going to have to do that Saturday because they’re really gifted offensively. I hope we can do a better job of it.”
On Cusp of 10 League Wins: A win Saturday would give the Irish 10 Atlantic Coast Conference wins, meaning a better than .500 finish in league play. Notre Dame was picked to finish seventh in the ACC, but has proven during its four years in the powerful league that it belongs.
“I’ve always said when you get to double-digit league wins, it’s hard to keep anybody out with double-digit league wins, there’s no question about it,” Brey said. “We’ve been really proud. As much as I tease about 9-9, we’ve never been 9-9. I tell my staff the first week of practice, ‘Alright, be honest. Can we be 9-9?’ I love when we have winning records in Big East or ACC play because that’s very powerful.”
After Saturday’s game, the Irish have a week off. They then host Georgia Tech and Boston College before the regular-season finale at No. 8 Louisville.
“To get a win on the road and then have a little break will be really big for our momentum and confidence down the stretch,” said senior guard Steve Vasturia, part of a Big Four that is playing at a high level.
If the ACC Tournament were to begin today, the Irish would be the five-seed and would host the winner of 12th-seeded Clemson and 13th-seeded Pittsburgh. That game would be Wednesday, March 8 at 2 p.m. The winner of that game would move on to play fourth-seeded Duke.
NC State Spotlight: As Brey stated above, the Wolfpack have sputtered in Gottfried’s sixth season in Raleigh. They own a road win at Duke, but overall has the worst scoring margin in the ACC at -12.4. Predicted to finish sixth in the 15-team ACC, the Wolfpack are on a six-game losing streak, the longest in Gottfried’s tenure. That led NC State athletic director Debbie Yow to cut ties with the former Alabama coach, though Gottfried will finish out the season. Despite star freshman guard Dennis Smith Jr. running the show, the Wolfpack have lost their last six games by an average of 19.2 points per game.
“It’s not a 3-10 team we’re dealing with given the dynamics and the ability,” Brey said. “The crowd will be different than maybe I expected given what happened. The last time we played there it was unbelievably loud, they’ve done a great job with the atmosphere and that building. Ready to get off to a good start, but if we don’t get off to a good start, I’ll take a good second half. I’ll always take that.”
Matchup to Watch: Notre Dame will have to keep up with the high-scoring Smith, who is averaging 19.1 points a game in ACC play. Just two teams have held the 6-3 Smith under double-digits — Louisville (8) and Florida State (8). Brey said zones and traps have sometimes been effective against the Fayetteville, N.C., native, and Notre Dame will also use all its available defenders to limit him, whether that’s sophomore guard Rex Pflueger, freshman guard T.J. Gibbs, junior guard Matt Farrell or Vasturia.
“You’re going to have to weather numbers,” Brey said. “Can you just slow him down a little bit? Can you double-team off some ball screens? Can you make him a little more of a jump shooter? When he gets into the lane he’s going to get fouled. He’s a heck of a passer and makes plays, but he can be a one-man, he can beat you.”
Projected Notre Dame Starters:
35 Bonzie Colson (6-5, 225, Jr.) – 16.9 ppg, 10.7 rpg
3 V.J. Beachem (6-8, 201, Sr.) – 15.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg
5 Matt Farrell (6-1, 178, Jr.) – 14.3 ppg, 5.5 apg
32 Steve Vasturia (6-6, 212, Sr.) – 14.1 ppg, 3.4 apg
0 Rex Pflueger (6-6, 202, So.) – 4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg
2 T.J. Gibbs (6-3, 200, Fr.) – 5.2 ppg, 1.9 apg
4 Matt Ryan (6-7, 228, So.) – 3.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg
23 Martinas Geben (6-10, 255, Jr.) – 3.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg
1 Austin Torres (6-7, 241, Sr.) – 1.6 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Projected NC State Starters:
0 Abdul-Malik Abu (6-8, 240, Jr.) – 12.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg
3 Terry Henderson (6-5, 190, Sr.) – 14.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg
4 Dennis Smith Jr. (6-3, 195, Fr.) – 19.0 ppg, 6.7 apg
14 Omer Yurtseven (7-0, 245, Fr.) – 6.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg
24 Maverick Rowan (6-7, 220, So.) – 12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg
2 Torin Dorn (6-5, 208, So.) – 10.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg
23 Ted Kapita (6-8, 219, Fr.) – 4.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg
21 BeeJay Anya (6-9, 344, Sr.) – 3.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg
Notre Dame 82, NC State 80