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HOOPS Preview: Notre Dame At Virginia

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NOTRE DAME (13-11, 3-8 ACC) AT VIRGINIA (21-2, 9-2 ACC)

Where: John Paul Jones Arena (Charlottesville, Va.)

Rankings: Virginia is No. 4 in the AP Poll.

TV/Time: Raycom Sports, 2 p.m. ET.

Series Facts: Virginia leads the all-time series 11-2.

Last Meeting: The Cavaliers defeated Notre Dame 82-55 on Jan. 26, 2019 in South Bend.

Notre Dame will face a daunting challenge this afternoon aiming to take down No. 4 Virginia on the road.

The Cavaliers had no troubles with the Irish in the first meeting earlier this year in South Bend. Notre Dame has won two of three while Virginia has not lost to an opponent not named Duke.

Blue & Gold Illustrated takes a look at both programs before they meet this afternoon.

NOTRE DAME OVERVIEW

After Notre Dame’s worst offensive performance of the season against Miami, a 24-point first half at home versus Georgia Tech continued the struggles.

Then the Irish exploded in the second half.

Notre Dame broke out for the most points in one half in ACC play with 45 to pull away for a 69-59 win over the Yellow Jackets.

The Irish hit the backboards hard in the second half and produced 12 offensive rebounds to give the team second-chance opportunities as Notre Dame shot just 32.8 percent for the game.

Junior guard TJ Gibbs posted a season-high 20 points after going for 18 during the final 20 minutes. Sophomore wing DJ Harvey added 18 points, which was the second-highest total this season after three 19-point performances during non-conference play.

Freshman guard Prentiss Hubb finally found a rhythm against a zone defense going for 13 points, while junior forward John Mooney recorded his 15th double-double of the season with 11 points and 14 rebounds (six offensive).

Freshman forward Nate Laszewski (5) and junior wing Nik Djogo (2) rounded out the scoring production for the Irish as junior forward Juwan Durham and freshman guard Dane Goodwin went scoreless on five combined attempts.

Notre Dame went 20-of-23 in the second half from the charity stripe to aid the efforts after shooting just 36.7 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes.

Scoring 45 points against a Georgia Tech defense that typically gives Notre Dame fits in one half is encouraging, but over 40 percent came from the charity stripe.

Obviously, the Irish would love to get to the free throw line 23 times this afternoon against a stingy Virginia defense that allows a little over 15 free throw attempts per game. But Notre Dame had just eight in their January matchup.

Hitting from deep and creating foul trouble to get to the line will be major keys for the Irish in this one.

VIRGINIA OVERVIEW

Virginia continues to play Virginia basketball. The Cavaliers have suffocated opponents defensively, while remaining highly efficient on the other to counter.

The team’s lone two losses have come to Duke by a combined 12 points, with the Cavaliers boasting wins over North Carolina (road), Wisconsin (neutral), Maryland (away), Florida State (home) and Virginia Tech (home).

Tony Bennett’s group ranks No. 5 in adjusted offensive efficiency, despite being one the slowest teams nationally sitting at No. 351 in average possession length. The Cavaliers are No. 1 in allowing just 54.4 points per with opponents shooting 37.7 percent (No. 4) from the field and just 26.7 percent (No. 2) behind the arc. All of that is good for being the No. 3 defensive team in adjust efficiency, per KenPom.com.

Guard Kyle Guy is back and leading the charge for Virginia boasting a team-high 14.8 points per game to go with 4.2 rebounds. He’s joined in the starting perimeter by potential NBA lottery selection De’Andre Hunter (14.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Ty Jerome (13.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 5.2 APG).

Forwards Mamadi Diakite (7.0 PPG, 3.8 RPG) and Jack Salt (4.6 PPG, 4.7 RPG) can be tough matchups inside with both standing over 6-foot-9.

Virginia added a key piece during the offseason landing forward Braxton Key from Alabama, who has averaged 6.7 points and 6.1 rebounds so far this season off the bench. Forward Jay Huff (5.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG) and freshman guard Kihei Clark (4.5 PPG) should see some action off the bench as well.

Others could see some time, but the Cavaliers have featured these eight players much of the season. No matter who is on the court, Virginia provides quite the challenge on both ends for Notre Dame and the rest of the country.

In their first meeting, the Cavaliers jumped out to a 12-0 lead and never looked back. The Irish got the deficit back down to a dozen early in the second half, but after a timeout Virginia went back into full control for the 82-55 victory.

Virginia shot 52.2 percent for the game and 44.4 percent behind the arc, while Notre Dame made just 36.1 percent of their field goal attempts and an even worse 27.6 percent on three-point shots.

GAME OUTLOOK

For the Irish to have any chance in this one, those three-point numbers from the first matchup needed to be flipped. Notre Dame will need to hit around that 44 percent clip on the same number of attempts they had in South Bend (29) in order to pull off the major upset.

Virginia’s defensive style can allow teams to get open looks on the outside, but those shots absolutely need to fall.

The Irish will get Durham back for this one and will start a lineup they feel is a little better equipped to score early against Virginia. Durham will need to help Notre Dame avoid some of the easy looks the Cavaliers got the first time, while the Irish have to avoid going down early.

Prediction

Virginia 72, Notre Dame 56

The way Notre Dame played in the first matchup at home doesn’t project the notion that an upset is possible.

Stranger things have happened, but I don’t see the Irish hitting enough shots in this one on the road. I do feel getting Durham in the lineup will help and maybe the recent lineup of Hubb, Gibbs, Djogo, Harvey and Mooney can avoid getting in a deep hole early.

Virginia is also coming off a tough back-to-back stretch of Duke and North Carolina, but the Cavaliers will be at home and should be focused.

This one may stay closer a bit longer, but Virginia gets another double-digit win in the long run.

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Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable

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