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HOOPS Preview: Notre Dame vs. Virginia

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NOTRE DAME (11-8, 1-5 ACC) VS VIRGINIA (17-1, 5-1 ACC)

Where: Purcell Pavilion (South Bend, Ind.)

Rankings: Virginia is No. 3 in the AP Poll.

TV/Time: CBS, 1 p.m. ET.

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

Last Meeting: The Cavaliers defeated Notre Dame 62-57 on March 3, 2018 in Charlottesville.

The Irish will face their toughest test today this afternoon with No. 3 Virginia rolling into South Bend.

Notre Dame has lost five of six and will aim to upset one of the nation's top teams in the 17-1 Cavaliers.

Blue & Gold Illustrated takes a look at both programs before they meet later today.

NOTRE DAME OVERVIEW

It was a rough night for Notre Dame on offense and defense in a 63-61 loss to Georgia Tech on Tuesday night. The Irish started 2-of-10 from the floor in the first half, but found a way to hold a 30-28 halftime lead.

But, Notre Dame missed their opening four shots in the second half and it didn’t get much better from there. Georgia Tech shot 54.2 percent over the final 20 minutes while the Irish struggled to a 33.3-percent effort.

Failure to find an offensive flow consistently has been a theme for the Irish throughout the entire season, and Georgia Tech entered the matchup with one of the better defenses nationally. So maybe it isn’t a complete shock Notre Dame struggled in the matchup. However, Mike Brey’s group couldn’t get anything going on either end and looked discombobulated offensively for long periods of times and missed open looks.

All of that will have to change this afternoon against the Cavaliers. Outside of forwards John Mooney and Nate Laszewski, Notre Dame struggled from the floor.

Mooney had 22 points and 14 rebounds and Laszewski added a career-high 19 points to go with six rebounds. The former hit 10 of his 20 attempts while the latter made 5-of-10. Outside of that, the Irish made just 6-of-35 (17.1 percent).

Junior guard TJ Gibbs was the next highest scorer at seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. Freshman guard Dane Goodwin had six points on 2-of-10, while sophomore wing DJ Harvey made just one of his eight shots on the way to four points. Freshman guard Prentiss Hubb finished 0-of-4. Junior wing Nik Djogo hit one of his two three point shots.

Notre Dame will need the latter of that spectrum to be much closer to the former of Mooney and Laszewski in order to pull off a major upset against Virginia. Hitting perimeter shots will be crucial in this matchup, and Brey and company will need contributions from each of the seven in that department. Or at the worst, big nights for two of them from deep to enhance their chances.

VIRGINIA OVERVIEW

Following the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament, many wondered how Virginia’s psyche would be impacted after becoming the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16 seed.

Not only did the Cavaliers lose, they did so by 20 points to UMBC (74-54).

However, that defeat is a thing of the past and the program continues to play at an extremely high level under Tony Bennett.

The Cavaliers are 17-1 this season with their lone loss coming by two points on the road to Duke, while they hold wins over Wisconsin, Maryland, Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Those teams boasted a 69-25 combined record (73.4 percent) going into yesterday’s games, and Virginia won the five contests by an average of 13.4 points.

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

Bennett’s group ranks No. 5 in adjusted offensive efficiency, despite being one the slowest teams nationally sitting at No. 352 in average possession length. The Cavaliers are No. 1 in allowing just 52.4 points per with opponents shooting 37.4 percent (No. 4) from the field and just 24.6 percent (No. 1) behind the arc. All of that is good for being the No. 2 defensive team in adjust efficiency, per KenPom.com.

Guard Kyle Guy is back and leading the charge for Virginia boasting a team-high 15.0 points per game to go with 4.4 rebounds. He’s join in the starting perimeter by potential NBA lottery selection De’Andre Hunter (14.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Ty Jerome (13.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 4.8 APG).

Forwards Mamadi Diakite (6.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and Jack Salt (4.6 PPG, 4.9 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 7.4 points and 5.7 rebounds so far this season off the bench. Forward Jay Huff (5.4 PPG, 2.4 RPG) and freshman guard Kihei Clark (4.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG) 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.

GAME OUTLOOK

It goes without saying that Notre Dame is going to have to play its best game of the season this afternoon. Expecting Virginia to play poorly without Notre Dame aiding in that effort is not a good recipe of success.

This will likely be a low scoring contest where neither team reaches 70 points. If one team does, that probably will equal to a win.

Notre Dame is going to need its freshmen to play upperclassmen and get a good performance from Gibbs and Mooney. Hitting open looks on the perimeter will be key. The Cavaliers will double Mooney in the post when he touches it in the paint, so there could be opportunities for the Irish to take advantage.

There will be times Notre Dame will go through stretches of struggles offensively, but that can’t deter their confidence against a team like this. Brey’s teams are 1-7 against Bennett coached teams all-time.

Prediction

Virginia 68, Notre Dame 55

I haven’t seen enough from Notre Dame this year to make me believe they could put it all together and win a game like this. Purdue was the lone time they’ve played a complete game offensively and this is a much tougher test.

The Irish have locked in a times defensively, but there have been stretches where teams have gotten easy looks. This will be a game Brey and company need Mooney and the other forwards to control the boards as much as possible.

In the end though, I’m not sure Notre Dame can hit enough open shots to pull this one off.

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Talk about it inside Rockne’s Roundtable

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