Notre Dame Fighting Irish Men's Basketball's Trip To Boston College A Reminder Things Could Still Be Worse
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Notre Dame’s Trip To Boston College A Reminder Things Could Still Be Worse

Asked after Tuesday’s wire-to-wire loss at Louisville for a reason why Notre Dame mustered a mere 57 points, coach Mike Brey offered an answer that ought to lead in this season’s postmortem.

It summed up the frustrating moments of a 2020-21 campaign that will all but assuredly end with the Irish absent from the NCAA tournament field and without a winning ACC record for the fourth straight year.

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball junior point guard Prentiss Hubb
Junior guard Prenitss Hubb and Notre Dame beat Boston College 80-70 in January. (ACC)

“Well really, to be honest with you,” Brey said, shaking his head with dejected admission, “for us to beat anybody, those seven [rotation players] have to be in a pretty good rhythm. We had some guys who just didn’t play well. You have to give Louisville credit. We couldn’t really cut and move and take it off the dribble. We were left with [point guard] Prentiss Hubb being the only guy who could do it. When we get into that mode, we’re just grasping at straws.”

It has, on the whole, been proven accurate. Defenses ripe with athleticism and ones that apply ball pressure have too often been insurmountable obstacles for Notre Dame’s seven-man rotation of upperclassmen and its coaching staff. It’s a sobering reality of a disappointing year that began with NCAA tournament aspirations.

Still, a weak ACC has provided some reprieve and reminders that there are lows the Irish haven’t reached. It’s nothing to celebrate, but things could always be worse. A lot has to go wrong for Notre Dame to end up where its next opponent currently sits.

Boston College (3-13, 1-9 ACC) is the definition of playing out the string. The Eagles have not won since Jan. 12 and are returning from a two-week COVID-19 pause. They also had a three-week layoff from mid-January to early February. They have played just four games since that last win, a season of constant interruptions.

Elsewhere, the program made an abrupt coaching change earlier this month, firing Jim Christian after six-plus seasons. It was expected at the end of the year, but the mid-season timing was bizarre. Second-leading scorer Wynston Tabbs (13.3 points per game) was suspended for the rest of the season due to a violation of COVID-19 protocols and promptly hopped in the transfer portal.

All told, things on the Heights are pretty low. Lower than Notre Dame (9-12, 6-9) can get this year. And probably next year.

Five members of that seven-man group are likely to return next season, and when adding in two top-150 signees plus Ivy League Player of the Year Paul Atkinson, there’s already a defined core. The senior-class-to-be still needs to find another gear to return to tournament contention, but the ceiling feels a tad higher than this season’s trajectory. It should reasonably aspire to improve on its 1-9 record against teams above it in the standings.

Notre Dame is, though, 5-0 against the four teams below it in the standings. Saturday’s trip to Boston College (2 p.m. ET, ACCN) is Notre Dame’s final such game of the regular season. It’s probably too-little, too-late for igniting a late-season surge that will have real March consequence, but it’s at least a soft landing and a chance for any needed confidence repair.

The KenPom page for Boston College is a sea of red boxes, denoting below-average numbers. Namely, bottom-three in conference-game offensive and defensive efficiency. There’s little point to rehashing the futility beyond that, but let’s just say the stage is set for Brey to sit in front of a computer screen late Saturday afternoon and dish out the opposite of his Tuesday remarks that like this:

“You’re so harassed by the time you get the open look, your feet aren’t very calm and it causes you not to shoot it as well.”

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Or this:

“It’s a real mental test. You can’t see a bucket go in, but you have to go back on the other end and defend and block out some athletic ability. It’s not a recipe for us to win a game. I’m sitting there watching almost 40 minutes of, ‘This is going to be intense defense and we’re going to struggle, and can we rebound them enough to hold them off?’”

Notre Dame and Boston College met once before this season, an 80-70 Irish win Jan. 16 in South Bend that wasn’t quite as close as the margin indicates.

Notre Dame led for nearly 37 minutes, had five players reach double-figure scoring, shot 14-for-31 on three-pointers and committed only seven turnovers. The Eagles did slice their deficit to six twice in the second half, but Notre Dame reeled off five straight points in response each time.

Notre Dame (9-12, 6-9 ACC) at Boston College (3-13, 1-9)

When: Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021

Where: Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

TV: ACC Network

Radio: Notre Dame basketball Radio Network

KenPom Prediction: Notre Dame 77, Boston College 73

Series: Notre Dame leads 24-11

Other notes

• Fifth-year senior center Juwan Durham has scored at least 10 points in seven straight games and 10 of the last 11. He is averaging 12.3 points and shooting 65.2 percent in 15 ACC games this year.

• Hubb is averaging 6.2 assists per game, which would be ninth-best single-season average in team history. He has dished out at least six assists in eight of Notre Dame’s last 10 games. He had 10 assists in the first game against Boston College and did not commit a turnover until the second half.

• Boston College’s leading scorer is sophomore guard Jay Heath, who is averaging 14.3 points and shooting 41.2 percent in 15 games. He makes 33 percent of his three-pointers.

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