basketball

Notre Dame Observes ACC Upheaval

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Juniors Matt Farrell (left) and Bonzie Colson got some crucial rest during their ACC bye week.
Associated Press

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As several of the top teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference battled for position Wednesday night, two of Notre Dame’s top players weren’t paying much attention.

Junior guard Matt Farrell said he spent part of his night watching the TV show “The Sopranos” for the third time, choosing not to watch the North Carolina-Louisville and Duke-Syracuse games.

Junior forward Bonzie Colson was at the movie theater for a viewing of “Hidden Figures” — “five stars” was his review — instead of watching basketball.

Head coach Mike Brey was in Boston recruiting Wednesday during the team's bye week. He said he watched North Carolina’s convincing win over the Cardinals, but only caught the highlights of Syracuse’s last-second win over Duke.

Those results — and several others over the past week — have positioned the 21st-ranked Irish (21-7, 10-5 ACC) in a four-way tie for second place in the 15-team league.

“I didn’t think it would be this much upheaval, but it’s great,” Brey said. “It’s great for our league. It’s great for us. It’s the best league.

“I was recruiting yesterday in Boston and a Big Ten coach was sitting next to me, and the whole time he was like, ‘What’s it like in your league? Your league, oh my God.’ Everybody’s watching our league, and quite frankly the guys in the other Power Sixes, they’re scared of our league.”

Notre Dame is tied with Duke (22-6), Florida State (22-6) and Louisville (22-6) at 10-5 in the ACC, the unquestioned top conference in the nation. Last year’s national runner-up North Carolina (24-5, 12-3) has a two-game lead for first-place in the conference.

The Irish are aiming for a top-four finish in order to secure a double bye in the conference tournament. Notre Dame has achieved that mark the past two seasons and finished in the top four of its league five of the past seven years.

Brey said he knows his team has an eye on the standings and where they sit with three games to play. Staying focused on the task at hand is the challenge.

“That’s something we knew was going to happen, lot of craziness happens in the ACC,” Colson said. “We’re focusing on ourselves and taking it game by game to get where we need to go. This little bye week is good for us just to focus in on ourselves even more and we’re ready to get better.”

Unlike others in the ACC, Notre Dame has built its record on two winning streaks: a 5-0 start in league play and its current four-game roll. In between was a stretch of five losses in six games, which knocked Brey’s squad from the Associated Press top 25.

“I don’t know if we’ve ever had it like this before,” Brey said. “I can’t think of a Big East run like this. You manage it. I always get set when I wake up December 26, I’m in a mindset of, ‘Alright, here it comes.’ How you lead them and how you deal with your guys and trying to stay even-keeled and not overreacting and not panicking and staying poised in front of them has always been something I’m really cognizant of.

“There’s no question the maturity of this team and the intelligence of this group and the toughness, the combination of those three things have put us where we are.”

The Irish have two winnable home games against Georgia Tech (Sunday, 6:30 p.m.) and Boston College (March 1) before a regular season finale at Louisville (March 4).

“Our guys are reading and looking, ‘Hey, there’s four people at 10-5,’ all the scenarios are out there and our guys read all that stuff,” Brey said. “We need to just focus on a good day of practice Thursday and just kind of methodically go through the week one at a time.”

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