Virginia’s loss to Louisville didn’t feel like a normal game for this year’s UVa squad. The Cavaliers sunk 11 shots from 3-point range and scored a season-high 73 points. Despite the offensive masterpiece, Virginia fell 80-73 as the Cardinals’ offense found holes in Virginia’s Pack Line defense.
Notre Dame, which comes to Charlottesville on Tuesday night, plays much differently than the Cavaliers. Mike Brey’s squad ranks among the most efficient offenses in the nation.
The Fighting Irish rarely turn the ball over, and they shoot it well from the perimeter. Interestingly, only Miami ranks worse among ACC teams in defensive efficiency during conference games.
Virginia and Notre Dame feel like opposites on the court, but they’ll enter Tuesday’s showdown neck and neck in various metrics.
As of Monday morning, Notre Dame ranked 51st in the NET rankings. Virginia ranked 52nd.
ESPN’s BPI listed Virginia at No. 42, and Notre Dame slid in at No. 47. UVa came in at No. 51 in KenPom, and Notre Dame sat at No. 55.
Tuesday’s game matters as ACC teams jockey for position on the bubble. The Cavaliers and Fighting Irish only meet once in the regular season, and head-to-head matchups play a role in the selection committee’s decisions. The winner of this one could hold an edge in March.
“Man, it’d be huge,” Brey said of a potential win. “We just have not had any answers to Virginia. For us, in the midst of this run to get one there, I think would really grow confidence to even another level … it’d be huge, and it’d be huge for our resume. It’s so needed.”
Despite rarely playing in tight defensive battles, Notre Dame comes to Virginia two days after a 61-57 win at Clemson, which plays similarly to Virginia. After scoring 80 points in five consecutive games prior to the Clemson victory, Notre Dame found itself in a rare rock fight.
“I said in the locker room, I said ‘Fellas, we are gonna be in the same situation,’” Brey told his team after the Clemson win. “’It’s not gonna be pretty. It’s gonna be a wrestling match and this is a great prelim to dealing with their style of play.’”
Virginia, which is no stranger to a good rock fight, wants to keep momentum rolling. Despite losing to Louisville, the Cavaliers erased a 14-point halftime deficit and performed admirably against a top-5 team. They’re 4-2 in their last six games, and they won three games in a row prior to the close loss to Louisville.
The Cavaliers don’t need to knock in 11 shots from beyond the arc to win games, but they want to maintain improved offensive rhythm against Notre Dame. That’s a realistic possibility given some of Notre Dame’s defensive woes in recent weeks.
Defensively, Virginia faces a test against Notre Dame’s efficient and dynamic offense. The Fighting Irish feature a few good shooting guards and John Mooney is a walking double-double in the post. He averages 16.5 points and 13 rebounds per contest.
The team’s experience might be its best attribute. The Fighting Irish primarily feature a lineup with four seniors. The one underclassman, Prentiss Hubb, is an experienced sophomore point guard playing at a high level. Experience helps the Fighting Irish stay in seemingly every game. Of Notre Dame’s eight losses, five have come by one possession.
“Well, first they’re a veteran team,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “I know Coach Brey, I heard him — I don’t know if he coined it — but he said ‘Get old, stay old,’ and I’ve always remembered that. They have a number of seniors and even in their losses they’ve been so close.”
Bennett mentioned Notre Dame’s motion and versatility with lineups as challenges when facing the Fighting Irish. It won’t be an easy matchup for the Cavaliers, but Bennett has had Brey’s number since the Fighting Irish joined the ACC. Bennett is 8-1 against Brey and Notre Dame.
Virginia and Notre Dame win differently this season, but the contrasting styles have both teams in a similar spot in mid-February.
They need a win.