No. 8 Louisville, Notre Dame have double bye in mind
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — With the ACC Tournament looming next week, seven of the top eight seeds are all in play as No. 19 Notre Dame travels to No. 8 Louisville on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.
The top four seeds in the league each get a double bye. With a win, the Cardinals (23-7, 11-6) are assured of at least a double bye. A win assures the Fighting Irish (23-7, 12-5) of a double bye.
There are all kinds of scenarios that end with some combination of Notre Dame, Louisville, Florida State or Duke being in the No. 2-5 seed in the ACC Tournament, but the easiest way to summarize is essentially Louisville and Notre Dame are playing Saturday to not have to play next Wednesday.
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Whichever team doesn’t get the double bye will have to win four games in as many days to win the ACC title and the league’s automatic NCAA bid.
“Realistically, it’s hard to get to Saturday night if you’ve got to play Wednesday,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “You have a much better chance of getting to Saturday night if you start playing on Thursday. That’s what we’ve talked about.”
“It’s a lot for your body. You want to play one less game to get to the championship,” Louisville senior center Mangok Mathiang said.
The Irish come in with an advantage. They have won their last six straight games and also have a victory over Louisville earlier this season.
“If we were to finish in the top four and get a double bye, that would be six out of the last eight seasons between the Big East and the ACC that we’ve done that,” Brey said. “It’s something we’re really proud of, a top-four finish.”
Fans likely are in for a thriller Saturday. Louisville’s last 11 games against Notre Dame have included 11 overtime periods.
The last time these two teams met was on Jan. 4 at Notre Dame when the Irish beat the Cardinals, 77-70. It was Notre Dame’s sixth straight home win vs. Louisville.
“We know what to expect from Notre Dame every time,” Mathiang said. “They are a well-coached team, they play hard and they always know what they are doing. We know why we lost the last game and so we have to go out and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Junior guard Matt Farrell had a career-high 22 points and junior post Bonzie Colson had 18 points and 14 rebounds during the Jan. 4 game. After trailing nearly the entire game, Louisville tied the score at 68 only to fumble the game away in the final two minutes. Quentin Snider missed a free throw, the Cardinals had back-to-back turnovers and Donovan Mitchell missed a 3-point attempt. Notre Dame closed out the win on a 9-2 run.
“We didn’t really play that well,” Louisville senior David Levitch said. “Notre Dame will spread you out and shoot a 3. They penetrate well and they kick out and shoot 3s. You have to stop that penetration.”
A key for Louisville will be getting sophomore leading scorer Mitchell more involved. He has just seven points during the Cardinals’ 88-81 loss at Wake Forest Wednesday night. Mitchell may be guarded by Irish defensive specialist Steve Vasturia, a senior guard.
“We have put him on the best perimeter guy all the time,” Brey said. “Actually when we’re playing smaller, he’s guarding the power forward sometimes. He does a little bit of everything.”
Colson is averaging a double-double this season at 16.9 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.
Notre Dame is on a six-game winning streak. Only one of the six games came against teams in the top nine spots in the ACC league standings.
Saturday is Louisville’s senior day for Mathiang, Levitch and Tony Hicks. None of the three are traditional starters, but could get the nod Saturday.
Louisville fans are having a Red Out Saturday and will be wearing red for the seniors.
Louisville leads Notre Dame 20-15 in the all-time series, but the Cardinals have lost the last three and four of the last six.