No. 14 Notre Dame braces for nemesis Virginia (Jan 24, 2017)
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- One down, one really big one to go for No. 14 Notre Dame.
An Atlantic Coast Conference demon was exorcised Saturday at a sold-out Purcell Pavilion when Notre Dame (17-3, 6-1 ACC) ran away with an 18-point victory over Syracuse. It marked the first time in five meetings that the Fighting Irish were successful against the Orange, and the first time they had won a game as ACC colleagues.
Notre Dame coach Mike Brey made mention of that in the postgame locker room and also touched on the fact that another streak awaits to be broken when No. 12 Virginia (15-3, 5-2) visits on Tuesday night in what likely will be another sellout.
Just as Syracuse had done, Virginia owns Notre Dame in ACC play. The Cavaliers have won all four meetings, something Brey let his veterans know Saturday afternoon.
"We have a very focused upperclass group that has had their butts beat by Virginia a bunch," Brey said. "We're playing a team that we've had no answers for."
It's a challenge that Notre Dame has not answered in any of its four previous meetings. The games have seldom been close. Notre Dame's average margin of defeat has been 13.2 points. The Fighting Irish often have trailed -- by a lot. Their average largest deficit is 19.5 points.
Virginia led by as many as 24 the first time the teams met in South Bend in 2014, then led by 25 later that season in Charlottesville, Va. The Irish team that went 32-6 and won the conference tournament in 2015 trailed by as many as 10 points at home to the Cavaliers, who opened league play last season with an 11-point win in a game they led by 19 at one point.
Notre Dame never has shot better than 49 percent from the field or better than 42 percent from 3-point range. Its point average in four games? A pedestrian 56.
The Cavaliers have done as they pleased. Notre Dame needs for that to change, as it did against Syracuse.
"They're next," junior power forward Martinas Geben said of Virginia, which comes to town as winners of four in a row. "They're next on the list. We just have to come out aggressive again and attacking and just making smart plays and take care of the basketball."
Virginia arrives the league's gold standard since Notre Dame jumped aboard in 2013-14. In that time, the Cavaliers have won 50 ACC contests. They've been good at home. They've been good on the road. They won't be intimidated by what they'll face Tuesday night. They'll just continue to play their methodical, successful brand of basketball.
"I like going on the road," said Cavaliers forward Isaiah Wilkins. "We just have young guys locked in and ready to play just as much as we are. It's going to be a crazy environment and it's just a lot of fun going and playing there."
The Irish think of themselves as "road dawgs" when it comes to venturing away from their building in league play. They won their first three road games, and lost a fourth to No. 6 Florida State by only three points. The Cavaliers have a similar mindset -- get them away from home doesn't necessarily mean it will get them out of their game.
"I think we play a little bit better on the road," senior point guard London Perrantes said Saturday. "We play with a lot more energy."
A massive matchup awaits.