Imagine the fire breathed over the phone to the league office from a certain Hall of Fame basketball coach down Tobacco Road way whose name is hard to spell had his team been handed a similar conference gauntlet.
Think of all the whine from another Hall of Famer in Central New York had his team, coming off a losing league season, been given that conference challenge.
Had some teams been asked to do what the Atlantic Coast Conference asks of Notre Dame following Thursday’s national release of the 2019-20 league schedule (one too few around town saw, thanks ACC Network), their coaches might howl for hours about how the league did their programs dirty.
Inside Rolfs Hall, all was quiet. Publicly, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey will grin and bear it. Well, grin and play it. He’ll put on his happy interview face and talk of the great challenges of league play, of how so many NCAA tournament resume wins are there for the possible taking.
Privately, Brey likely will stew over one stretch of the ACC schedule. For a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2017, this league schedule might as well be dubbed “Mission Impossible.”
Yet Brey remains the good ACC solider; he’ll carry on with his conference marching orders. He won’t speak out, even though he might want to. Might have to.
It’s almost as if Brey’s too nice of a guy when it comes to complaining about the conference schedule. As in, he won’t. Ever. You know what they say about said nice guys. They finish last, something Brey and the Irish did last season when they beat only two league teams before bottoming out with a 3-15 conference record.
The reward for staggering through stretches of five- and seven-game league losing streaks last season? Set aside one January run of four of six on the road, where it went 1-9 last year. How about a four-game, nine-day February minefield, the likes of which Notre Dame maybe has never seen. The Irish have had their share of “A” schedules during their days in the Big East and now the ACC, but all of those came with promises that Notre Dame had the potential to be good. To be elite. To handle that schedule heavy lifting.
That’s nowhere near the expectation this season, yet this league schedule’s a whopper for a team that wasn’t very good a year ago. Might not be all that better.
Apparently, some in the ACC office still might be salty about Notre Dame beating Duke and North Carolina on consecutive nights in Greensboro, N.C., to win the 2015 ACC tournament championship. No way else to explain it. (Just kidding)
Quite the run
Exactly what is it? Starting Feb. 9, Notre Dame plays at Clemson. That one fits into the league’s Sunday Night national television window, so it’s an early-evening start at Littlejohn Coliseum. Just over 48 hours later and 400 miles away, Notre Dame visits defending national champion Virginia. Notre Dame lost both games to Virginia last season by an average of 16.5 points, including by 27 at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish are winless (0-4) at John Paul Jones Arena and likely won’t win in visit five.
Virginia’s also a 9 p.m. start — a tip time college coaches loathe, especially on the road. Sit around the hotel all day, start late, get home later, if you get home at all. That’s OK, for the Irish surely get a schedule breather the rest of the week, right?
Notre Dame has two days (maybe) to pick up any pieces post-packline defense before traveling to perhaps the toughest place in the league to play — Cameron Indoor Stadium. Only one Irish (graduate senior Rex Pflueger) has won at Duke. It will be the first trip to Cameron for the Irish sophomore class. It’s a massive adjustment. You just don’t walk there and cut it loose. The atmosphere knocks even the best of guys back for at least a half. It is, honestly, crazy. An assault on the senses.
Ask pros Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant how they reacted to that building their first time when they were seniors.
Three straight on the road is nothing new for the Irish. This is the fourth time in seven seasons for them in the ACC, but the first where one of the league’s perennial powers is involved. This time, there’s two (Virginia, Duke) and they’re back-to-back.
After that late-afternoon tip (4 p.m.) at Cameron, the Irish are on a plane and headed home. Barely 48 hours after playing perennial league power Duke, and after three road games in seven days totaling 3,241 miles, Notre Dame’s lone Big Monday appearance arrives.
Against North Carolina.
Hello darkness, my old friend…
That’s four games in nine days against teams that beat Notre Dame by an average of 12.6 points last year. That’s also three games in a seven-day window against teams (Virginia, Duke, North Carolina) all nationally ranked and picked among the league’s top four in preseason.
What, sliding another league contender (Louisville) into that stretch wasn’t an option? Come on, now that would just be silly.
Conference scheduling for the 15 teams is an ongoing challenge. Even more so this season as the ACC slate goes to 20 games. It’s hard to make all the pieces fit, to make everyone happy, to find a rhythm in relation to the wants and needs of the schools and for television. Especially this year, the first for the ACC Network. It needs inventory. It needs must-see games. It needs matchups that matter.
The good news in all of this is this — Notre Dame matters. For the league. For television. For marquee dates. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be sent to Chapel Hill to start. It wouldn’t get a Saturday-Monday of Duke and North Carolina. It would play most of its games in relative anonymity.
As rough as that February stretch is, Notre Dame does get its final five games against teams likely picked no higher than middle of the pack. There’s opportunity to bounce back on the back end.
But will Brey and the Irish have anything left once they get there?