Analysis: ACC basketball schedule speaks - Notre Dame expected to be really good

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Handed a heavyweight slate Thursday with the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule release for the 2017-18 men's basketball season, Notre Dame will again have to avoid potential knockout punches.

History tells us that the Irish will do just that.

They've done it each of the last three seasons in winning double-digit league games — 12-11-14 — and qualifying for one of the four double-byes in the conference tournament. A year ago, Notre Dame had an outside shot of sharing the regular-season championship right down to the final day.

Notre Dame has been good each of the last three seasons and is expected to be borderline great this season. The Irish return potential league player of the year in Bonzie Colson, point guard Matt Farrell, a likely first team all-league preseason selection and a group hungry to keep building on its March successes of seasons past.

Few early Top 25 lists don't include the Irish.

This is a group that was a Colson ankle sprain away from winning a second ACC tournament in the last three years. There's as much momentum around the program now than maybe ever in Mike Brey's tenure. No reason to ease off the accelerator now.

With that high bar comes high challenges, which are usually found in two words when the league schedules go final.

Saturday.

Monday.

Those are the league body blows that often take a toll. Play Saturday somewhere, then turn around, often get on a plane, and prepare for ESPN's prime-time slot on Monday. Win or lose, home or on the road, teams must flush their Saturday showings fast. Big Mondays arrive quickly.

Five teams are expected to challenge for the four ACC tournament double-byes. Duke is expected to be good. So is Louisville. And Miami (Fla.). North Carolina should see little drop-off coming clear of a national championship in March. Notre Dame?

Right there alongside the big boys.

Perhaps as a residual result of its recent NCAA wrongdoing (the league tends to frown on sex scandals at its schools), Louisville gets only one Saturday-Monday. Miami and North Carolina have two. Duke and Notre Dame get a league-high three. That's as many as the Irish had the last three years. Combined.

Notre Dame's biggest games — the Big Monday games — all come against teams that can win the league. Notre Dame is at Duke (Jan. 29), at North Carolina (Feb. 12) and home for Miami (Feb. 19).

Buckle up.

Not since 2008-09 back in its days in the Big East has Note Dame faced such a demanding league run. That year's team made an early-season trip to the Maui Invitational, had veterans in key roles and was handed three Saturday-Mondays.

This year's team makes an early-season trip to Maui, has veterans in key roles and also has three Saturday-Mondays.

That year's team staggered to a 2-4 showing on Big Mondays before limping into that OTHER postseason tournament.

Somewhere inside the Joyce Center, maybe even down in the corner of The Pit, Brey was likely heard repeating a familiar mantra. It's the same one he trots out every season when the league schedule drops.

"If we can just get to 9-9."

"If we can just get to 9-9."

Stop.

After three ridiculously-successful seasons that have included two trips to the ACC Tournament Championship game and two Elite Eight runs, this is a program that's beyond hoping to break even.

Only North Carolina (39) and Virginia (40) have won more ACC games over the last three seasons than Notre Dame (37). Of those, 16 have come on the road, where the Irish have been .500 or better in two of the last three years. Notre Dame went 5-4 on the road last season, a ridiculous 7-2 three seasons ago.

Average teams don't do that.

Average teams don't succeed along Tobacco Road. After going 0-3 in Carolina during its first year in the league, Notre Dame has owned the area. There the Irish have won eight of their last 10. They hit all four schools on Tobacco Road this season.

If they can just go 2-2 ...

Brey likes his program to keep a low profile through November and December, then surprise and hit its stride in January and February, which slingshots the Irish into March. That's not going to happen this year. There's no sneaking up on anybody.

The secret's out on Notre Dame.

The Saturday-Mondays spilled it.

tnoie@ndinsider.com

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

2017-18 Notre Dame Men's Basketball Schedule

Home games in CAPS

NOVEMBER

3 Fri. BETHEL COLLEGE, 7 p.m. (exhibition); 7 Tues. CARDINAL STRITCH, 7 (exhibition); 11 Sat. at DePaul, TBA; 13 Mon. MOUNT SAINT MARY'S, 7; 16 Thurs. CHICAGO STATE, 7; 20 Mon. Chaminade (Maui Invitational), 9 (ESPNU); 21 Tues. vs. Michigan/LSU (Maui Invitational), 8 or 10:30 p.m. (ESPN/ESPN2); 22 Wed. vs. TBA (Maui Invitational), TBA; 30 Thurs. at Michigan State, 7 (ESPN).

DECEMBER

3 Sun. St. Francis (N.Y.) 2; 5 Tues. BALL STATE 7; 9 Sat. At Delaware, TBA; 16 Sat. vs. Indiana (Bankers Life Fieldhouse), TBA; 19 Tues. DARTMOUTH, 7 (ESPN2);21 Thurs. SE LOUISIANA, 7; 30 Sat. GEORGIA TECH, TBA.

JANUARY

3 Wed. NORTH CAROLINA STATE, 9 (ACCN); 6 Sat. at Syracuse, 3:15 (ESPN/ESPN2); 10 Wed. at Georgia Tech, 7 (ESPNU); 13 Sat. NORTH CAROLINA, 6 (ESPN/ESPN2); 16 Tues. LOUISVILLE, 7 (ESPN2); 20 Sat. at Clemson, 4 (ESPN/ESPN2); 27 Sat. VIRGINIA TECH, 8 (ESPN2); 29 Mon. at Duke, 7 (ESPN).

FEBRUARY

3 Sat. at North Carolina State, 12 (ESPN/ESPN2); 6 Tues. BOSTON COLLEGE, 8 (ACCN); 10 Sat. FLORIDA STATE, 4 (ESPN/ESPN2); 12 Mon. At North Carolina, 7 (ESPN); 17 Sat. at Boston College 4 (ACCN); 19 Mon. MIAMI (Fla.), 7 (ESPN); 24 Sat. at Wake Forest, 3 (ACCN); 28 Wed. PITTSBURGH, 7 (ESPNU).

MARCH

3 Sat. at Virginia, 4 (ACCN); 6-10 at ACC Championship (Brooklyn, N.Y.), TBA.