Noie: Notre Dame's last trip to Greensboro netted an ACC title. Can the Irish channel history?
Five years have passed since the Atlantic Coast Conference last threw its postseason party in Greensboro, N.C., but in many ways, it’s like the league never really left.
Teams still use the same charter bus company (Young) to get around town. Nearly half the squads stay in the same hotel — the Sheraton Four Seasons — a few miles from Greensboro Coliseum. You’re likely to bump into a coach or a player or someone affiliated with one of the schools on the way to breakfast or lunch or late at night after the last game.
Even a certain coach from a certain Midwest school will walk a familiar path — from the lobby, down a back hallway, past a restaurant and back bar and out the side door. He’ll cross a hotel service road, then navigate Gate City Boulevard to get to that one place that screams southern hospitality.
There, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey will place his order — a large iced tea to go — to break the monotony of another strategy session or wind down from another long day of basketball. The Irish team managers wore a path from the hotel to the restaurant when Brey was too busy to make the trip. Brey was back this week at Waffle House seeking ice tea, just as he was in 2015, when Notre Dame overcame overwhelming odds to capture the ACC tournament championship.
Remember that time? Remember that team? Brey does. It’s probably the best the Irish program will ever be. They used that ACC tourney championship — Brey joked that he was going to spend the summer driving around with the trophy on the hood of his SUV (he may have been serious) — to get within one win of the school’s second Final Four.
The Irish spent that week showing serious swagger. They played fearlessly. There even were times when they were downright cocky. They weren’t going to lose. Not to Miami (Fla.) in the quarterfinals when they let an 18-point lead in the second half get away before finding their way. Not to Duke, which they beat for a second time that season in the semifinals. Even when there was an obscene amount of North Carolina blue in the building on Championship Saturday Night, it was the Tar Heels who were left green with envy.
That was a magical time for Brey and for this program, something he often reminded his guys of in preparation for Wednesday’s second-round game (7 p.m., ESPN2) between No. 7 seed Notre Dame (19-12) and No. 10 seed Boston College (13-18).
Even before the Irish traveling party headed out on their fifth basketball trip to North Carolina this season, Brey promised to have his players visit with that 2015 tournament trophy, displayed in the team’s Purcell Pavilion locker room lounge. See it. Touch it. Dream of it.
“We’ve got unbelievable memories of Greensboro,” said Brey, who also downloaded video clips of that 2015 ACC tournament — certainly that Steve Vasturia 3 in front of the bench against Carolina — for his team to watch this week. “I’m trying to channel as much karma as possible.”
It could be karma from Greensboro in 2015, or any other ACC tournament site since that championship night. Notre Dame joined the ACC in 2013-14. Other than that season when it lost to Wake Forest in the first game on the first day of the ACC tournament, also in Greensboro, Notre Dame has thrived at the postseason league tournament.
The year after winning it all, Notre Dame again beat Duke in an improbable comeback that eventually went to overtime to get back to the tournament semifinals in Washington. The next year at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Notre Dame was a Bonzie Colson sprained ankle and eight minutes away from a second tournament championship in three seasons. Who could forget that ridiculous roar-back from 21 points down with 15 minutes to play the following year to beat Virginia Tech in Brooklyn?
Even last season, when Notre Dame had absolutely nothing to play for after finishing last in the league, it mustered enough momentum to win its opening-round game against Georgia Tech in Charlotte.
Notre Dame loves the ACC tournament, and the ACC tournament loves Notre Dame. The Irish have won nine tournament games in their seven seasons. Only three schools — Duke (12), Virginia (11) and North Carolina (11) — have won more in that time.
“The biggest thing is our confidence, making sure we’re going in there and we’re playing Notre Dame basketball,” said guard T.J. Gibbs. “We know we’re playing for something bigger. It’s more than just our team. It’s the culture of this program.
“It means a lot to all of us.”
It means more this season. The only way back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2017 is for Notre Dame to again overcome an avalanche of odds and win four games in four days to snag the league’s automatic bid.
Nobody’s thinking much yet about that road. They’re thinking more about the one they’ve already traveled. The one that allowed them to think only of one game on one specific date the final few weeks of the regular season when it won eight of their final 12.
The team’s official motto this season has been #runitback. That’s since shifted to #oneatatime.
“That’s why we’ve had some success in the second half of the conference season,” said first team All-ACC selection John Mooney. “We’ve been laser-like focused. We’re not going to change that.”
Brey didn’t plan to stray too far from what worked the last time Notre Dame was in Greensboro for the league tournament. That year, he wore the same green dress shirt for all three games. He’d have a student manager get it dry cleaned in time for the next one. That shirt hasn’t been seen since the 2015’s Elite Eight NCAA tournament loss to Kentucky.
Brey joked that he’d try to find one Sunday at University Park Mall before the team charter departed.
“I’m channeling it all,” he said.
Why? That’s easy.
WHO: No. 7 seed Notre Dame (19-12; 10-10 ACC) vs. No. 10 seed Boston College (13-18; 7-13).
WHERE: Greensboro Coliseum (23,000), Greensboro, N.C.
WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM/96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com/tnoieNDI
NOTING: Boston College and Notre Dame split its two regular-season league games. Each contest was decided by one point. Derryck Thornton scored 19 points and Jay Heath added 16 in a 73-72 Boston College win on Dec. 7 in South Bend. T.J. Gibbs scored the winning basket with 0.1 seconds remaining to beat Boston College in Chestnut Hill, 62-61, on Feb. 26. John Mooney had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Irish. … Boston College has lost five in a row, six of seven and seven of nine. It last won a game Feb. 16 over North Carolina State. … The Eagles finished third in the league in steals (7.77), 10th in 3-point field goal percentage defense (.331), 11th in assists (12.77), 12th in 3-point field goal percentage (.308) and scoring defense (64.8), 14th in blocks (2.55), field goal percentage (.404) and scoring offense (64.8) and 15th (last) in scoring margin (-5.52), field goal percentage defense (.443) and rebounding margin (-4.97). … Eagles forward Steffon Mitchell led the league in steals (2.27). … Notre Dame led the ACC in assists (16.4) and assist/turnover ratio (1.66). … Notre Dame leads the all-time series 24-11, 13-1 as ACC colleagues and 1-0 at a neutral site. That was in the 1984 postseason NIT at the Springfield Civic Center. These teams have never met in the ACC or Big East conference tournaments. … The Irish have won 14 of the last 15 in the series. … Notre Dame enters postseason with 1,899 wins in program history. It will become the eighth school in college basketball with at least 1,900 wins. … The Irish won four of their final six regular-season games. … Boston College was 1-0 in neutral-site games this season with a win over California in San Francisco; Notre Dame was 0-1 with a loss to Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. … Wednesday’s winner advances to Thursday’s quarterfinals against No. 2 seed Virginia.
QUOTING: “We’re on a mission. We have a lot of work to do. We know that.”
-Notre Dame senior guard T.J. Gibbs.