The last time these two met it was FSU going up against No. 4 Notre Dame with the winner advancing to the 2011 Sweet 16. The Irish were perfecting Mike Brey's Burn offense, which essentially consisted of running a ton of time off the clock with each possession. Over a four year period his team ranked 312, 273, 328, and 319 in tempo. This could be alarming as in five ACC games this year FSU has played four times against teams ranked in the bottom 4% of all college basketball teams in terms of how fast they play. But - by some miracle - Mike Brey has ramped up the speed this year and Notre Dame is just a hair below the national average. Hallelujah!
Notre Dame (11-7, 2-3) had high expectations entering their inaugural ACC season. The out-of-conference schedule proved unkind however, with home losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State (both solid mid majors), and close losses to Iowa and Ohio State. The Ohio State game was particularly painful as the Irish led by eight with 50 seconds left before star Jerian Grant essentially choked the game away.
The next morning provided the true measure of that loss when Grant was declared academically ineligible. Grant and the team had known it was his last game, but no public announcement had been made.
To that point Grant was averaging 19.0 points and 6.2 assists per game. He made 41% of his 3s, barely turned the ball over, and was well on his way to a likely birth on the 1st Team All ACC.
Notre Dame rebounded in his absence to beat Duke, but since then they lost three in a row to NC State, Georgia Tech, and Maryland before righting the ship vs Virginia Tech. Compounding the hole created by Grant, 6-10 senior Tom Knight developed pneumonia and will miss his fourth consecutive game.
So what do the Irish have left? It starts with 6-2 senior Eric Atkins, who - along with Grant - formed what could have been the ACC's best back court. Since Grant went down he's averaging 17.7 points and 6.2 assists. 6-5 junior Pat Connaughton is a very athletic 3rd guard/wing who takes 60% of his shots from beyond the arc and makes 42%. Defending Connaughton could be the most important defensive measurable of the night.
The other starters should be 6-1 freshman Demetrius Jackson, who is coming off a career best 13 vs the Hokies, 6-11 senior Garrick Sherman, and 6-9 sophomore Austin Burgett. Sherman has five double-doubles this year and will present a nice physical matchup for Boris Bojanovsky and Michael Ojo.
The Noles (12-5, 3-2) should be able to get out and run a little bit, though the Irish will obviously be keyed on stopping transition attacks. But the Irish defense just hasn't been very good. They rebound well, and they don't foul, but their lack of pressure should allow FSU to work for open looks. If FSU limits the unforced errors, then they should be a good position to win.
The game tips at 8pm from the Tuck and will be broadcast on EPSN3 and the ACC Network. Pomeroy has FSU as 14 point favorites, though Vegas is only FSU -9.5.