Notre Dame began their ACC tenure last season with the motto "the Journey Begins." Well, it began alright. The Irish finished the season 15-17 (6-12), after averaging a 25-10 (13-5) record over their last three seasons in the Big East. The season collapse began when Notre Dame blew an 8-point lead with 50 seconds to play vs No. 3 Ohio State. The next day their best player (junior Jerian Grant) was declared academically ineligible.
That was the last many people (myself included) expected to see of Jerian Grant in college, and Notre Dame was expected to slog through another down season in the ACC. Instead, Grant returned, and now the Irish (9-1) are rejuvenated and feature one of the best offenses in the nation.
Jerian Grant does everything. He’s the only player in the nation averaging at least 19 points and 6 assists. His offensive rating (144.1) is the highest in the conference. He doesn’t turn the ball over. He can score from anywhere. Coach Mike Brey runs a deliberate, probing, offense which usually starts with ball screens for Grant. He’s a massive problem for Florida State.
But he’s not the only problem. 6-10 junior Zach Auguste is a great rebounder and efficient scorer, and is second on the team with 13.9 points. Senior Pat Connaughton is playing his final season of basketball before heading off to his professional baseball career with the Baltimore Orioles. His athleticism is off the charts, he makes 46% of his 3s, and he’s scoring 13.1 per game. And then there is Demetrius Jackson, a former McDonald’s All American. He’s just 6-1, but has quickness to burn, and is another 3-point threat (41% for his career). In fact, as a team Notre Dame is making 41% of their 3s and has the best eFG% in the nation.
Luckily for Florida State, the Notre Dame defense is nowhere near as good as their offense. They’ve given up at least a point per possession to four of their last eight opponents.
Notre Dame is going to slow the game down and try to keep FSU out of transition. Last year’s matchup featured just 61 possessions, where FSU wants to be in the mid to high 70s. For FSU to pull the upset they are going to have to rebound well and get plenty of fast break opportunities. Freshman Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who should start his 6th straight game, will need to avoid the senseless turnovers that he’s been prone to over the past three games. Devon Bookert is expected to be available for the first time in three weeks, though he’ll be very limited since he’s gotten little conditioning due to his foot surgery.
The game tips at 8pm from Notre Dame and will be broadcast on ESPN2. Pomeroy has the Irish as a 9-point favorite.