Due to the wide-open nature of college basketball, the possibility of a dark-horse team making a run in March Madness is looking more and more like a legitimate possibility. College basketball odds are pointing towards a mid-major making a splash in this year’s tournament. Even though Notre Dame is 5-6 in the ACC and 14-8 overall, they should be considered a realistic threat for a few reasons.
Mike Brey’s team hasn’t had fantastic results in the win column yet, but the wins and losses don’t tell the entire story. Over their last 14 games, the Fighting Irish are 8-6, but their six losses (to Boston College, Indiana, NC State, #13 Louisville, Syracuse, and #5 Florida State) have come by a combined 14 points. You read that correctly: six losses by a total of 14 points. While they should be held responsible for losing those close-fought contests, it’s important to realize that they were one or two plays away from a victory in all six losses. If they happened to win even two or three of those contests, they’d probably be ranked right now.
Senior forward John Mooney has been an absolute beast, averaging 16.5 points and 13.2 rebounds over 32.6 minutes (with 18 double-doubles in 22 games), but most importantly, this team takes care of the basketball. Their 204 turnovers ranks first in Division I, as does their impressive 1.78 assist:turnover ratio. Three guards (T.J. Gibbs, Prentiss Hubb and Rex Pflueger) combine to average 11.9 assists and 5.3 turnovers per game, which highlights their ability to control the ball on the offensive end. While the Irish weren’t a team that the experts who make college basketball picks were choosing to win the ACC, and don’t necessarily stack up against top ACC teams from a talent perspective, expect them to make some noise based on the fact that they’ve consistently been involved in close contests against elite foes.
With two ranked opponents (Duke and FSU) scheduled in their last nine regular-season games, Notre Dame will have the ability to earn some quality wins that will only help them come Selection Sunday. Their poise and the presence of Mooney provide two important predictive factors when it comes to evaluating a potential March Madness sleeper: a defining characteristic and a star player.