It’s been tough sledding for Notre Dame basketball all season long as injuries have ravaged a surefire NCAA Tournament team and put them into the position of outside looking in with just two weeks until Selection Sunday.
However, there’s still a clear path into the Big Dance and it doesn’t necessarily require them to win the ACC Tournament in what will be a loaded field. Obviously, that provides the automatic berth, but it isn’t the only way.
Make no mistake, the Irish have their work cut out for them whether they’re sneaking in as an at-large or if they’re conference tournament champions. However, their chances are still realistic and that’s about all you can ask for as a 17-12 team that’s below .500 in the ACC (7-9).
The first and arguably most important hurdle is the return of Bonzie Colson. The senior forward is Notre Dame’s best player and he’s been out for nearly two months now, but he returned to practice earlier this week.
The Irish are attempting to play it safe and not rush Colson in a way that might jeopardize his future, but the selection committee is still going to want to see him back on the floor in order to gauge where they’re at. Because if they look like the team that knocked off Wichita State and started the year at 11-3, they’ll likely put less stock in the struggles they endured without Colson, Matt Farrell and D.J. Harvey.
That being said, Colson’s return alone isn’t enough. The Irish don’t have the road and neutral court wins that the committee is seeking, so they’re going to have to score a couple big wins with a full deck to show that those sorts of victories are in their DNA.
And things set up decently for that to end the season. They’ve got a very winnable home game again Pitt on Wednesday that doesn’t do a lot in its own regard to enhance their resume, but it does get them closer to 20 wins and .500 record in conference that aids their pursuit of a bid.
However, their showcase game comes later in the week on Saturday at No. 1 Virginia. A win there gives them a 9-9 record in the league and then leaves them needing just one win in the tournament to get to 20 for the season.
Ideally, they’d add a couple wins in the ACC Tournament and get a useful win or two on a neutral floor to build on the big Virginia victory and further prove that they’re dangerous when healthy.
Like we said, going to Virginia needing a victory to prove you belong in the conversation isn’t ideal, but the path is there. And Notre Dame has the offensive capabilities to test that stingy Pack-Line defense when they’re at full strength.
It’s a long, arduous road but it’s exactly the kind of proving ground you look for when you’re a snakebitten, but talented team like Notre Dame. It extends the postseason and should make for a wildly compelling finish to what has been an incredibly difficult season for Irish fans.
And, while basketball isn’t always just, it’d be pretty special to watch them earn their way in with a flurry like that.
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