Putting aside Notre Dame's struggles for a second and just focusing on the NCAA tournament, what ACC record do the Irish need to achieve to reach the field of 68?
Notre Dame has reached the NCAA tournament in each of senior point guard Eric Atkins' three previous seasons.
• Notre Dame finished an unimpressive 9-4 in non-conference play, with losses to Indiana State and North Dakota State. While the Irish beat an Indiana squad that has had its own ups and downs, they could not pull off a signature non-conference win at Iowa or against Ohio State. A five-point home win over Delaware and an overtime triumph over Canisius will hardly catch the eye of the selection committee.
• The ACC is down this year, even with the addition of three traditionally strong Big East schools. (It should be noted that Syracuse is more than holding up its end of the bargain with a current No. 2 ranking.) Duke has already lost four times and is out of the top 10 for the first time since 2007. North Carolina boasts wins over each of the top three preseason teams, but it has encountered head-scratching losses along the way and began league play 0-3. In ESPN bracket expert Joe Lunardi’s most recent projection, just six of the 14 ACC teams are included in the tournament.
With these two factors in mind, how many conference wins does Notre Dame need to reach the Big Dance? 10-8 probably won't do it because of the less-than-stellar non-conference play. Will 11-7 even be good enough considering the two factors mentioned above? It would likely require Notre Dame to win a game or two in the ACC tournament. Finishing 11-7 in league play would be remarkable for this team, which needs to go 10-4 the rest of the way to do so.
Head coach Mike Brey’s squad has reached the NCAA tournament in each of the past four seasons, but this year has been a struggle from the start, even before senior guard Jerian Grant’s dismissal just before Christmas.
The criticism of the program in recent years has been the lack of success in March when the Irish do make the NCAA tournament. Not since 2003 has Notre Dame reached the Sweet Sixteen. In recent years, Brey emphasized the need for better play on the biggest stage, but this year represented a change in goals with the program transitioning to an unfamiliar league in the ACC.
“I probably would’ve thought about it more, ‘How do we deal with the NCAA and be better’ if we weren’t getting in a new league,” Brey said at the Oct. 9 media day. “I’m totally distracted and engaged and our goal and we talked about it this morning in practice and you’ll hear it from our guys is: Can we earn a bid in the first year in the ACC? Can we right out of the gate get a bid? Let’s on Selection Sunday make sure you ask that question and I hope we’re in a position where, ‘We got a bid, here’s our seed, here’s where we’re going’ and we’ll think about it more then.”
At the time of that statement, fans were upset that there weren’t higher expectations considering the team’s recent accomplishments during the regular season. However, once the Irish lost Grant, simply reaching the NCAA tournament should be considered a success.
At 1-3 in league play and with Virginia Tech coming to Purcell Pavilion this weekend, this is an obvious must-win for Notre Dame. Drop this one, and the Irish will hit the road for another two-game roadtrip three games under .500 in league play, a hole that is unlikely to be overcome.