ACC Recap: Notre Dame upsets NC State
The Fighting Irish hand the Wolfpack their first conference loss of the season
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Do you ever have most of a weekly recap written and then Notre Dame decides to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the ACC this season while on the other channel Louisville barely holds off Miami to avoid an even bigger upset? Maybe that is a niche problem, but Tuesday night ACC games are now my arch-nemesis. Even worse was that both matchups were scheduled at the exact same time, so I was constantly switching my attention between the two exciting finishes.
The games were eerily similar, and even finished with the same scores at 69-66. The main difference was that Notre Dame was poised in the final minutes, breaking the NC State pressure just enough to hold on to the biggest win in the Niele Ivey era. Meanwhile, Miami’s inexperience showed in the clutch as they coughed up five turnovers in the fourth quarter and couldn’t generate open looks.
Louisville ends up as the biggest winner of the night, as the Cardinals get within half a game of NC State in the conference standings and avoid losing their case for a #1 seed. Earlier this week the NCAA Committee released their top-16 rankings, with NC State at number three overall and Louisville at number five. They were the only two ACC schools that made the list.
But where do the rest of the tournament hopefuls of the ACC rank? If the AP Poll were any indication, the current seeds would be as follows: Georgia Tech-3, Notre Dame-5, North Carolina-6, Duke-7, Virginia Tech-7. That should change dramatically with Notre Dame’s big win and with Georgia Tech handling Duke on the road. The Her Hoop Stats rankings give an idea of how even these teams really are, with all five ranked between 21st and 33rd overall. I would not be surprised if any of them were between a three and an eight-seed when the postseason begins.
Notre Dame - The Fighting Irish also avenged their worst loss of the season, dominating Boston College en route to a 74-61 win. Olivia Miles turned in another stellar performance, scoring 30 points on 63% shooting. Maya Dodson was a force on the inside, with 12 points, 10 boards and 6 blocks against the Eagles. But that was only the beginning
I have said it before and I will say it again, Notre Dame is one of if not the most fun team to watch in the ACC. They have six players who can create their own shot, and their chemistry has improved in every conference game. Last night it was Dodson, who benefitted from Elissa Cunane’s foul trouble to have her way inside, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. The Fighting Irish only had eight turnovers, and their eight steals gave them enough extra possessions to pull off a season-defining upset.
Louisville - It started out as a good week for the Cardinals, especially Hailey Van Lith, who had been struggling from the three-point line as of late but knocked down five of eight shots from behind the arc in their 77-65 win against Duke. While beating the Blue Devils is not as big of a deal since they have faltered in conference play, it is still another important win. It is worth noting that the stingy Louisville defense has allowed 60 points in five consecutive games after doing so in only four of their previous 16 contests, perhaps a sign that ACC opponents are figuring out Jeff Walz’s game plan.
Last night’s contest against Miami was no exception. The Hurricanes were relentless out of the gate and played with a pace that Louisville did not seem ready for. However, the Cardinals have been in this position countless times this season, and were able to finally figure out their offense in the fourth quarter to eke out a three-point win, the same margin that they defeated Miami by last season. Kianna Smith finished with 21 points, while freshman Ja’Leah Williams led the Hurricanes with 16 points in the losing effort.
Georgia Tech - The Yellow Jackets have excelled at defense all season, currently ranking 11th in the country in the Her Hoops Stats defensive rankings. Their suffocating shot contention abilities were on full display against Boston College in a 68-49 win. Georgia Tech forced BC’s best two players, Taylor Soule and Cameron Swartz, to go 3-13 and 5-15 from the field respectively. On the offensive side of the ball, Eylia Love scored 20 points and Nerea Hermosa added 15 with seven assists.
Georgia Tech then went to Clemson and picked up a 69-62 victory. While not the margin the Yellow Jackets were hoping for against a 7-14 team, the Tigers have actually been competitive at home despite losing 11 of their last 12 games. Senior guard Sarah Bates had the best game of her Yellow Jacket career, leading the team with 16 points off the bench. The NCAA’s 10th leading rebounder Lorela Cubaj secured her eighth double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 boards.
Lost in the madness of last night was that Georgia Tech’s defense was once again on full display, as the Yellow Jackets forced Duke to shoot 35% from the field. Even more impressive was their offense, which saw four players score in double digits with only four turnovers as a team. Georgia Tech is a dangerous team right now, but they have the pleasure of heading to NC State later this week to play a Wolfpack squad that has no intentions of losing twice in a row.
North Carolina - There is no team that the Tar Heels would rather beat than Duke, and in the latest edition of their program’s rivalry, UNC ran the show, winning 78-62. Duke was missing Celeste Taylor and head coach Kara Lawson, and they had no one inside who could stop Alyssa Ustby. The 6’1 sophomore is listed as a guard, but played extremely well inside while scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds. The Tar Heels survived an off night from Deja Kelly, who shot just 2-15 from the field.
Unfortunately for North Carolina, that off night extended into their matchup with NC State, where Kelly went scoreless on 0-11 shooting. It is a testament to how much the young team has grown, especially the play of Kennedy Todd-Williams, that the Tar Heels were even in the game until the end. NC State coach Wes Moore credited Kai Crutchfield with the perimeter defense that disrupted Kelly all night, and Kelly was seen putting up shots long after the game was over, evidence that she certainly does not want to be held scoreless again.
ACC Blunders of the Week:
Being perfect is hard, and with the depth of the ACC, NC State was bound to lose eventually. Still, their inability to incorporate a post player in the offense when Cunane was out is a sign of concern if she ever gets in foul trouble again.
Louisville’s play in the first half of games is no longer considered a blunder, rather it is the status quo for a team that is still searching for its identity outside of fourth-quarter comebacks. Arguably the team with the highest ceiling in the conference, once the Cardinals can play wire-to-wire they will reach their full potential.
It is slightly unfair putting Duke here, but the Blue Devils are now 4-6 in conference play. All of those losses have come to tournament teams, so their next three games against weaker opponents will be indicative of the rest of their season.
Important Game Tracker:
Virginia Tech @ No. 20 Notre Dame, Thursday, February 3rd
HHS Winner Prediction: Notre Dame (58.5%)
No. 12 Georgia Tech @ No. 3 NC State, Monday, February 7th
HHS Winner Prediction: NC State (90.6%)
James’ Weekly ACC Power Rankings:
NC State (19-3)
Notre Dame (17-4) ⇧2
Georgia Tech (18-4)
Virginia Tech (16-4) ⇩2
North Carolina (16-4) ⇧1
Duke (13-7) ⇩1
Boston College (14-7)
Florida State (10-9)
Wake Forest (12-9)
Thanks for reading the Her Hoop Stats Newsletter. If you like our work, be sure to check out our stats site, our podcast, and our social media accounts on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.