It’s been an incredible season for Virginia from holding Pittsburgh to seven points in the first half over the weekend to easily winning the ACC regular season. To put a bow on it, the Cavaliers can grab a win against a Notre Dame team plenty thought could compete at the top of the Conference before the season.
Unfortunately for the Irish, it’s been a mess of a season due to injuries. The good news is that they’re close to fully healthy for the first time in a long time. Bonzie Colson came back from injury on Wednesday and his return to the lineup is everything. He’s a first-team ACC type of player, although likely isn’t 100% ready for a matchup like this.
Without Colson (and Matt Farrell for a few Games), the Notre Dame offense went from efficient to mediocre and that’s a problem against this defense. The Hoos lead the ACC in defensive efficiency by a wide margin and are near the top in every other category. The Irish don’t excel in one specific area unless it’s a Game when Farrell catches fire from deep. On the other end, the Irish are one of the worst in the Conference defensively giving up close to 40 percent from three and rarely forcing turnovers. That’s great news for Virginia because while they play at a slow pace, actually shoot it fairly well.
That said, there’s still room for an upset with top scorer Kyle Guy still struggling to get anything going. He’s randomly fallen off and only had three points in the huge win at Pittsburgh last weekend. Guy leads the team in made threes, but he’s lost some confidence and that could be troublesome come Tournament time. The other two that have stepped up in his place are Ty Jerome and Devon Hall, both of whom can shoot. While no one else has consistent numbers, guys like De’Andre Hunter, Nigel Johnson and Isaiah Wilkins have all shown enough ability to get buckets. Jack Salt is the man in the middle that Notre Dame has to worry about, namely Colson and Martinas Geben.
Geben has taken on a much bigger role since Colson went down and he showed up with 22 points and 14 rebounds at Wake Forest last weekend. However, he’s going to have issues down low against Salt and Virginia’s double teams in the post. If Geben can’t deal with the pressure, Notre Dame will struggle to find shots and will have to rely on Farrell and TJ Gibbs to do most of the creating. The problem for Gibbs is that he lacks efficiency, shooting just 44 percent on two pointers.
And then there’s the addition of Colson to the lineup. Being out for a couple months will definitely have an effect on him, but he’s still a guy that scored 41 points in two meetings with the Cavs last season. His insertion into the lineup could make things interesting.
against the best teams in the conference, the Irish haven’t had enough offensive weapons to win, especially on the road, but Colson changes that. Now against the best team in the conference, it’s even more difficult with it being senior night for guys like Hall and Wilkins. Even if Guy struggles again, the Cavs have enough defensively and offensive weapons elsewhere to grab a regular-season finale home win. Yet, Colson is an x-factor that can’t be overlooked, especially with the Irish desperate for a win.
Our Pick – Virginia -9.5