ACC Tournament final preview

Heading into the ACC Tournament this year, there was potential for some real chaos. Clemson, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech had all proved capable of elite-level play, and there was an outside chance those teams might shake up the conference’s elite. That chance never materialized, though, and the tourney wound up being mostly chalk outcomes.

Syracuse beat Miami and Clemson and NC State both put a scare into Louisville, but everything ultimately boiled down to a rematch from last year. Tomorrow, No. 3 Louisville and No. 4 Notre Dame will square off in Greensboro for the Conference Championship.

In their previous matchup this season, the Irish trounced the Cardinals 82-68, but there are indications the result tomorrow may not be quite as one-sided. Last year Notre Dame had 44.6/37.5/77.4 shooting splits which was not too far off from their 51.9/36.9/73.4 season averages. By contrast, Louisville shot 38.2/20.0/75.0, which was well below their 47.0/36.9/74.9 season splits.

Certainly, some of that discrepancy can be attributed to the Irish’s outstanding defense (fourth in DI defensive rating this year) but it’s a solid bet the Cardinals can’t be stifled like that twice. Asia Durr put up 29 in that game, as is her wont, but Notre Dame snuffed out the Cardinal’s other threats. While that defensive performance was impressive, holding Arica Carter, Dana Evans, and Sam Fuehring down like the Irish did Jan. 10 just isn’t a thing any team can hope to replicate. Louisville will defend their conference crown with verve, conviction, and defiance. They have a squad of killer talent, and the ability to wreck shop on anyone.

On the flip side, Notre Dame just demolished a very good Syracuse squad 91-66 in the semifinals. All five Irish starters finished in double digits, with Jackie Young logging a stellar 18 points, 13 boards, and five assists to lead the team in all three categories. Notre Dame is so versatile and deadly in every aspect. They don’t get much off the bench, but with five potential WNBA draft picks in the starting lineup, they don’t need to. They score at every level and defend mercilessly. Young, Arike Ogunbowale, and Marina Mabrey are all capable of passing and scoring at elite levels. Jessica Shepard is a force on the block. And if they get in a bind, any Irish player can just casually chuck a lob anywhere near the backboard, and Brianna Turner will elevate and finish.

Don’t look for a repeat of the regular season clash tomorrow. It won’t be a blow out, no matter who wins. This one’s for conference title honors, for March Madness seeding implications, and maybe most importantly just for two teams who want to beat whomever is in front of them. Badly. The game tips at noon ET on ESPN2. Don’t miss it.