Notre Dame set to travel to Florida State for top-15 showdown
Marek Mazurek | Wednesday, January 18, 2017
At 5-0 in conference play, Notre Dame sits atop the ACC.
The margins of victory have not been outstanding, but with a matchup Wednesday night against third place Florida State, the Irish (16-2, 5-0 ACC) have an opportunity to put themselves further in control of the conference.
Irish head coach Mike Brey said he is happy with where his team sits after five straight ACC wins, three of which came on the road.
“No, we’re all good, man. What were we today? 27th? I lobbied for 27,” Brey said. “We’ll take what we got. I love where we’re at — I love our group. I think we’re fresh mentally and physically — I think that’s really a key. This league can flip on you in a heartbeat. I know how this road is the length of the season.”
Brey’s joking comment about being ranked 27th comes after multiple national polls early in the season left the Irish out of the top 25. In the latest Associated Press poll, however, the Irish moved up five spots, from last week’s 20th ranking, to the 15th overall position.
Senior forward and captain V.J. Beachem also said he isn’t concerned with rankings at this point in the season.
“I’m not surprised at all. We’re really not ranked that high,” Beachem said. “But it’s something we try not to worry about. If we keep winning the way we are and keep playing the way we are, everything will take care of itself.”
Ranked No. 10 in that same poll, the Seminoles (16-2, 4-1 ACC) finished the 2016 ACC season tied for 11th place at 8-10 but have turned things around this year. Florida State’s lone ACC loss so far this season came at the hands of No. 9 North Carolina on Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but the Seminoles currently have a 15-game winning streak at their home court, the Donald L. Tucker Center, dating back to last season. And that streak started with the 77-56 victory the Seminoles picked up over the Irish on Feb. 27 of last year.
Senior guard Steve Vasturia, who was named the co-ACC Player of the Week for the previous week on Monday, said a key for the Irish will be to embrace a “road warrior” mentality when the team enters a hostile environment.
“I think it’s fun to play on the road,” Vasturia said. “It’s not easy — you’re going to cool environments, [and] you get a chance to play in front of another team’s fans, so it’s going to be hard. They’ve been hard games. We’ve taken some shots — it’s been great to see us bounce back from those shots. I think it’s going to be no different on Wednesday facing one of the best teams we play.”
“[Florida State] is really long and athletic, and they can score,” Vasturia said. “They really took it to us last year, and they’ve had a great start to the season, so we have to be really good offensively and we have to keep them off the glass.”
Like Vasturia, Brey also said Florida State is one of the best teams Notre Dame will face all year, especially on the road.
“I think it’ll be the third straight road game where we’ll be underdogs, probably this one by more,” Brey said. “It kind of builds and gets contagious on itself when you have success on the road. I think we’ll go to Tallahassee very confident, but knowing we’re playing a really gifted group with a lot of depth and athletic ability. And the atmosphere will be great.”
One theme that pops up when talking to the Irish players is Florida State’s height. The Seminoles have two centers on their roster who are listed as over seven feet tall — sophomore Christ Koumadje and graduate student Michael Ojo. Florida State averages over 38 rebounds per game — nearly four more rebounds per game than its opponents — in addition to just over five blocks per game.
“They’re a really good team — very long, well coached” Beachem said. “They’re another good ACC team, and we have to be ready to play and get off to a great start on the road.”
Notre Dame and Florida State tip-off at 7 p.m. Wednesday.