Last week’s ACC column focused on Louisville guard Asia Durr and Notre Dame guard Arike Ogunbowale asserting themselves as the conference’s best WNBA Draft prospects heading into conference play.
This week, the biggest storyline in the ACC also surrounds Durr and Ogunbowale because their teams face off later tonight in an ESPN-televised matchup. The Fighting Irish and the Cardinals are also the top-ranked teams in the country, at No. 1 and No. 2 in the AP Poll, respectively.
Durr and Ogunbowale are certainly the biggest names in tonight’s matchup. However, they have great supporting casts that contribute to their teams’ successes.
For Louisville, senior forward Sam Feuhring is averaging 10.7 points per game and is the Cardinals’ leading rebounder at 6.3 rebounds per game. Redshirt senior guard Arica Carter and sophomore guard Dana Evans are also averaging double figures for the Cardinals.
As the defending national champions, Notre Dame was in a fortunate position entering 2018-19 since none of their top contributors were seniors last year. Junior guard Jackie Young and senior forward Jessica Shepard are averaging over 15 points per game each. Shepard also leads the Irish in rebounding at 9.7 per game. Senior guard Marina Mabrey and redshirt senior Brianna Turner round out the starting lineup and average over 13 points per game each.
If there’s a potential weakness with the Irish, it’s that their reserve rotation is rather thin. Freshmen Jordan Nixon and Katlyn Gilbert are the only players outside the regular starters who average over 15 minutes per game, and neither score very much. For Louisville, eight players average at least 15 minutes and 6 points per game. Starting lineups are generally the most important predictor of a team’s success. However, if Notre Dame’s starters get into foul trouble, they could lose this game at home.
Elsewhere in the ACC:
Louisville and Notre Dame are at the top of the ACC standings, along with four other undefeated teams. But five teams have 0-2 records in ACC play: Virginia Tech, Virginia, Duke, North Carolina and Boston College. What’s notable here is that most of these teams were expected to have better seasons.
Virginia Tech was one of three undefeated teams in the ACC in non-conference play and was also ranked 25th in the last AP Poll. However, the Hokies have fallen down to earth, losing their first two conference games to Miami, 68-61 on Jan. 3 and to then-No. 14 Syracuse, 75-73 last Sunday in overtime.
The Hokies will look to get their first conference win on the road at intrastate rival Virginia, the sole sub-.500 team in the conference with a 6-9 record overall. The Cavaliers are also 0-2, but have struggled most of this season. A win against Virginia Tech would be a morale-booster for them, but they are the underdogs and aren’t destined for a postseason tournament this season.
The Duke and North Carolina women’s basketball teams share a very strong rivalry just like their male counterparts. They have also been perennial contenders for conference and national championships. But both the Blue Devils and Tar Heels started conference play on the wrong note. That said, their conference seasons began with games against top-25 competition.
Duke lost to No. 8 NC State, 63-51 on Jan. 3 as the Wolfpack’s leading scorer Grace Hunter tore her ACL. They also lost to No. 2 Louisville, 73-51 last Sunday. If the Blue Devils won at least one of these games, that would significantly boost their postseason tournament hopes. But instead, they are 8-6 overall this season and in danger of having their first sub-.500 season since 1992-93.
North Carolina is in a similar rut and are just 9-7 overall. The Tar Heels had consecutive losses to Louisville on Jan. 3 and Florida State last Sunday, who are both ranked. Unfortunately, their schedule isn’t getting easier, with Syracuse and Virginia Tech on the horizon over the next week.
Finally, the Boston College Eagles are also looking for their first ACC win. They are currently 11-4. The Eagles were projected to finish toward the bottom of the standings this year, so their rough start to conference play isn’t particularly surprising. However, the Eagles have also won more than 10 games for the first time in three seasons under new head coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee, so this team is making progress for the future.
Games of the week
No. 1 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (14-1, 2-0) vs. No. 2 Louisville Cardinals (14-0, 2-0)
When: Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Joyce Center, Notre Dame, IN | TICKETS
How to watch: ESPN
Notes: Needless to say, this game is a must-watch tonight. The Cardinals come into this game undefeated and look to pick up a key win and the top spot in the national polls. However, the Irish are looking to stay the course with a win in a game that could be a potential Final Four or national championship game matchup.
North Carolina Tar Heels (9-7, 0-2) at No. 12 Syracuse Orange (13-2, 2-0)
When: Sunday, Jan. 13, at 3 p.m. ET
Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, NY | TICKETS
How to watch: ACC Network Extra
Notes: The Orange come into Sunday’s game on a seven-game winning streak after a big 75-73 overtime win over Virginia Tech last Sunday. The Tar Heels are coming off consecutive losses to teams ranked in the top 25. Though this isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the losses are piling up. North Carolina will need to start defeating teams to keep their postseason hopes alive.