One of the most intriguing games on Saturday's college basketball betting card is the clash of styles between the Virginia Cavaliers and Notre Dame Fighting Irish who meet in South Bend.
Opposites attract. They also often find themselves in bitter conflict, and that's exactly what we expect to see this afternoon when the Virginia Cavaliers travel to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Part of a big weekend on the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule, ESPN2 begins coverage at 6 PM (ET) with the No. 3 Cavs favored by 2 over the No. 13 Irish. That spread started at -1 on SBR's live NCAA basketball odds which have yet to pick up a total from the various sports books monitored by the service.
Despite a short time together as conference foes, there is some rich history in this series which dates back nearly 34 years. Notre Dame won that first encounter at the old Rosemont Horizon -- now Allstate Arena -- with an upset of then-No. 1 Virginia, stopping the Cavaliers' 23-game win streak at the time in the process.
Virginia has won all seven clashes since then, including both meetings this past season. The Cavaliers also covered the two regular season contests a year ago, covering a 3½ point line in South Bend while both matchups finished 'under' the totals.
Irish Look To Stretch Streak To 12
That was a much less competent team that Mike Brey had in 2013-14, Notre Dame (15-1 straight up, 5-3 against the spread) failing to get an invite to any of the postseason tourneys following a one-&-done in its first ACC Tournament. The Fighting Irish have already matched last year's win total, and are doing so with a very efficient and mistake-free offense.
Notre Dame ranks at the top of the national charts in field goal percentage (54.8%) and third in the country in scoring with an 85.0 PPG clip. The Irish are also third nationally in scoring margin (+22.6) along with ranking, fourth in fewest turnovers (9.4 per game). Just don't lump them in the all-offense, no-defense category...or expect an argument from senior Pat Connaughton if you do.
"I think, obviously, our offensive execution has been a lot better than last year, but the majority of improvement has been defense," Connaughton said earlier this week after Notre Dame went to Chapel Hill and pulled off a 71-70 upset of North Carolina as 8 point underdogs. "This year, we rely on defense to spark our offense. Last year, we relied on offense to dictate whether we played defense hard or not."
Cavs Hope History Doesn't Repeat Itself Vs. Irish
The last time Virginia (14-0 SU, 8-4 ATS) started a season with at least 14 consecutive wins, it all ended with a loss at Notre Dame. That was the aforementioned '81 matchup when the Cavaliers met the Irish in the Chicago suburbs only to leave the Windy City with a 57-56 defeat.
Tony Bennett's bunch is mostly known for a suffocating defense that ranks second to Kentucky in both scoring (50.8 ppg) and field goal percentage (33.7%), and eighth in limiting opponents to a single shot with 28.6 defensive boards per contest. But just as Notre Dame isn't one-dimensional on the offensive end of the court, neither are the Cavaliers strictly about defense. Virginia ranks 24th in the country hitting better than 48% of its shots and among the top teams shooting free throws (74.1%, 14.7 ppg).
A huge difference from last year's meetings is the Irish did not have Jerian Grant on the floor against the Cavaliers due to an academic suspension. Not only is Grant back, the 6-5 senior is leading Notre Dame in scoring (17.3 ppg) and assists (6.3 apg). That's the difference I'm counting on today to bring home a winner with a NCAA basketball pick on the underdog Irish.
NCAA Basketball Pick: Notre Dame +2 at 5Dimes
Season: 12-18 (-7.80)