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Notre Dame-Virginia Tech Preview

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Over the last three games, Notre Dame has at times employed a five-guard lineup, and it sounds like coach Mike Brey is considering making a habit of it.

It might not matter much which lineup the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish favor Thursday night in a visit to Virginia Tech, which is seeking its first ACC win.

Notre Dame (17-2, 5-1 ACC) used the particularly small group late in Saturday’s 75-70 home victory over Miami, which helped it make 16 of its final 22 shots to overcome a 12-point second-half deficit. The Irish had been 11 for 33 prior to the hot stretch, and they also went on a 7-of-9 stretch from 3-point range after a 2-of-16 start.

Brey also used it in the previous two games — a 62-56 home loss to then-No. 3 Virginia on Jan. 10 and a 62-59 win at Georgia Tech on Jan. 14.

“Your first reaction is that we won’t be able to guard or rebound, but heck, we can’t rebound anyways,” Brey told the school’s official website. “Why don’t we just play small and have some more firepower on the floor?

“So we got that group some more reps Friday and darn if we didn’t need them (Saturday). The smaller lineup really spreads the floor and we were getting cleaner looks because we were getting drives from (Jerian) Grant and (Demetrius) Jackson and kicking out to guys for really clean looks.”

Grant had 23 points and eight assists and V.J. Beachem scored 13 off the bench.

Grant, the team’s leading scorer at 16.7 points per game, was in need of a strong shooting performance after going 8 for 28 (28.6 percent) in his previous three, and he answered with an 8-for-10 effort.

Whatever the lineup, the Irish have been an accurate team for much of the season, posting the nation’s second-best shooting mark of 52.8 percent while hitting 40.1 percent from beyond the arc. That’s fallen off some in ACC play, as might be expected, to 46.4 and 36.4.

The rebounding Brey touched on has also dipped. In 13 non-conference games, Notre Dame had a plus-6.5 differential on the boards. In the ACC, it’s been outrebounded by 6.3 per game.

That’s been counteracted some by taking care of the ball. The Irish have averaged just 7.8 turnovers in the last four games, but they’ve taken an average of 5.0 fewer shots than their opponents in conference play.

Notre Dame only has played two true road games, and they’ve both ended in single-possession victories at North Carolina and Georgia Tech.

Virginia Tech (8-9, 0-4), though, has dropped five straight by an average of 14.8 points. That includes three losses to ranked opponents after Sunday’s 68-52 defeat at No. 15 North Carolina.

Notre Dame is unlikely to have rebounding concerns against the Hokies, who have a minus-15.2 differential on the glass during the losing streak.

The last four have been in the ACC, and they’ve shot 38.3 percent with a season-low 35.8-percent mark against the Tar Heels. That in part can be attributed to top scorer Justin Bibbs (13.6 points per game) sitting out because of a concussion suffered Friday in practice. There’s no word on his status.

“I think Justin’s a good player, and Justin’s another guy that can pass, dribble, and shoot,” Tech coach Buzz Williams told the school’s official website. “Against their pressure, guys were playing more minutes than they typically do.”

Bibbs has been especially valuable in three conference games while averaging 20.7 points on 50.0 percent shooting.

Virginia Tech has dropped 13 straight against the Top 25 and four in a row to Notre Dame. Pat Connaughton had game highs of 21 points and eight boards in last season’s 70-63 victory in South Bend.

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