NCAA BASKETBALL: Heading into ACC Tournament, Notre Dame is curious case

NEW YORK (AP) — In an era of bloated conferences, the first day of most league tournaments is reserved for bottom-of-the-standings teams that are hoping for a longshot championship run to an automatic NCAA Tournament bid, but are usually just playing out the string or angling for the NIT.

At the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament this week, however, the most interesting team in the field might just be the 10th seed.

Notre Dame comes to Brooklyn with an 18-10 record (8-10 ACC), but a team that looked as if it could compete with anybody in the country in 16 games (12-4) when preseason All-American Bonzie Colson was healthy enough to play.

What are the Fighting Irish’s prospects for an at-large bid to the NCAAs?

“It’s an interesting question,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said Saturday after the Fighting Irish lost at No. 1 Virginia by five. “We are probably one of the harder ones to analyze. Now, we have to do some work in Brooklyn to put ourselves on the docket. But we’re in there. They have to look at us.”

The Cavaliers, the unanimous No. 1 team in the latest Top 25 poll, are also the top seed in the ACC tournament after running away with the conference by four games and coming a couple of points short of a perfect league record.

Coach Tony Bennett’s team enters the tournament looking to win it for the second time in five seasons and with an NCAA No. 1 seed all but locked up.

Maybe the most intriguing thing about Virginia this week will be the status of guard Kyle Guy, who left the Notre Dame game with an injury and returned to the sideline wearing a knee brace.

“I really don’t know what, but they’ll do some tests and hopefully it’s OK,” Bennett said Saturday.

Virginia, second-seeded Duke, third-seeded Miami and fourth-seeded Clemson don’t play in Brooklyn until Thursday, having earned a double bye. Duke is also a contender for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. The Blue Devils remained at No. 5 in the poll.

Tuesday’s opening day triple bill features Notre Dame facing No. 14 seed Wake Forest in the nightcap and No. 11 Syracuse, another team on the NCAA bubble, against winless Pittsburgh.

Colson broke his foot in late December and missed 15 games. Without him, the Irish went 6-9 with a seven-game losing streak. During that time, point guard Matt Farrell also missed games with an ankle injury.

Notre Dame sits at No. 65 in the RPI and has a 2-8 record against Quadrant 1 teams, with wins against Wichita State in the Maui Invitational and at Syracuse.

Colson had 24 points and 15 rebounds against Virginia.

“Our numbers are good, and one thing I’m very happy that the committee saw today is Bonzie Colson is obviously back,” Brey said. “He is back and with him we have a chance, but we need to get going in Brooklyn. I hope we can give them a few more wins so that we are really debated in that room.”