by Kevin O'Neill
Notre Dame’s 26-6 season earned a #2 seed in the Southwest region of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. The Fighting Irish will play their first game of the tournament Friday in Chicago.
Irish fans hoped for a #1 seed, but that honor went to Ohio State in the East Region, Kansas in the Southwest Region, Pittsburgh in the Southeast Region, and Duke in the West Region. Ohio State is the tournament’s overall #1 seed.
“I’m proud of our group to earn a 2 seed,” said Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey. “We haven’t been in 2-seed territory in our program in a long, long time. Not only is it great for this team, I think it’s great for our program, and I think it’s a little bit of a — maybe an exclamation point on the consistency that this program has been for 11 years. We’re thrilled that we get to go to Chicago. You know, I think that could become a little bit of a Joyce Center West, Purcell Pavilion West for us.”
ND’s first round opponent will be #15 seed Akron (23-12) from the Mid American Conference. In line to be its the second round opponent will be the winner of the match between #7 seed (Texas A&M (24-8) from the Big 12 and #10 seed Florida State (21-10) from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Irish are still feeling the sting of losing a 16-point lead and the game to Louisville on Friday. Brey vowed that his team would be ready for next weekend. “One of the things this group has done is stayed pretty hungry all year,” he said. “You know, after big wins they’ve come back in a pretty even keel demeanor and felt what do we need to do for the next one, and after losses I think we’ve had our best practices, and that’s kind of the mode we’re in now.”
“We stumbled,” Scott Martin added, “but we’ll get back up, and we’ll keep fighting.”
Brey is pleased to be playing in Chicago. “I think Chicago was very important, and we knew we were going to have a really good seed. You know, a bus ride over there was great. I mean, when we played at DePaul each year and this year not too long ago we had a great ND crowd, so I just think we’re going to have a heck of a following over there, and I think we’ll be comfortable there.”
A record 11 Big East teams made the tournament. The Big East has a total of 16 teams, so it isn’t the highest percentage of a conference’s teams to be invited to the dance; but it’s a well earned reward to a deep group of programs that provided one of the most entertaining conference seasons ever.
The Southwest Region
Kansas is the #1 seed in the region, the most likely team the Irish will play if they’re fortunate enough to make the regional final; but there is lots of quality in the way of that quest. If they advance to the round of 16, #3 seed Purdue is the most likely opponent, and a rematch against Georgetown is a possibility. Either team would be a substantial challenge, especially Purdue because the Boilermakers can match ND’s size and probably have an edge in athleticism.
The Kansas side of the region’s bracket includes its own challenging opponents to assure that the Jayhawks earn a trip to the regional final. ND fans are familiar with the difficulty #4 seed Louisville presents, and #5 Vanderbilt is tough and athletic in its own right. Kansas will have to worry about underachiever Illinois, which plays the occasional great game, on Saturday if the Illini are able to get past UNLV.
The Rest of the Tournament
The East region is loaded. #1 Ohio State, #2 North Carolina, #3 Syracuse, and #4 Kentucky all have enough talent to win the region; and several teams down the seeding – West Virginia, Washington, Georgia, Villanova, and Marquette – have those can’t-miss games where they’re capable of beating anyone once in a while.
The Southwest region appears to be the one most likely to send its #1, Pittsburgh, to the Final Four largely because the region’s #2, Florida, was seeded surprisingly high and #3 BYU lost a starting forward to an honor code violation. I wouldn’t call any region with the explosive Jimmer Fredette, Wisconsin, and Kansas State a cake walk, but Pitt will be a solid favorite if it has to play any of those teams.
Duke’s road to the West region championship will be hindered by both quality opponents and geography. The Blue Devils won’t have better athletes than #2 San Diego State is it comes to that match-up in the regional final, and the Aztecs will be playing virtual home games up I-5 in Anaheim that weekend. #3 Connecticut showed its capabilities this week winning 5 games to capture the Big East Tournament crown, and #4 Texas was on top of the polls just a few weeks ago.
Miscellaneous and Sundry
- I’m willing to have my reckoning corrected, but I count 20 Notre Dame games against teams in the tournament field. The Irish were 14-6 in those games.
- 5 Big East teams are top 4 seeds in their regions. Pittsburgh is #1 in the Southeast, ND is #2 in the Southwest, Syracuse is #3 in the East, Connecticut is #3 in the West, and Louisville is #4 in the Southwest.
- There is a new broadcast format for this year’s tournament. All games will be televised in their entirety on CBS or one of three Turner channels – TNT, TBS, and TruTV. CBS’s college basketball teams and Turner’s NBA broadcast teams will share the duties, and they could show up on any of the channels. The studio show will be a joint effort as well, so we’ll get join Charles Barkley’s world throughout the tournament.
- Games will also be available online via the networks’ and the NCAA’s websites and will be free to users across all platforms, including the full versions of the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch apps over Wi-Fi and 3G.
- Some intriguing second round games – In the West, #5 Arizona vs. #12 Memphis and #6 Cincinnati vs. #11 Missouri; in the Southeast, #6 St. John’s vs #11 Gonzaga and #7 UCLA vs. #10 Michigan State; in the Southwest,#5 Vanderbilt vs. #12 Richmond; and in the East, #6 Xavier vs. #11 Marquette. In each case, the lower seed is eminently capable of engineering the upset and the higher seed is vulnerable to it.
When and Where
The game is at the United Center on Chicago’s west side. Game time is 1:40PM EDT, 12:40 in Chicago. That leaves you time for an early lunch and a couple of Bloody Marys at Wishbone before you head to the game.
TBS will have the broadcast. I’ll post a game preview Thursday evening.
– Kevin O’Neill