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Men’s Soccer: NCAA seeding on the line

Greg Arbogast | Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Irish will have home on their minds when they take the field in the Big East semifinals against DePaul on Friday night in Storrs, Conn.

That’s because this weekend’s matches will determine the amount of home NCAA Tournament games the Irish will get to play. It will also determine whether the Irish will get a first-round NCAA Tournament bye.

The men’s NCAA Tournament selects 48 teams with nearly half the available slots going to conference tournament winners and the remaining slots going to at-large bids. At 11-3-5, No. 11 Notre Dame is not in danger of missing the tournament regardless of their performance this weekend, but the Irish’s tournament seed will depend on the amount of games they win over the next four days.

Case No. 1 – the Irish lose Friday’s semi-final match against DePaul.

“If you lose Friday, you might still squeeze into a top-16 seed, and you might not,” Irish coach Bobby Clark said.

The top 16 teams in the NCAA Tournament are guaranteed a first-round bye and a home game in the round of 32. In 2005, failing to get a top-16 seed, the Irish had to defeat Western Illinois in the first round and win at defending national champion Indiana in order to reach the round of 16. Compare that to last year, when the Irish secured a top-16 seed, allowing them to reach the round of 16 with a bye and win at home over Illinois-Chicago.

Case No. 2 – the Irish beat DePaul on Friday before falling to the Louisville/Connecticut winner in the championship Sunday.

“[Getting to the final] would pretty much guarantee you a top-16 seed, maybe even a top-eight seed,” Clark said. “It’s hard to predict because other team’s results will play a role as well.”

Sneaking into the top-eight seeds would guarantee Notre Dame not only a first-round bye and round of 32 home game but also a home game in the round of 16, should the Irish advance that far.

With ten teams ranked ahead of them in the polls, if the Irish only advance to the Big East finals they would need a fair amount of favorable results from teams currently ranked ahead of them in order to achieve a top-eight seed. Likely, the Irish would need No. 10 Tulsa, No. 8 Boston College and No. 4 Virginia Tech to all lose before reaching their respective conference title games.

Case No. 3 – Notre Dame wins the Big East Championship.

“We’d be in a very strong position,” Clark said. “It’d certainly put you as a top-eight seed and possibly a top-four seed.”

Obtaining a top-four seed would guarantee that Notre Dame’s path to the Final Four in Cary, N.C. runs through South Bend. It would also likely ensure that the Irish would not play teams like No. 1 Connecticut and No. 2 Wake Forest until they reach the Final Four.

Whether winning the Big East championship nets the Irish a top-eight or top-four seed depends on other results, too. Still, capturing Big East Championship would likely include a win over No. 1 Connecticut, which plays Louisville in the other Big East semi-final on Friday.

A Notre Dame victory over Connecticut is certainly not out of the question, as the Irish were only 15 minutes away from defeating the No. 1 Huskies in October before playing to a 3-3 draw.

Securing home games all the way through the Elite Eight would be a big boost for Clark and his squad. The Irish have accumulated a stellar record of 6-1-3 at Alumni Field this season while posting a mark of 5-2-2 outside of South Bend.

“For a lot of reasons, a home game is really important,” Clark said. “It’s one of these things that teams win more home games than road games. It’s familiarity. They know the field.

“The other thing from our point of view is that, coming to the end of the term, it’s important not to miss class time with the academic pressure we have.”