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Men’s Basketball: Win streak propels Irish to New Orleans

Michael Bryan | Thursday, March 18, 2010

A No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament seemed impossible just a month ago. But today the streaking Irish will open as a favorite in their opening round matchup against No. 11 seed Old Dominion.

A six-game win streak to conclude their regular season and to begin the Big East Tournament made Notre Dame a lock to make their third NCAA Tournament in four seasons. And while Notre Dame was surely happy to play its way into a higher seeding than anyone would have expected, it will face a tough test against the Monarchs, the regular season and tournament champions in the Colonial Athletic Association.

“I think it’s a heck of an honor. We’ve been caught up in the midst of the run to finish the season,” Irish coach Mike Brey said. “Obviously, we feel it’s a very good run. It’s better than we thought inside the locker room to be rewarded with a six seed, very powerful.”

Placed in the South Region and playing their first game in New Orleans, the Irish will be tested by an experienced and defensive-minded Old Dominion team. While the Monarchs have struggled shooting from the perimeter, hitting 3-pointers at only a 31-percent rate, they’ve held 18 of their opponents to under 60 points on the year.

Old Dominion is led by forward Gerald Lee, who averages 14.6 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. At 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, Lee will also test the Irish on the defensive end, where the Monarchs have excelled all year.

Brey and the Irish will not be underestimating Old Dominion, a team that has already upset one Big East power this season, beating Georgetown on the road in December. The Monarchs and coach Blaine Taylor also have tournament experience, and will be playing in their third NCAA Tournament in the past six seasons.

The CAA has a history of teams creating upsets in the tournament, notably Virginia Commonwealth defeating Duke in 2007 and George Mason making a historic run to the Final Four in 2006.

One of the few weaknesses of this Old Dominion squad is their shooting from the free-throw line, where the team has converted just 64 percent of its opportunities.
After a season missing the tournament, senior forward Luke Harangody said he was thrilled to return to March Madness.

“Especially as a senior, it’s a great feeling to see your name pop up on the board on Selection Sunday. It’s an amazing feeling. I couldn’t be happier,” Harangody said. “For the seniors on this team, for us to go out with three out of four NCAA Tournaments, that’s tremendous.”

Senior guard Ben Hansbrough said the team’s patient offensive strategy of waiting for the shot clock to run down before creating shots has been effective for the team throughout the win streak.

“We’ve been controlling the ball, making great decisions. It’s almost like we’re comparing our decision making to theirs in a way, with us leading the country in assists to turnover, I think that gives us the advantage,” Hansbrough said. “With the decision makers we have on the team and the people that have the ability to make shots like we do.”

If the Irish are able to make it past the Monarchs, they will advance to play the winner of Baylor and Sam Houston State on Saturday. The No. 3 seeded Bears could prove a tough test should both teams meet for the chance to move on to the Sweet 16.

Tip-off in New Orleans will be at 12:25 p.m., with television coverage on CBS.