Irish enter tourney as top seed for second time in three years
Kit Loughran | Thursday, November 20, 2014
Notre Dame begins its NCAA Championship run against Ohio State on Sunday at Alumni Stadium.The defending national champions secured the tournament’s No. 1 ranking for the second time in program history, following the team’s top ranking in 2012. Irish coach Bobby Clark has led Notre Dame (11-4-4, 6-1-1 ACC) to the tournament in 13 of his 14 seasons with the program, with a 15-10-1 record in those postseason games.
“If you look at the schedule we’ve played — and we’ve played it successfully — then you realize you don’t get the No. 1 ranking if you don’t have a tough schedule and play it well,” Clark said. “We have the confidence that we can play any team in the tourney. The boys got the No. 1 seed for how they did during the regular season, and now the trick is to be the No. 1 seed in the middle of December at the end of the playoffs.”
Making the 17th NCAA tournament appearance in program history, Notre Dame heads into Sunday’s second round matchup after its loss to Clemson in penalty kicks in the semifinals of the ACC tournament Nov. 14. The Irish and Tigers drew, 1-1, but Clemson won, 5-4, in penalty kicks and went on to claim the tournament title.
“[Friday’s] game was a great learning experience,” senior forward Vince Cicciarelli said. “We know that we have the potential and ability to bring home another national championship, but this game was a good reminder that we still have plenty work to do.”
While the top-seeded Irish earned a first-round bye, Ohio State (10-7-4, 5-3-0 Big Ten) faced Akron in the first round of the tournament last night in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes and Zips finished in a 1-1 draw, and Ohio State pulled out the victory, 13-12, in the penalty-kick shootout.
“They would have both been two good teams to play,” Clark said. “They have very different styles of play. … Akron would have more shock passing, and I would say Ohio State has more direct. Ohio State is a good team, and it will be a difficult game against them for sure. They have a lot of speed up front and have forwards that can play. They have a big 6-foot-4, left-footed center back and he’s a target.
“There are a lot of things that I can see [that will challenge us]. They’ve had a good season, and they will be dangerous.”
The last time the Irish faced the Buckeyes was 10 years ago, when the Ohio State beat Notre Dame, 2-1, in the 2004 NCAA tournament.
The Buckeyes led their opponents in goals scored per game, 1.30 to 0.95, with a shot percentage of 0.107. Six-foot-4 junior defender Liam Doyle dominates Ohio State’s defense and shares the team lead in goals with five.
Sophomore forward Danny Jensen and senior midfielder Yianni Sarris lead the Buckeye attack, each with five goals on the season as well.
Despite the loss in penalty kicks to Clemson, Clark said the Irish saw success in the latter half of their season. Notre Dame outscored its opponents, 12-4, during its last five games. Now, the Irish look to carry that offensive presence into their NCAA tournament ride, as they look to defend their national title and claim the second title in program history.“There’s always pressure [to win], but it’s a good pressure, a pressure that comes in the playoff because you had a successful season — there’s that satisfaction,” Clark said. “We can’t be satisfied up until now. That will be our mentality.
“We are always capable of doing more. There are hard games ahead, and we will take each one one-at-a-time. That’s the fun. You’re in the playoffs, [and] that’s what you play for. It’s exciting.”
The Irish carry that excitement into the second round of the NCAA tournament against Ohio State on Sunday at 7 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.