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Irish earn No. 6 seed in Big Dance

Chris Hine | Friday, March 16, 2007

It’s official.

For the first time in four seasons, Notre Dame is headed to the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish (24-7) earned a No. 6 seed in the Midwest region and will face No. 11 Winthrop (28-4) Friday in Spokane, Wash.

“We’re thrilled. We have a couple of days to prepare. That’s a good thing. We’ve got access to this thing, and that’s the most important thing,” Irish coach Mike Brey said.

The Eagles defeated VMI 84-81 in the Big South Conference Championship last Saturday to clinch and automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

“They’re the George Mason this year, that’s what I’ve been hearing,” Brey said. “So, this will probably be the only game 11 to 6 where we’ll probably be the underdog. [Winthrop] is a very good basketball team, they shoot it well I know generally. They’ve got good size and are very well coached.”

Last year, George Mason made a run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed and many analysts say Winthrop can do the same this season. Brey said the Irish have responded all season when analysts have picked against them.

“I think our guys have prepared for this season with a chip on their shoulder after last year, being picked 11th in the preseason poll, noboday really talking to us much at media day, being projected as probably maybe an NIT team,” Brey said. “This is a group that has played a little angry and pissed off all year. I don’t expect anything different as we move forward.”

Coming into Sunday, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi projected Notre Dame to earn a No.4 seed, but Brey said seeding does not matter once the games begin.

“At this point you’ve got to erase those numbers and look at the matchups… whatever number is next to your name, you’re going to have a tough game. All these teams in this thing have won, and have good chemistry and are good teams.

Winthrop’s four losses all came at the hands of four NCAA Tournament teams.

Back on November 15, the Eagles lost at North Carolina 73-66, then dropped another contest five days later at Maryland 71-60. The Irish knocked off the Terrapins On Dec. 4, Winthrop nearly upset Wisconsin 82-79 in Madison. Finally, on Jan. 2 the Eagles fell to Texas A&M 71-51.

Notre Dame reached the semifinals of the Big East tournament before losing to Georgetown 84-82 Friday. The Hoyas went to to defeat Pittsburgh 65-42 to capture the title Saturday.

“The most important thing is we’re playing well. We’re playing with great chemistry, we’re having fun playing,” Brey said. “More than any scouting report, that’s the key thing as we head West.”

Notre Dame’s last tournament appearance came in 2003 when the Irish advanced to the Sweet 16 before falling to Arizona 88-71.