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Men’s Basketball: Irish face Winthrop to open NCAA tourney

Chris Khorey | Thursday, March 15, 2007

“Where’s Spokane, Washington?”That was Notre Dame senior guard Russell Carter’s initial reaction when he heard the first round NCAA location for the Irish.Notre Dame hopes Carter managed to find Spokane by today, because the No. 6-seeded Irish take on No. 11-seed Winthrop in the eastern Washington city this afternoon at 2:30 eastern time.And now that he’s found the game’s location, Carter said he can’t wait for his first NCAA tournament experience and the program’s first since 2003.”It’s an honor to play in it and we’re excited,” he said in a conference call Sunday.The Eagles, champions of the Big South Conference, are 28-4 this season and have won 18 straight games. They haven’t lost since a 71-51 defeat against Texas A&M Jan. 2.Winthrop has also qualified for the last two NCAA tournaments, losing in the first round both times. In 2006, as a No.15-seed, they lost to No. 2-seed Tennessee 63-61 on a last second jumper by Volunteers guard Chris Lofton.”They’re good and they’re tournament tested,” Irish coach Mike Brey said of the Eagles. “They had Tennessee beat last year.”Winthrop ran roughshod over the Big South, winning all 14 conference games by an average of 23 points, but in their non-conference season, the Eagles tested themselves against some of the nation’s top teams.The Eagles fell by double digits to the Aggies, North Carolina, and Maryland but took Wisconsin to overtime on the road in Madison, Wisc. before losing by just three, 82-79.”We know Winthrop is a talented team,” Carter said. “They have a lot of good players.”The Eagles are led by guards Michael Jenkins and Torrell Martin, who average almost 30 combined points per game this season. Jenkins is a three point specialist who has made 93 from beyond the arc this year.Inside, senior center Craig Bradshaw averages 13.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. “They shoot the ball well, but they also have size,” Brey said. “They have experienced big guys who have been around and played a lot of basketball together.”For the Irish, who don’t have a player on the roster that has played in an NCAA tournament game, Brey has tried to keep this week business as usual.”I like how this team is playing right now,” the coach said. “I just want to keep the demeanor we’ve had all season.”Brey said Notre Dame will focus more on fundamentals this week than on specific strategies for Winthrop.”Scouting reports are very minimal at this point,” he said.Senior guard Colin Falls said that practicing the basics will help the Irish not get caught up in the hype of the NCAA tournament.”We’re very business-like,” Falls said. “We’re focused on what this team wants to achieve and this team’s goals.”The winner of today’s game will take on the winner of Oregon and Miami of Ohio in Spokane Sunday.