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A quick look through the Southwest Regional

Douglas Farmer | Monday, March 14, 2011

As soon as CBS announced Duke as the fourth No. 1-seed in this year’s NCAA tournament, the primary question for Notre Dame fans became, which No. 1-seed would the Irish be paired with?

The answer: Kansas – quite possibly the last of the four most Notre Dame fans wanted to see.

But, perhaps the regional is still tilted in favor of the Irish.

First, the bottom-half of the bracket, including Mike Brey and his squad.

Notre Dame opens up against Akron, the MAC champion. In all of reality, a No. 15-seed has upset a No. 2-seed a grand total of four times, with the most recent being Hampton’s 58-57 toppling of Iowa State in 2001. (And yes, I do know that score off the top of my head. I will forever remember the scene of a Hampton forward picking his coach up from behind and hoisting him in the air as the coach gleefully punched and kicked the air like a turtle on its back.)

Thus, it is not unreasonable to expect the Irish to roll into Sunday’s game against either Texas A&M or Florida State.

Neither team should really scare Notre Dame. Neither would have finished higher than 10th in the Big East – where Villanova finished this season. Against the teams that finished seventh or lower in the Big East, the Irish ended the season 12-1, with the one loss being at Marquette while Irish senior forward Carleton Scott nursed a hamstring injury from the bench.

Could either Texas A&M or Florida State be dangerous? Certainly, and if Notre Dame has an off night akin to Friday’s second half performance against Louisville, the Aggies or Seminoles wouldn’t even have to be on their game to pose a threat. Nonetheless, this seems to be the most pedestrian path to the Sweet Sixteen among the two-seeds, so no need for Irish fans to worry just yet.

Notre Dame’s Sweet Sixteen foe would most likely be Georgetown or Purdue. If the sixth-seeded Hoyas are to advance, they will need point guard Chris Wright to be 100 percent healthy after breaking his left hand a few weeks ago. Georgetown assured the NCAA selection committee Wright would be completely available for the tournament, but something seems awry here, and thus, advancement by the Hoyas seems unlikely.

Leaving third-seeded Purdue – the same Purdue Irish senior guard Scott Martin transferred from after one season. As soon as the Irish saw their corresponding three-seed was indeed Purdue, the whole team begin ribbing Martin. Even with Martin wearing the shamrocks, the Boilermakers could pose a threat to Notre Dame.

Both teams play a similar, up-tempo style, with Purdue being a bit stronger inside and the Irish posing a bit more of an outside threat.

If Notre Dame does move onto the Elite Eight, the regional final, it will likely face Kansas, with an outside possibility of a rubber-match with Louisville.

If the Cardinals upset the Jayhawks, and the Irish face Rick Pitino for the third time this season – with the two previous contests both going to overtime – anything could happen.

More likely though, Kansas will hold form and reach the Elite Eight. There, Notre Dame would face the stiffest challenge it has faced in years. The Jayhawks are a complete team, when they are mentally-prepared, but as has been the case since their 2008 title, the Jayhawks seem to have trouble with mental consistency.

Contrarily, mental consistency has been one of Notre Dame’s strong suits this year.

Yes, Kansas would be favored, and rightfully so, but the Irish will have to face such high-quality competition either in the Elite Eight or in the Final Four if they want to truly be considered one of the best teams in the country. What difference does it make if it is in the Elite Eight rather than in the Final Four? Notre Dame has to win either way in order to advance.