Notre Dame awarded No. 6 seed in NCAA tournament
Alex Carson | Tuesday, March 15, 2016
A potential rivalry game could await Notre Dame on Friday in the NCAA tournament’s East Region, as the No. 6-seeded Irish will take on either Michigan or Tulsa, both No. 11 seeds, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The Wolverines (22-12, 10-8 Big Ten) and the Golden Hurricane (20-11, 12-6 The American) will meet Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio, in one of the First Four games, with the winner moving on to face the Irish (21-11, 11-7 ACC) in an East Region first-round game.
Sunday’s selection show presented Notre Dame with an unusual set of circumstances — it’s the first time since the field expanded to 64 teams in the 1980s the Irish don’t know their first opponent right off the bat.
Irish head coach Mike Brey said he’s looking forward to having a chance to work with his team without worrying about setting a game plan for their opponent.
“I’ll say this: I will not be as distracted with the opponent,” Brey said. “I’ll be more concentrating on my team, and that’s probably a good thing for this team right now. To work on us for a couple days and then maybe throw in some Michigan/Tulsa stuff Wednesday.”
While teams that have played in the First Four have had success in subsequent games in recent years, sophomore Bonzie Colson said he’s happy to get a chance to watch Notre Dame’s opponent play Wednesday.
“It’s gonna be a little different for us knowing that there’s a play-in game before we play, but it gives us an opportunity to watch their game live and see how they’re playing,” Colson said. “Knowing that we can watch the game and maybe look at their tendencies offensively and defensively, see who their best players are, how they play offense, defense helps us out a lot.”
Junior guard Demetrius Jackson said Notre Dame can use the stretch without a set opponent to work on ridding the squad of the turnover bug: The Irish turned it over 35 times in two games at the ACC tournament last week.
“Once we can figure out who we play, we can dial it in more,” Jackson said. “But these few days, we can work on ourselves. Working on taking care of the ball, working on what we can just do to clean up our game.”
Michigan leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 15-7, with the last meeting an 87-84, double-overtime Wolverines win in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on March 20, 2006. Notre Dame’s last win in the series came on March 15, 2000, when the Irish ran away 75-65 winners. Michigan has won both NCAA tournament games between the teams, in 1974 and 1976.
Prior to his season-ending injury, senior guard Caris LeVert led the Wolverines in scoring with 16.5 points per game. Without LeVert, however, junior guard/forward Zak Irvin leads a trio of active Michigan players in double figures, averaging 11.7 points per outing.
The Irish have met Tulsa just once on the hardwood, with the Golden Hurricane taking a 74-59 home win on Feb. 19, 1955.
Tulsa’s offensive leaders reside in the backcourt, with senior James Woodard, who averages 15.6 points per game, leading a trio of Golden Hurricane guards that average double figures.
This will mark Notre Dame’s fourth appearance in the NCAA tournament as a No. 6 seed; in 2001, the Irish topped Xavier in the first round before losing to Mississippi in the second round, while in 2007 and 2010, Notre Dame exited early, losing to No. 11 seeds Winthrop and Old Dominion.
If Notre Dame advances in the tournament, it would see the winner of a game between No. 3-seeded West Virginia and No. 14-seeded Stephen F. Austin in the second round Sunday.
Should the Irish advance out of the first two rounds, they would head to the Sweet 16, played at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center on March 25 and 27. No. 2-seeded Xavier would be a potential opponent in that round, while No. 1-seeded North Carolina, No. 4-seeded Kentucky and No. 5-seeded Indiana highlight the other half of the bracket.
Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection came on the heels of an ACC tournament performance that saw Notre Dame dig itself a deep hole twice, working out of it to beat No. 19 Duke, 84-79, in overtime Thursday before falling 78-47 to No. 3 North Carolina in Friday’s semifinal.
Senior forward Zach Auguste’s 19-point, 22-rebound performance led the Irish over the Blue Devils (23-10, 11-7), but it was the big comeback that stole the headlines. Down 64-48 midway through the second half, the Irish ran off 14 straight points to close the gap to two with just over four minutes to play, and they got the game to overtime at 70-70.
There, Notre Dame pushed past a Duke team that had ground out a win over North Carolina State the day before, moving onto the ACC tournament semifinals for the second straight year.
That’s where Notre Dame’s time in Washington came to an end, however, as the Tar Heels (28-6, 14-4) avenged a loss earlier in the season in what started as a tight contest, but quickly ballooned to a one-sided one. North Carolina led just 23-22 with around six minutes to go in the first half, but the Tar Heels produced a 24-0 run either side of halftime to take a firm grip on a game where the Irish produced their lowest offensive output of the year with just 47 points.
Notre Dame, losers of four of seven, will return to action Friday in the NCAA tournament against Michigan or Tulsa. The Irish play the last game of the day in Brooklyn, with tipoff estimated for 9:40 p.m.