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Men’s Basketball

Irish head to Brooklyn with lofty postseason aspirations

| Friday, March 4, 2022

After one of the best regular-season campaigns in recent memory, Notre Dame will head to Brooklyn next week for the ACC Tournament. The Irish head to New York with lofty postseason aspirations. As a likely second seed, the Irish look to claim their best placement since joining the conference prior to the 2013-14 season. 

Notre Dame will look to capture its second ACC title, only previously cutting down the nets in Greensboro in 2015. That team went on to the Elite 8, narrowly missing the Final Four after suffering a heartbreaking defeat by Kentucky. This year’s squad hopes to replicate their success. 

“We can dream big dreams in the postseason because I think they’re realistic,” head coach Mike Brey said. 

The Irish need only dispatch an 11-19 Pittsburgh team on senior night to secure the second seed. Notre Dame and North Carolina currently have identical 14-5 conference records. But, the Tar Heels face a difficult season finale against a top-seeded Duke, and the Irish hold the tiebreaker thanks to a 78-73 victory on Jan. 5. 

Notre Dame will need to bounce back, though, following a hard-fought 74-70 loss to Florida State on Wednesday night. Regardless of the results over the final weekend of play, however, the Irish have secured the coveted double-bye. They’ll play for the first time in Thursday night’s quarterfinals. 

“We’ve never even been in this position before, so I really don’t even know how to feel,” senior guard Prentiss Hubb said. “We’ve always been playing on that first night.”

Notre Dame, as the second or third seed, will be on the opposite side of the bracket from the Blue Devils. That doesn’t mean their matchups will be any less challenging, however.  

“We can’t get complacent,” Hubb said. “Even those guys that are playing on that first or second night, they’re good teams. We’ve been in dogfights for a lot of our games. It doesn’t matter who the competition is, or who we’re playing against, we have to go out there and not be complacent and just play the right way.”

A year ago, the Irish entered the tournament as the No. 11 seed. After winning their first-round matchup against Wake Forest, the Irish fell to North Carolina by more than 40 points in the second round. Since then, however, Brey and his staff have engineered a remarkable turnaround. 

“In our profession, you’re going to be put on the mat, you’re going to be put up against it,” Brey said. “Fortunately, I’ve had great support, and people had my back and hung with me. My bosses and I felt if we could get it right with staff, and get it right with how we come at them in the summer, I felt we could be really good. We’re better than I thought we would be.” 

As the results stand, the Irish would face the winner of Virginia Tech vs. Clemson/Georgia Tech in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The Irish have defeated the Yellow Jackets and Tigers twice each this year but fell to the Hokies in a tightly-contested game in Blacksburg in January. 

Notre Dame has played exceptionally well both at home and on the road this year, but the team has a surprisingly poor 0-3 record in neutral-site environments. However, these games were early in the season when the Irish were still figuring things out. The most recent one was the Dec. 18 loss to Indiana at the Crossroads Classic. The Hoosiers won 64-56. 

Regardless of what happens next week, the Irish have, in all likelihood, already done enough to clinch an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Winning a game or two at the Barclays Center wouldn’t hurt though. It could go a long way towards improving seeding and building momentum for the NCAA tournament. Currently, most media outlets have the Irish projected between seeds 8 and 10. 

The quarterfinals will tip off on Thursday evening at 7 or 9:30 from Brooklyn. And if the Irish advance, the semifinals will be Friday night at 9:30, with the finals Saturday night at 8:30. All games will be televised on ESPN or ESPN2.

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