The ACC Tournament
Notre Dame lost to Duke 75-69 in the ACC championship game on Saturday night. The Irish secured a double-bye in the tournament and beat Virginia and Florida State to advance to the conference championship game. Bonzie Colson was outstanding in the ACC Tournament. He led the team in points, rebounds, and free throws over the three game stretch.
Conference tournament games are the closest we will get to NCAA tournament conditions before March Madness actually begins. They’re not definitive, but they do serve as a good barometer to determine a team’s chances in the NCAA tournament.
Irish fans should be confident in their team’s ability to beat good teams, but I think there are a few things they should be worried about.
First, three point shooting. Notre Dame was decent from three in the ACC tournament (34.8%), but they were still below their average for the season (38.6%). This team needs to shoot closer to 40% from three in order to win games in the NCAA tournament. Aside from the fact that the shot is worth three points instead of two, consistent three point shooting makes an offense much more effective throughout the course of a game.
Second, free throw shooting. This one I am less worried about. Still, Notre Dame – the best free throw shooting team in the country – shot 70% from the free throw line in the ACC Tournament. This prevented them from icing the game against Florida State in the conference semifinals. Free throw shooting is huge (and kind of underrated) in the NCAA tournament. Almost all of these games are close, and teams that can take care of business at the free throw line are the ones that will survive and advance.
Finally, (no surprise here) rebounding. I’ve talked about Notre Dame’s rebounding struggles in the past. Aside from their game against Florida State, the Irish actually rebounded quite well during the ACC Tournament. This will need to be a point of emphasis for Notre Dame as they head into the NCAA tournament. Every possession feels as if it counts more in the NCAA tournament, and a rebound gives your team an extra possession while taking one away from your opponent. The Irish will be out-rebounded by most teams, but if they can keep their rebounding deficit in single digits, they will have a chance to win most games.
The NCAA Tournament (Here’s the full bracket)
Notre Dame has been selected as the 5 seed in the West region of the upcoming NCAA tournament. Their first round match up is against a very formidable Princeton team that won the Ivy League’s conference tournament. The Tigers started their season 4-6, but have not lost since. They carry a 19-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament, and will be looking to pull off the popular 5-12 upset in the first round that you’ll be sure to find on your coworker’s bracket in your office pool.
Notre Dame finished 14th in the latest polls from the AP and USA Today. In the final NCAA tournament seed list, they were ranked 19th. They were jumped by Florida State, Butler, Florida, Purdue, Virginia, and Minnesota. The main reason for this discrepancy appears to be that the tournament committee selects most of the seeds before the conference tournaments are played. I would guess most of that is done for the sake of time, but I’m not sure what the exact reasons are. It seems like common sense that a team’s most recent games are the best indicators as to how well that team will perform in their next games. Unfortunately, the NCAA tournament committee slightly disagrees with me.
Plenty of Irish fans were upset with the seed that Notre Dame received. When the brackets were announced Sunday night, it appeared as if the basketball team shared those same feelings. They were the only team (shown on live TV) that remained seated after their seed was announced. You can’t blame them for feeling this way, but I think the highest seed the committee would have given them would have been a 4. Ask Wichita State fans how they feel about their seed in the tournament – suddenly a 5 seed doesn’t seem so bad.
Let’s look at the glass as half-full. I think Notre Dame was placed in the easiest region of the four. Gonzaga is the lowest ranked 1 seed in the tournament, and Notre Dame wouldn’t play Arizona (2 seed) until the Elite Eight if both teams make it that far. Also, the 3 seed in their region is Florida State, a team the Irish have already beaten twice this year. Yes, a higher seed would have given the Irish an easier first-round match up, but it may have also given them a tougher path to the Final Four.
My prediction? Notre Dame will lose to Arizona in the Elite Eight.
My Dad’s prediction? Notre Dame will win the National Championship.