Conference: ACC (At-Large)
Record: 25-8 (12-6)
NCAA Tournament Seed: 5 (West)
How they go to the Big Dance
The Fighting Irish opened up the season with a 12-2 nonconference record with wins over Iowa and Northwestern but losses to powerhouses Purdue and Villanova. Notre Dame’s conference season was streaky, as they opened up ACC play by rattling off five straight wins, including a seven-point victory over Louisville. After the hot start, the Irish quickly cooled down and dropped five of their next six games to a gauntlet of opponents that included Virginia, Florida State, Duke and North Carolina. The streakiness then continued as they finished the regular season winning six of their last 7, the only loss coming against Louisville. This earned them the three seed in their conference tournament. Much of the Irish success can be credited to their balanced offense. Notre Dame has four players who averaged double figures during the season. This offense is led by Bonzie Colson who is averaged 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds for the Irish. Colson has been a dominant part of their frontcourt and is a Wooden Award nominee. The Irish took down Virginia and Florida State to advance to the conference tournament championship, but they could not finish the job as they lost to Duke in the finals. They will play Princeton in the round of 64.
Why they’re a legitimate contender
The Irish have all the offensive firepower to make a run in the tournament. With Colson, VJ Beachem, Matt Farrell and Steve Vasturia all averaging over 13 points a game, Notre Dame has more than one option when they need a crucial bucket. The Irish will also not beat themselves up on the court. You won’t catch Notre Dame making many mistakes as they average only 9.4 turnovers a game and have a +3.4 margin in that department. Experience could also give the Irish an edge come tournament time. Four of the five starters are upperclassmen who have competed in the tournament in prior years, and with the veteran coach Mike Brey at the helm, no stage should be too bright for the Irish.
Why they’re not a legitimate contender
The big question mark for this team is how they will perform against the top teams in their bracket. Seven of their eight losses on the season have come against ranked opponents, and in their nine games competing with ranked teams in the regular season, they only hold a 2-7 record and have lost by an average of eight points. The Irish have compiled an impressive record both in and out of conference play, but most of the victories have come against lesser opponents. It will be interesting to see how they will handle a matchup with a top-three seeded team during the tournament.
Player to watch: G Steve Vasturia
The senior guard for Notre Dame averages 13.3 points per game and is second on the team in assists. Vasturia also shoots over 91 percent from the free-throw line and 36 percent from three. The Irish can use Vasturia as a go-to shooter when he is on the floor, but the most important part of his game is mental. Vasturia, one of the two seniors on the team, has played in the Elite Eight twice in his career. His experience in big games will give the younger Irish players someone to look to for help on how to handle the craze of the tournament. Vasturia will be important to Notre Dame because of his shooting and leaderships skills.
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