When the brackets were released on Sunday, the Notre Dame men’s basketball program had to be a little disappointed in their 5th seeding after the season they had, but they likely weren’t surprised and they won’t be deterred. Notre Dame has gotten used to being disrespected and underestimated on the hardwood. Lately they respond in the best way possible. Winning.
It’s become common for Notre Dame men’s basketball team to start the season ranked low in the preseason ACC polls and this year was no different. The Irish, fresh off back to back trips to the Elite 8 were picked to finished 7th in the ACC this season in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Irish proceeded to finish 3rd in the regular season and battled to the wire with Duke, the preseason favorite, in the ACC Title game Saturday night.
Bonzie Colson wasn’t on either the 1st or 2nd All-ACC team in the preseason either, but Notre Dame’s undersized center led the conference in rebounding and was the only player in the conference to average a double-double. Wouldn’t ya know that kind of effort was only good enough for a 3rd place finish in the ACC Player of the Year standings? Shocking, right?
Two years ago the Irish were also picked to finish 7th in the ACC. They finished 3rd in the regular season that year too and then went on to beat Duke and North Carolina on back to back nights to win their first ACC Championship.
After beating the Tar Heels for that first ACC crown, they proceeded to make their first trip to the Elite 8 in 36 years. The Irish battled the #1 ranked and heavy favored Kentucky Wildcats down to the last second before falling by two points 68-66.
Last year Notre Dame earned their #6 seed for the Tournament with a much less impressive resume than they had this year, but that didn’t stop them from making another run. After 36 years between trips to the Elite 8, Notre Dame made it back to back trips before falling to another heavily favored #1 seed. This time the familiar Tarheels.
The Irish find themselves in a position of being doubted and their regular season success being discarded by the Selection Committee this year. How else can one explain Florida State – a team Notre Dame beat twice and had a better record then – receiving a #3 seed in the same bracket in which the Irish find themselves as a 5? Don’t expect that to deter the Irish by any means.
This Notre Dame team was not expected to do much this year even after the back to back Elite trips becasuse they had to replace Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson took control of the team and steered them through a mid-season slum that nearly derailed the season.
Instead, the Irish charged towards the end of the regular season with momentum that they carried with them to the Barclays Center this past weekend. While they may have come up just short of raising another banner in Purcell Pavilion next winter – they exceeded expectations once again.
On paper, this is not a team that looks elite. The starting center stands 6’5″ inches tall. There is no 6’9″ wing player who can take a few steps past half court before picking up his dribble and slamming home a thunderous dunk. In fact, when the Irish trot out on the floor they look physically smaller than the majority of their opponents. Florida State for instance towered over the Irish on Friday night. The ESPN announcers joked that Notre Dame is like the group of old guys who comes into gym and runs the young bucks off the court because they know how to play the game.
Guess what? That is precisely what many pundits, and the Selection Committee apparently, hasn’t figured out yt. This team plays with the heart of a champion. While that cliche might get a college football team steamrolled when they face a bigger, stronger opponent, this Irish team has shown they can play with anyone because they spread the floor, pass the ball well, limit turnovers, and make their free throws. They are as fundamentally sound a team as you will find in the country. It might not be sexy, but its a beautiful thing to watch.
Whether or not the Irish have another NCAA Tournament run in them remains to be seen. The bracket is actually quite kind to Notre Dame despite the low seed the committee threw their way. It wouldn’t be wise for anyone to bet against the Irish ripping off a few more wins just as they have the last few years in the Tournament just because the selection committee seeded them low. This team doesn’t back down when they are doubted and they don’t back down from any challenge. This will be no exception.