Notre Dame will start their bid for their first Final Four since in over 30 years on Friday. In order to get their they will need to navigate through a bracket filled with talented teams. Here’s an overview of the Southwest bracket and what a run to the Final Four might entail for the second seeded Irish.
- #1 Kansas (32-2) vs. #16 Boston University (21-13) – Kansas is no stranger to being a #1 seed. The Jayhawks have had a mix bag of results over the last few years though. Despite winning a thrilling title game in 2008, Kansas has been knocked out of the tourney during the first weekend three times in the last six years.
- #3 Purdue (25-7) vs. #14 Saint Peter’s (20-13) – Purdue lost a key reserve on Tuesday when Kelsey Barlow was suspended for the rest of the season for conduct detrimental to the team. The Boilermakers come in as losers of their last two games including an 18 point loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament.
- #4 Louisville (25-9) vs. #13 Morehead State (24-9) – Notre Dame fans are all too familiar with Louisville after the Cardinals ended Notre Dame’s Big East Tournament a night early. Louisville has advanced to the Elite 8 in two of the last three years and has a solid tournament team under Rick Pitino.
- #5 Vanderbilt (23-10) vs. #12 Richmond (27-7) – The 5/12 match-up produces upsets almost every year and this is match-up might be the most likely to produce an upset this year. Richmond comes in as the winner of the Atlantic 10 Tournament and winners of 11 of their last 12 games. Vandy meanwhile comes in as losers of 4 of their last 7.
- #6 Georgetown (21-10) vs #11 VCU (23-11)/USC (19-14) – Georgetown’s opponent won’t be known until Wednesday night, but either way the Hoyas could be challenged. Georgetown is reeling down the stretch with five losses in the last six games with their only win coming against South Florida. The five losses were all to tournament teams, but the Hoyas come into the tourney slumping.
- #7 Texas A&M (24-8) vs. #10 Florida State (21-10) – Florida State got knocked out of the ACC Tournament in the first round by Virginia Tech, but they do have a win over #1 seed Duke under their belt this season. Texas A&M lost three of their last five but two of those losses were to Texas and Kansas.
- #8 UNLV (24-8) vs. #9 Illinois (19-13) – UNLV gave #2 seed San Diego State a serious run for its money in the Mountain West Tournament and finished its season strong. Illinois meanwhile was inconsistent all season long. The Illini have the talent to make a run, but haven’t shown the consistency to do so to this point.
Notre Dame could have been placed in a friendlier bracket, but they could have been placed in a tougher one as well. It’s a toss up who is the stronger #1 seed between Kansas and Pitt.
For Notre Dame to make a serious run at its first Final Four since the 70’s, the Irish will face have to get past the winner of the Florida State and Texas A&M game (assuming the Irish take care of business against Akron). Florida State beat Duke earlier this season, but the status of Chris Singleton – last years ACC defensive player of the year – is in doubt after he broke his foot in February. Even though Notre Dame has had a few early exits the past few years, the Irish are set up with a fairly easy path to the Sweet 16.
Should the Irish make it to the Sweet 16, they will likely face either #3 Purdue or possibly Georgetown if they shake off their late season woes now that they are outside of Big East play. Purdue would be an interesting match-up for Notre Dame. The Boilers are not a particularly good shooting or rebounding team which would bode well for the Irish if the two were to meet.
If the Irish advance to the Elite 8, a showdown with Kansas appears the most likely, but an interesting scenario would be Louisville going on another tournament run and making it to the Elite 8. Notre Dame and Louisville split two games this season with both contests going into overtime including last weekend’s Big East Tournament semifinal won by the Cardinals.
Notre Dame would need to play its finest game of the season if they were to face the Jayhawks. Kansas leads the nation in field goal percentage, is second in assists per game, and fifth in scoring. Notre Dame’s defense, which has been improved this season, would be royally tested. Kansas has also won 14 of its last 15 games and took home the Big XII Championship crown last weekend.
On paper, Notre Dame has a solid chance to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1978 when Digger Phelps’s squad played in the last Final Four in school history. Advancing any further would be a major test for the second seeded Irish if Kansas avoids a second round upset like they suffered last year.
Notre Dame hasn’t even made it to the Sweet 16 since 2003 though so the Irish have a lot of work to do if they want to make their deepest tournament run under Mike Brey.