Chicago Sun-Times
with Mark Lazerus

March 2011 Archives

"Matchup" game might favor Notre Dame this time

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Is Florida State the dreaded "bad matchup" for Notre Dame? 

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey doesn't buy the biggest criticism of his team -- that it relies too heavily on the three-point shot. And he doesn't buy the second biggest criticism,either -- that the Irish are susceptible to a bad matchup. 

"I don't know [if that's an accurate criticism]. It wasn't in the Big East," Brey told me Saturday at the United Center. "I think everybody is susceptible. That's just an easy thing to say on Selection Sunday."
Just in case Notre Dame's participation in the NCAA basketball tournament isn't enough to fill the 49-day dead period between National Signing Day and the Opening of Spring Football, the cable network Versus will air three classic Notre Dame football games on Thursday, St. Patrick's Day, part of Versus' six hours of "Celebrate the Irish" coverage. 

The three games are the Irish's 1992 victory over Penn State (4 p.m. CDT); No. 2 Notre Dame's 31-24 victory over No. 1 Florida State in 1993 (6 p.m.); and the 2005 heartbreaker against USC, known as the "Bush Push" game (8 p.m.). All three games were played at Notre Dame Stadium.

Is Notre Dame the No. 1 team in the country?

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Notre Dame has its eyes on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after Pittsburgh was upset by Connecticut in the Big East quarterfinals. The way things are going in the conferenc tournaments, if you took a poll right now, the Irish might be the No. 1 team in the entire country.

Notre Dame leapfrogged BYU, Duke and Texas to go from No. 8 to No. 4 in this week's poll -- behind No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Kansas and No. 3 Pittsburgh. Ohio State needed overtime to beat Northwestern (18-13) in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. Kansas survived a last-second shot to beat Oklahoma  State (19-13) 63-62 in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals. And Pittsburgh lost to Connecticut (24-9) in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

That would leave Notre Dame, which wiped out Cincinnati (25-8) 89-51 in the Big East quarterfinals, No. 1 -- at the moment. It doesn't work that way, of course, and Notre Dame figures to be in tough against Lousiville tonight in the Big East semifinals. But the opportunity is there for Notre Dame to secure a No. 1 seed with a victory. 

Since UConn [beat Pittsburgh] we've been hearing it. We think we're deserving of it,'' Notre Dame forward Tim Abromaitis said. ''But we have to prove it in the tournament. If we prove it [tonight], that will be the first step.''

Irish take New York by storm

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It was a day that typified Notre Dame's below-the-radar season at the Big East Tournament on Thursday.

A day dominated by the aftermath of the controversial finish to the St. John's-Rutgers game on Wednesday -- with the three referees from that game taking themselves out of further tournament games; and Kemba Walker's buzzer-beater that knocked off top-seeded Pittsburgh.

Then Notre Dame went out and played basketball like it's supposed to be played.

Without skipping a beat from their 14-4 regular season in the Big East, the Irish dismantled No. 7-seed Cincinnati 89-51 in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday night.

It was the second-largest margin of victory in the 31-year history of the Big East Tournament. The only bigger wipeout was Syracuse's 96-55 rout of Boston College in 1999. And not only was that a first-round game, but it came against a hapless team -- Boston College came into that one with a 6-20 record.

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