The Mother of All Sweet 16's

There are no Chattanoogas, Kent States or Arkansas-Little Rocks in this group. The Sweet Sixteen teams this year average 35 NCAA Tournament victories per program and half the schools have a national championship to their credit. And Notre Dame, in with the best of the best in the daunting West Region, feels it belongs. IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli has the story here and will be filing daily reports from the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim beginning Wednesday.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

March 25, 2003

Irish Comfortable
In High Rent NCAA Zone

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

(IE) – Talk about the Mother of All Sweet Sixteen's.  This may be the most star-studded collection of teams that has entered the second weekend in NCAA Tournament history.  And Notre Dame is not about to play the role of shrinking violet. 

"I've seen this program evolve," said senior shooting guard Matt Carroll. "We've beaten (highly ranked) teams.  Last year we almost beat Duke.  This year it's just a different mindset.  We believe we are one of the top teams in the country.  We expect to beat Arizona." 

The Irish are going to need that kind of bravado if they are to qualify for the school's first Final Four in 25 years, or earn the program's first NCAA title.  The opposition remaining in this tournament is daunting. Eleven teams are either regular season or conference tournament champions. Eight have won national championships.  All four top seeds remain.  The national champs from the last seven seasons are all still playing. 

Wow.   

"Our guys have a lot of pride in our program now," said head coach Mike Brey, never one to back down from a challenge. "Certainly (these teams) have done it longer than us, but if you ask around the country now, we're a force to be reckoned with.  We're one of the top college basketball programs now." 

Notre Dame, 24-9 and fresh off an invigorating pair of victories in the first- and second-rounds at the RCA Dome,  has to endure the most difficult region in the Dance.  The 16 remaining teams have a collective 563 NCAA Tournament victories.  The four teams in the West Region – Duke (75), Kansas (67), Arizona (36) and Notre Dame (29) – have 207 of them.  The Midwest region, featuring Kentucky's 93 wins, has 145 triumphs; the South 122 and the East 89. 

So the Irish are up against the best of the best, as they have been all year. 

"We have played seven teams in the Sweet 16," said Brey. "That says it right there, how tough our schedule was.   We feel we have a chance to compete and have success against a great Arizona team." 

Notre Dame went 4-5 against Sweet 16 teams. Out of conference, it defeated Marquette, Texas and Maryland and lost at Kentucky.   In the Big East, it split with Pittsburgh, lost to Connecticut and was swept by Syracuse.  The Irish averaged 78.8 points per game in those contests and surrendered 79.4.  Take the contests against physical Pittsburgh out of the equation and the average score against these elite teams was 84-82.  

That type of high scoring game is exactly what Brey wants when his team squares off with West top seed Arizona Thursday at 7:20 Eastern time at the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, California. 

"It may 102-101, that would be alright," said Brey. "We're kind of a team that needs to get our offense going a little bit to get our defense going." 

The Irish proved that Saturday in defeating No. 4 West seed Illinois in Indianapolis, 68-60.  Notre Dame shot lights out in the first-half in building a comfortable lead, then did an outstanding job in a halfcourt game the second-half, controlling tempo offensively while containing Illinois' All-American frontcourter Brian Cook. 

Arizona presents a different problem.   The Wildcats embrace the most basic fundamental of Dr. Naismith's great game – they score.  Lute Olson's team is averaging a staggering 85.5 points per contest.  By comparison, the Big East's best, Boston College, scored 81 per game.   Arizona has scored 80 or more points in eight of its last 10 games and never less than 72 in that stretch. 

But Brey remains confident, and he contends he was from the first moment he saw the complete West bracket.  

"When the bracket came out, I liked it," he said. "There were a lot of basketball players in the bracket, not a lot of big bangers, the bulk we have had trouble with.  Before we even started playing, I said ‘OK, those are teams we match-up with pretty good.'" 

For their part, the players wanted Arizona in this game,


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