Inside: the Irish and Seminoles

Notre Dame searches for its second trip to the Sweet 16 under head coach Mike Brey, and just the third for the program in the last three decades.

Twice in 29 seasons.

You're more likely to see your children born and married than witness the regular presence of a Notre Dame basketball team in the NCAA's Sweet 16.

If that's not enough of a sobering reality, consider that in just seven prior NCAA Tournament appearances have the Irish prevailed in consecutive – as in, two straight – contests.

The 9th most successful college basketball program of all-time has enjoyed the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament just twice since BYU's Danny Ainge navigated his now-infamous romp through the Irish defense in 1981.

Four future first-round draft picks left South Bend following that '81 season. It took six more years for Notre Dame to reach another Round of 16 (1987). Following that, a barren basketball wasteland and astounding 16 more seasons passed, before Mike Brey's 2003 Irish shot #4 seed Illinois out of the Round of and Notre Dame back into NCAA Tournament relevance.

In both '87 and '03, the #5 seed Irish were a mild underdog that made its way to the tournament's second weekend. Tonight, #2 seed Notre Dame stands as a firm favorite of between 5-6 points vs. the third-place team from the ACC, Florida State.

The Seminoles are physically imposing, defensively dominant, and offensively challenged.

They beat Duke in February; but also lost twice to the perennial NCAA bubble boys from Virginia Tech. They challenge every shot; but for the bulk of their double-digit-deep rotation, every outside shot's a challenge.

It's the glass-pounding gang that can't shoot straight vs. a program known not only for offensive efficiency, but for defensive lapses and athletic limitations.

Brey's Irish have won 27 games to date, the most in modern program history (only the 1909 Irish won more). The team's suprising six-loss total was matched just five times previously over the last 50 years and bettered just once – Digger Phelps's oft-referenced, 26-3 squad from 1973-74 (the UCLA streak-snappers).

But Brey knows that regardless of his team's success over the last calendar year-plus, he and his senior-laden crew will be – fairly or not – judged by their ability to play deep into March.

"This has been a great year for Notre Dame Basketball," he noted Tuesday. "I think it's an exclamation point on our consistency the last 11 years. But no one's hungrier than our staff and our players to make a run in March, because people identify with that and we're very well aware of that."

A win, followed by a loss and subsequent quiet trip home, is par for the course for the Irish program in NCAA play. Achieving only that standard would be a major disappointment following a season in which Notre Dame finished an improbable 12-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams and an additional 4-1 vs. the next 50-team tier (including a split with fellow Sunday participant, Marquette). They're battle-tested, tournament tough, and seemingly ready to combat any of the good-not-great foes in the 2011 NCAA field.

Brey noted the Irish were chasing "The Chicago Invitational" this weekend. Step one and a mandatory dismissal of Akron has been achieved. Step two – a win tonight vs. the active, scrappy, tough, but eminently beatable Seminoles is essential for Brey's solidly-built, but thus far unspectacular program to join the nation's relative elite.

"After seeing the big bracket, you scale it back down and talk about having success on one weekend and then go from there," he noted of the team's approach.

If that seems like standard coach-speak, consider the 11-year Irish leader's mantra for his squad as this surprising season progressed:

"The true winners and successes at life, the people that do it at a high level…while they're doing it and being successful, they still wake up every morning and say, ‘Whose butt do I kick today?'

The underdog Seminoles will bring that approach every time the Irish possess the basketball tonight. But if Brey's mentally tough seven-man rotation likewise embraces that attitude, victory No. 28 (and beyond) awaits.

Notre Dame 66 Florida State 60

Season Predictions: 20-6; 16-9-1 against the spread.

An Inside Look: Florida State

The 2010-11 Seminoles are a good news/bad news bunch, one that can be summarized in three words: long, deep, defense.

The Good News – the Defense: Future NBA forward Chris Singleton returns to strengthen an 11-man rotation with five players 6'8 or taller possessing 7'0 wingspans. That length forces most teams to attack from the outside, but FSU is ranked 13th in the country in defensive 3-point percentage (30.4%) and first overall in total field goal percentage (42.1%).

Shots are consistently contested in the paint and beyond the arc, and always by a player of length (the Seminoles don't have anyone in the 11-man rotation under 6'3). Leonard Hamilton's squad possesses a high basketball IQ on the defensive end, with especially quick hands as evidenced by their national rankings in both blocked shots percentage (3rd) and steals percentage (17th). Only three teams have shot better than 50 percent against the Seminoles in the last 3 seasons though included in that group is Gonzaga, who knocked FSU out of the tournament one year ago.

Their defensive rotations are sound in man-to-man (rarely play zone) but they are over-exuberant at times when they see a potential shot going up which can lead to foul trouble and open looks after shot fakes. The best way to beat them is to loosen them up with 3-point shots early and back door them late.

The Bad News – the Offense: The attack is sometimes hard to watch with no consistent flow and FSU is absent from most relevant team statistics among the nation's offensive leaders. The Seminoles average 69.3 points per game but have broken 70 only six times since December, and all against weaker competition (UNC the exception in a 72-70 loss).

Just two players average more than 10 points a game: Chris Singleton (13.9) and Derwin Kitchens (10.1) but Singleton has played only 16 minutes since February 12th after breaking his foot against Virginia.

Zone defenses that pack the middle and make FSU shoot from long range are most effective as the Seminoles hit at a mere 32.9% clip from beyond the arc, and only average six successful three-pointers per game. Logic would dictate that FSU would dump the ball into the post and play through their big men, but the team chooses to run its offense through oversized guards who consistently dribble into double-teams, try to make difficult passes, and rarely earn mismatches when teams switch (the Seminoles average 16 turnovers game).

The Seminoles often play games close to the vest, a problem considering the team's 66.3% accuracy from the line, limiting the effectiveness of the strategy. The only consistent threat from the outside is Ian Miller; a true freshman who can fill it up, but only averages 13 minutes per game. FSU's approach is to keep it close and hope to survive with a score in the 50s….in every game against any quality team..

Final Analysis: FSU has top 25 basketball talent, top tier athletic ability, and finished the regular season 21-9 (11-5 in the ACC) but with a lone quality win (Duke), and was ranked in the AP Top 25 for just two2 weeks. They're a throwback to a simpler time with no shot clock or 3-point line (or from more recent memory, consider the Knicks-Heat playoff matchups from the 90s).

They would rather street brawl than run up and down the floor, surprising considering their superior athletic ability. Every pick/screen that is set, every screen fought through defensively, and every lay-up/dunk attempt brings more contact than most college basketball players are accustomed. The Seminoles aren't necessarily trying to get into their opponents' heads but you can definitely see glimpses of fear as most foes come through the lane.

A game in the 50s favors FSU. Above that gives the edge to the Irish.

– thanks to Lee Posey for his insider's view of the 2011 Seminoles. Top Stories