Brackets Set, Matchups TBD…Mike Brey's Irish finished third in the Big East regular season standings – roughly eight spots higher than projected by most pre-season pundits and/or league coaches. It was the program's fourth top four finish in the last six years (the Irish finished second last season), one that afforded the squad a two-day bye all the way to the conference quarterfinals on Thursday night.
The best team the Irish can face in that quarterfinal is #6 seed South Florida. The Bulls received a one game bye and will wait until Wednesday night to take on the winner of Tuesday's #11 vs. #14 first round contest between Rutgers and Villanova. The Irish will thus face the Bulls (12-6), Rutgers (6-12) or Villanova (5-13) on Thursday night at 9 p.m. (ET) on ESPN.
Notre Dame beat South Florida 60-51 in South Bend on January; split a home-and-home pair with Rutgers, and came back from 20 down to beat Villanova in Philly, 74-70 in overtime.
Should the seeds play out (a rarity in the Big East Tourney), #2 Marquette would await the Irish in Friday's semi-final, tip-off sometime after 9:00 (ET). Should they win Thursday night, other possible semi-final foes for the Irish are Louisville (#7), Seton Hall (#10), and Providence (#15), a trio vs. whom Notre Dame finished 3-0 in conference play with road wins at Louisville and Seton Hall and a Senior Night victory over Providence last Friday.
Top-seed Syracuse, #4 seed Cincinnati, and the remainder of the league's programs could not face the Irish until the conference finals on Saturday night – status the Notre Dame program has never attained during its 17-year conference affiliation.
Two honored, both will returnTwo Irish players earned Big East awards at season's end including junior center Jack Cooley, who was named second-team all-conference in his first season as a starter. Cooley averaged 14.6 points and 10.2 boards in 18 conference games, this after averaging a shade under four points and 3.1 rebounds as the team's top big man reserve last season.
Cooley led the Big East in field goal percentage, shooting better than 62 percent, and in offensive boards at 4.6 per contest. He finished fourth in blocked shots (31) and recorded 10 double-doubles vs. 18 Big East foes this season.
Joining Cooley on the league honor roll is sophomore (redshirt-freshman) Jerian Grant, who finished second on the squad with 12.3 points per game en route to all-rookie team honors.
Grant ranked seventh in the league in both assists (5.3 per game) and free throw percentage (83.4%) while finishing an impressive second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.1); he led the Irish in each of the three categories.
Grant is the seventh player in program history to make the all rookie team while Cooley is the 32nd Irish player to find a spot on an all-league team since Notre Dame joined the Big East in 1995-96.
The league's first-team choices included two from Marquette: guard Darius Johnson-Odom and forward Jae Crowder, as well as Connecticut swingman Jeremy Lamb, Georgetown point guard Jason Clark, and a pair of forwards, Syracuse senior Kris Joseph and West Virginia senior standout Kevin Jones.
Silence is GoldenSenior tight end Tyler Eifert's seemingly innocuous Twitter message welcoming fellow Fort Wayne, Ind., native Jaylon Smith to campus this weekend hit a nerve with the NCAA's expansive rule book.
According to a story posted Saturday by Brian Hamilton of the Chicago Tribune, Eifert's since-deleted Twitter message read: "Big recruiting day tomorrow here at ND. Looking forward to meeting and hangin with 5 star Fort Wayne native @JaeeSmiff9ENT".
Said director of football media relations Brian Hardin to the Tribune, "We're aware of the tweet and it has been forwarded to our compliance office where they will process it appropriately.
"We take any potential violation of NCAA rules very seriously and we will never compromise on matters of NCAA compliance. Ultimately, this will serve as an excellent teaching moment for all of our teams and student-athletes."
Eifert likely welcomed Smith merely because of their hometown affiliation (Smith attends Bishop Luers, HS while Eifert graduated from Bishop Dwenger). But applying logic and intent to NCAA bylaws is an exercise in futility. Regardless, the prospective violation would be considered secondary and will have little bearing on the program and no impact on the field.
But at some point, it seems a ban of all football-related messages via Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media outlet is head coach Brian Kelly's only recourse. Unreported injuries (and at least one surgery) have been leaked, team grievances have been aired, and now a minor NCAA violation has apparently been breeched.
Controlling the flow of team-related information is paramount for the University. Perhaps Kelly can follow the lead of outgoing team captain Harrison Smith who noted in the wake of the oft-referenced "My Players/(Weis') Players" dust-up that preceded this year's Navy contest: "I don't…Twitter. So I had to find out the old-fashioned way, through a text."
Far fewer of us would find out if that "old fashioned" method was employed in the future…the NCAA included.