Notre Dame didn’t expect much suspense on Selection Sunday.
Then it got even less. And it got a little bit more.
A full bracket leaked online about halfway into the two-hour CBS selection show, well before Notre Dame was officially ticketed as the No. 6 seed in the East Regional, opening Friday night in the late game at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn. Tip is set for approximately 9:40 p.m.
What Notre Dame still doesn’t know is who it will play there. The Irish drew the winner of Michigan and Tulsa, two No. 11 seeds that will play Wednesday night in Dayton. The Irish coaching staff has already started scouting both, although head coach Mike Brey won’t spend much time on the Wolverines or Golden Hurricane until he absolutely has to.
In fact, the Irish won’t know who they’ll play on Friday night until they’re already in Brooklyn. Brey said he hopes Notre Dame’s charter will be on the ground by the time Michigan-Tulsa tips.
“We have three days of practice to really concentrate on us before we leave,” Brey said. “I was hoping that we’d play Friday. I wanted a little more time to work with us and prepare.
“I think starting (Monday) becomes three really important days to work on us before we head to New York.”
At 21-11 overall following a split in the ACC Tournament that included a wild comeback against Duke and the worst loss of the Brey era against North Carolina, Notre Dame enters the NCAA Tournament talking about confidence maybe more than actually showing it.
The Irish committed back-to-back season-highs for turnovers against Duke and North Carolina with 35 total. Steve Vasturia is 1-for-16 from three-point range during the past five games. Yet Zach Auguste dominated the Duke front line with a career-high 22 rebounds on Thursday. And freshmen Matt Ryan and Rex Pflueger continue to grow up.
It’s all enough to get Brey thinking about a starting lineup change during the season’s biggest games while at the same time talking about not over-coaching Vasturia and Demetrius Jackson.
Notre Dame’s players sat in the locker room Sunday night wearing official Under Armour tournament apparel with “Play For More” printed in bold fonts. Actually doing that, with a potential shot at No. 3 West Virginia in the second round on Sunday, means playing better.
“Just really excited to play and looking forward to getting back to work in practice,” Jackson said. “We just gotta be better with the ball. We’re going in with a lot of confidence and we’ve got some great days here at home to practice. We’re gonna take advantage of those.”
The NCAA Tournament bid is Notre Dame’s 11th under Brey and sixth in the last seven years. The Irish have advanced beyond the first weekend just twice in that time span, which includes last year’s run to the Elite 8 when Notre Dame fell to No. 1 Kentucky in a classic.
The Irish are more off the radar this time, having lost four of the past seven games and cracking 80 points just twice during that run. Notre Dame appeared ticketed for a No. 7 seed in many mock brackets entering Sunday, and the No. 6 line lets the Irish avoid a dangerous pool of No. 2 seeds that includes Michigan State, Xavier, Villanova and Oklahoma in the second round.
Xavier is the No. 2 in the East, but that meeting wouldn’t come until the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia. North Carolina grabbed the No. 1 in the East, with No. 4 Kentucky and No. 5 Indiana also included in the region.
Notre Dame won’t look that far ahead considering the Irish have not beaten a team with a No. 3 seed or better since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
“I hope people realize, it’s hard to be in this thing,” Brey said. “I am just so thrilled when our program, our fans, our team can celebrate this day. It’s very powerful. And we’re really proud of it.
“It’s the best time of year when you’re in it. It’s the worst time of year when you coach and you’re not in it.”