This Seed Bears no Fruit

No Notre Dame basketball team has ever played more games on the road -- or at unfriendly "neutral" sites -- than this the 2001-02 unit. So the Irish will be heading into familiar ground Thursday when they face a Charlotte team that will have to travel less than two hours by bus to Greenville, South Carolina. Why not Chicago, asked Mike Brey? Alan Tieuli reports.

Copyright by Global Electronic Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

March 10, 2002

Familiar Story;
 Irish Hitting the Road

By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com NewsService

(IE) – When Notre Dame’s match-up was announced Sunday night, the pairings party at Mike Brey’s house in Granger hit a fever pitch.  The Irish got just about the seed they felt they deserved, number eight, and had a dream second-round match-up with South top-seed Duke.

But then Brey looked closely at the match-up and its placement.  He had a legitimate question.

“Why are we an eight seed, playing a nine-seed that is only two hours away?” he asked. “Why, as the eighth seed, can’t this game be played two hours away from us, in Chicago?

“Maybe somebody from Charlotte knows somebody from the selection committee.”

Everyone knew there would be some foul-ups in the NCAA’s new “pod” format, designed to create favorable geographic pairings that would lead to sold-out arenas.  The Irish played Xavier last year in a virtually empty Kemper Arena in Kansas City.  It was kind of embarrassing.

They’ll be plenty of fannies in the seats at the Bi-Lo Coliseum on Thursday.  First, the placement of Duke in the same regional virtually assures a sell-out.  Second, Charlotte is just 100 freeway miles away.

“We haven’t earned  a real lot of respect all year,” said senior forward David Graves. “But we’ll play the game and prove we deserve respect.”

Notre Dame, 21-10 overall, knew it would probably get a seven, eight or nine seed after losing to Connecticut in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament.   The Irish desired a spot in Chicago, Washington or Pittsburgh for easy travel from South Bend and proximity to family and friends.

There is no bonus playing in Greenville.  Only the most loyal Irish supporters will be on hand and the contests against Charlotte and Duke will be virtual road games, much like the Connecticut tussle on Friday at Madison Square Garden.

“That game prepared us for this,” said Ryan Humphrey. “All season has prepared us for playing on the road.”

The Irish only played 13 of their 31 games this season at the Joyce Center. 

Charlotte is 18-11 overall and enters the tournament with an RPI of 37.  It shares three common opponents with the Irish – Miami (FL), Indiana and DePaul.  The 49ers lost to Miami by eight and Indiana by four while easily sweeping the Blue Demons. 

The 49ers are led by Conference USA first-team performer Jobey Thomas and second-team selection Cam Stephens.   Thomas is the best three-point shooter in his league and averages 19.4 points per game.  Stephens is a Humphrey-playalike, averaging a double double in league play with 15.3 points and 10.4 boards per contest.

Bobby Lutz’ team is making a return visit to the NCAA’s and has quality wins this season over Marquette (76-68 on January 5), Louisville (77-71 on Jan. 23) and Memphis (75-63 on Feb. 13).  And Brey is a big fan of Lutz.

“It’s no coincidence since he came to Charlotte (for the 1998-99 season) they have been excellent,” said Brey. “When I was at Duke, I got to know him real well when he coached at Pfeiffer College (in rural Misenheimer, North Carolina). He was an outstanding coach with tremendous knowledge and success (153-42 from 1990-95).   This is going to be quite a challenge for us.”

It was fairly obvious that Brey got the “one game at a time” mentality into his player’s heads pretty quick.  Innocuous questions to Graves and Humphrey about the other teams in the South regionals were quickly deflected with comments about Charlotte.  But Brey acknowledged that there may be something special on the horizon Saturday with Duke.

“Yeah, we’re familiar with what they do, what lies ahead,” said Brey. “After all, they are on television three days a week.

“But, overall, we’re thrilled to be back in the NCAA Tournament.”

But maybe not with Greenville, South Carolina.

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THE NOTEBOOK:  The first and second-round games at the Bi-Lo Center are not sold out.  The NCAA reports that ticket packages priced at $150 are available by calling 864-250-4792…The Bi-Lo Center’s primary tenants are the Greenville Grrrowl (minor league hockey), the Carolina Rhinos (Arena Football) and the Greenville Groove (of the NBA’s development league).  The Southern Conference and Furman University will be serving as co-hosts…Looking ahead to a possible match-up with Duke, the last time Notre Dame faced a top-seeded team in the NCAA was March 19,1989 when it lost to Georgetown, 81-74, at the Providence Civic Center.  The Hoyas had barely escaped two days earlier, 50-49, versus Princeton in perhaps the finest first-round tourney game ever…Notre Dame has not advanced past the second-round since 1987…The Irish, of course, have met Duke before in the tournament.  The Blue Devils bounced Digger Phelps’ team in the semifinals in ND’s only Final Four appearance, 90-86, on March 25, 1978 in St. Louis….The year before, Charlotte – then officially recognized as North Carolina-Charlotte – made it to the final four behind the wondrous Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell.   Those of you under 30 who live for March Madness can thank Maxwell.  He was one of the most charismatic collegiate players in the 70’s and it was the 49ers Cinderella story in 1977 that helped take this tournament to the next level.  Maxwell went on to win a playoff MVP for the Larry Bird-led Celtics and now entertains all of New England with his no-holds barred color commentary for Celtics broadcasts.….Brey to all us Northerners:  “Remember, it’s Green-vul, not Green-VILLE.”….For those of you interested in traveling to Green-vul, note that it is 145 miles northeast of Atlanta, 103 miles northwest of Columbia, South Carolina, 239 miles from Raleigh-Durham and 662 miles from South Bend. It’s a clean, reserved Southern town where you can get a tidy Fairfield Inn room for less than 50 bucks (under normal conditions).   Flights will be plentiful into Charlotte and it is, as outlined above, a very easy ride.

(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at aatandsonspr@aol.com)


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