IrishEyes in Indianapolis

We'll be on the scene in Indianapolis. IrishEyes Magazine Managing Editor Alan Tieuli will be providing daily reports courtside from the RCA Dome beginning Wednesday evening, and will stay with the Notre Dame basketball team for the duration of its run in the NCAA Tournament. Will it be a breakthrough tournament for Mike Brey's squad? Stay with us for all the insights and color of March Madness as IrishEyes continues to provide the best Notre Dame sports coverage on the Web.

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March 16, 2003

Remember December?
NCAA Committee Does

By Alan Tieuli
IrishEyes Magazine

(IE) – In the end, the NCAA Tournament selection committee didn't give a darn that Notre Dame has allowed an average of 87.4 points in its final five games, limping to the regular season finish line with four humbling losses. 

In the final tabulation, it didn't matter that the Irish finished fourth in its Big East division, tied with a Seton Hall team that didn't make the Big Dance.  The committee also turned a blind eye to a 13-point loss to moribund Rutgers, a 4-6 finish to the regular season, and a 1-5 record against ranked opponents in calendar year 2003. 

Thank goodness for tunnel vision. 

A big smile broke out on Mike Brey's face when he heard Jim Livengood, the selection committee chairman and athletic director at Arizona, tell CBS that his committee rewarded teams that did what they were told – mainly schedule tough non-conference games. 

"Nobody plays a tougher schedule than we do," said Brey.  "We are rewarded for the message we received (from the NCAA) a couple of years ago.  It's gratifying." 

Indeed.  Is there any card carrying member of Notre Dame Nation who is not happy to be seeded fifth in the West Region?  To be playing a first-round game Thursday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis?  To be matched up with Horizon League champion Wisconsin-Milwaukee (24-7)? 

Most thought Notre Dame would be a six-seed at best, with some respected bracketologists predicting a seven or eight.   Since Feb. 1, the Irish are 1-5 against teams with records better than .500 and lost in the first-round of the Big East Tournament to NIT-bound St. John's.  But the selection committee was enamored with the Irish's December victories over Marquette (No. 3 seed in this tournament), Maryland (No. 6) and Texas (No. 1).   

As a result, the 22-9 Irish – who go through Pittsburgh so much on USAirways that they can probably name all 57 Heinz varieties – will now simply have to bus south to Indianapolis.  They'll practice Monday and Tuesday, dine on campus Tuesday night, then head to a friendly site against a dangerous, but beatable team making its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. 

"There is a God," said one member of the Irish traveling party, weary of the constant travel this team has endured all year.  

A victory over the 12th seeded Panthers (betcha didn't know that nickname before tonight), will match up Notre Dame with either #4 seed Illinois or #13 Western Kentucky.   

The first-round game also represents a homecoming for point guard and Indianapolis native Chris Thomas.  He last played at the RCA Dome in March, 1998, leading his Pike High School team to the Indiana state championship.  Thomas was a freshman and that game put him on the radar screen as a major prospect. 

"I hoped for this," said Thomas. "Even though we ended slowly, I just got this feeling we'd be there in Indianapolis.  It's pretty much set up for us so we can get some wins." 

Brey is happy to have Thomas playing in front of friendly faces, but will also be pulling a curtain around the sophomore as week progresses. 

"I do have concerns," said Brey. "I talked to him about tickets, his cellphone. I will talk to him more about shutting down communication come Wednesday." 

For the rest of the squad, it's up to Brey to convince his team of the value of playing aggressive team defense.  The Irish have gone 87, 95, 92, 80 and 83 in points allowed the last five and that type of defense won't beat the last place team in the Horizon League consistently (that would be Cleveland State), never mind the champions. 

"It's something we've been talking about," said senior guard Matt Carroll, making his third straight NCAA appearance. "We realize that defense wins championships, we're going to focus on that.  We have to be more aggressive from the start." 

Saying and doing are two different things, but this night is for celebration, not negative analysis.  Notre Dame is the only Big East Conference team to make the NCAA's the last three years, a tremendous accomplishment for Brey and his players. 

"I think it's funny we are talking about are you happy for the seed, when not long ago we were on an 0-for-11 drought," said Brey.   

Notre Dame has come out like a house of fire the last two years in post-season, blasting Xavier (83-71 in Kansas City) and Charlotte (82-63 in Greenville, S.C.


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