Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Posted by Will Tucker on March 22nd, 2013

Notre Dame built a Tournament resume by beating top-10 ranked UK and collecting conference wins over Louisville, Marquette, Pitt, Villanova and Cincinnati. In the Big East Tournament, Mike Brey’s team bested Rutgers and Marquette, and then hung with Louisville for 25 minutes before ultimately succumbing in the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. Despite being ranked for much of the season, the Irish were handed a seven seed due to a weak nonconference schedule and 2-5 record against the RPI top 25.

Perimeter defense is top priority for Notre Dame (credit Frank Franklin III)

Perimeter defense is top priority for Notre Dame against Iowa State (credit Frank Franklin III)

Region: West
Seed: No. 7
Record: 25-9 (11-7 Big East)
Matchup: v. Iowa State in Dayton

Key Player: First Team All-Big East big man Jack Cooley has been an offensive juggernaut for the Irish all year, shooting 57% and posting the best offensive rebounding rate in the Big East for the second consecutive season. Cooley isn’t known as a versatile defender though, and the agile shooters in Iowa State’s frontcourt will force him to guard spots on the floor outside his comfort zone. If he can defend the perimeter without posing a defensive liability, Mike Brey’s team will be able to dictate the methodical pace they prefer against the high octane Cyclones.

Key Stat: At 61.6, Notre Dame’s adjusted tempo on KenPom is the lowest value of any team in the Tournament, and places them in the bottom 30 nationally. The Irish like a maddeningly deliberate pace, and usually manage to impose that pace on their opponents. When they can’t, they struggle: they’re 2-4 in the past five weeks when they’ve played 60 or more possessions. Iowa State ranks 33rd in adjusted tempo, and averages 69.3 possessions. They’re also 5-1 in games with fewer than 65 possessions and, ironically, only 6-6 in games with 74 or more possessions, when they’ve often shot low percentages against athletic defensive elites like Kansas (0-3), Cincinnati and UNLV. Mike Brey’s team doesn’t fit that mold, and ranks 84th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Even at Notre Dame’s preferred pace, the Irish will have to defend much better than they typically have at all five positions.

Best-Case Scenario: The Irish force the Cyclones to play at their speed, and utilize the length of guys like Jerian Grant and Cameron Biedshied to limit good looks from the three point line for Tyrus McGee, Chris Babb and Korie Lucious. Pat Connaughton continues scorching the net from beyond the arc, and carries his team into a Third Round matchup with an Ohio State team that more closely resembles Notre Dame’s style. Defensive momentum from their success against Iowa State gives the Irish a chance to contain Deshaun Thomas and the efficient Buckeyes backcourt, should they meet in the Third Round.

Worst-Case Scenario: Jack Cooley and Tom Knight are isolated and exploited by Iowa State’s versatile forwards. The nation’s 13th-best defensive rebounding team frustrates Cooley on the offensive boards, neutralizing Mike Brey’s most dependable source of scoring. The Irish fail to win an NCAA Tournament game for the fourth time in six years.

Will Tucker (116 Posts)

Kentucky native living and working in Washington, D.C. I write for RTC’s American Athletic Conference microsite in my spare time. Aside from college hoops, other sources of spiritual fulfillment include road trips, tacos, and bourbon. I try to incorporate all of them into my writing.


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