In a matchup of in-state rivals, No. 3-seeded Notre Dame face No. 6-seeded Butler in a third-round, Midwest region matchup on Saturday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Roughly 135 miles separate the two Indiana schools, as they both to seek to advance in a region that includes perennial powers Kentucky and Kansas.
The local angle means there is a little bit extra on the line, even beyond the usual pressures of the NCAA Tournament. The state of Indiana has always been a basketball haven, and passion for the sport runs deep in the area. Both programs have a strong understanding of how much basketball means to the state.
"One of the things we wanted to do was compete and beat all these Indiana schools," Butler center Kameron Woods said to reporters. "Anytime you play anybody in state, you just want to compete. But we know we're both taking a plane back to Indiana at some point."
ACC tournament champion Notre Dame was close to taking a plane back to South Bend in the second round when they barely escaped past No. 14 seed Northeastern, 69-65. The Huskies had a chance to pull off the upset but squandered a late possession. The Fighting Irish survived largely from a big contribution from junior forward Zach Auguste, who scored 25 points and grabbed five rebounds. The Irish also received 17 points from senior guard Jerian Grant, whose late steal and dunk in the closing moments helped hold off Northeastern.
The typically high-scoring Fighting Irish shot an impressive 57.4 percent from the field, but were outrebounded, 33-17. But Notre Dame was stronger on the defensive end, with nine steals and four block shots.
Recent Notre Dame teams have developed a reputation for regular seasons success followed by postseason woes. Head coach Mike Brey is aware of the pressure to advance deep in the tournament.
"It's kind of the unfinished business in this program,” Brey said to reporters. “We've done everything else. Our program is amazingly respected, but it's the unfinished business that drives me."
Butler won more comfortably than Notre Dame in the Bulldogs' matchup against Texas. Despite a poor shooting effort, Butler only turned the ball over five times and converted 20 of their 28 free-throw attempts to earn a 56-48 win.
Junior guard Kellen Dunham scored 20 points and will likely be the focus of the offense once again against Notre Dame. Dunham has scored 15 points or more in 11 of his last 13 games.
Butler will likely counter the Irish’s talent with their trademark brand of grit and tough play. They have found success in tournaments past by not allowing the either team a moment of rest, though opponents appear to no longer underestimate the burgeoning program.
Notre Dame should provide a tough test for the Bulldogs. The Irish have won six consecutive games, and have defeated the likes of Duke and North Carolina. This might be the most motivated Notre Dame squad in quite some time.
“They kind of believe it’s their time to do it,” said Brey.
Start Time: 9:40 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TBS
Live Stream: Watch online at March Madness Live
Odds: Notre Dame is a 4.5 point favorite, according to bovada.lv.
Prediction: The Fighting Irish have a lot of talent and showed they can perform under pressure by winning the ACC tournament. They should be able to do enough to hold off the Bulldogs.
Notre Dame over Butler, 67-62