The surging No. 3-seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish (29-5) take on the No. 14-seeded Northeastern Huskies (23-11) on Thursday in a Midwest region NCAA Tournament matchup at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The Irish enter the NCAAs with high hopes after winning the ACC tournament, while the Huskies will be looking to pull off a stunning upset.
The Irish enter the game with the second most wins program history and a on a five-game winning streak. Guard Jerian Grant has been the most reliable scorer this season, leading the team in points at 16.8 per game. The senior scored 24 while adding 10 assists in the win over North Carolina in ACC final. Head coach Mike Brey will likely also turn to the sharpshooting of Pat Connaughton. The senior guard averages 12.8 points and shooting 43.6 percent from behind the arc. Connaughton also leads the team in rebounding at 7.4 rpg.
The Irish have struggled recently in the NCAA Tournament, however, despite featuring some great teams. It’s a trend many expect this team to reverse.
"I don't lose a lot of sleep on it, maybe because I'm an older coach now and I have a great contract," Brey said according to the AP. "But I do feel, going in, this group has the makings of being different because of how they played the regular season."
Northeastern will not have to deal with the expectations Notre Dame must deal with. The Huskies made the tournament after they won the Colonial Athletic Association, beating William and Mary easily in the final. It’s a chance to spring onto the national stage.
"You don't really believe it until you see it, but I'm very excited for our guys to see our name pop up and get to compete against such a great program as Notre Dame," said Northeastern coach Bill Coen to the university’s website. "We couldn't be more excited."
Northeastern features a pair of good scorers in senior forward Scott Eatherton (14.6 ppg) and junior guard David Walker (13.4 ppg). Junior forward Quincy Ford carried the team to the CAA championship, winning MVP of the tournament and scoring 22 points in the final. Coen should also have a grasp on how Brey coaches his teams. Brey made his name coaching for Northeastern's CAA rival University of Delaware from 1995-2000.
The Huskies will have to find a way to hang with a team that is likely more talented. Last time the two schools met, the Irish won 72-45 in the 1997-98 season. But if Northeastern puts together a great game, they could be dangerous.
Notre Dame is a 12-1/2 point favorite in the game, according to bovada.lv. But Brey is aware that top programs should not take anyone lightly from his time coaching at Delaware.
"I have a lot of respect for Bill Coen, their coach, and how they play, especially on the offensive end. This is your typical mid-major team. I had a couple of them at Delaware, older guys that know how to play together and have won together for a while," he said. "I told our guys, it's like an ACC game. We have to prepare like it's an ACC game."
Start Time: 12:15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Live Stream: Watch the game at March Madness Live
Prediction: Northeastern should put up a fight, but Notre Dame has too many weapons to avoid an upset.
Notre Dame over Northeastern, 80-64