In a game that took years off the life of every Notre Dame fan, the Irish escaped with a two-point victory over Princeton in the first round Thursday.
In what seemed like a replay of the Northeastern game of 2015, the Irish struggled to gain any separation and the veteran-laiden Tigers managed to hit key shots to put game pressure on Notre Dame.
When Mishawaka-native Devin Cannady’s three-point attempt rimmed off as the final seconds ticked away, all of Notre Dame nation took a collective sigh of relief.
As I mentioned in the Princeton feature, they were a team that expected to win and that was evident throughout the game. They never flinched and answered every punch the Irish threw at them.
While Princeton was able to keep the pressure on ND, the Irish kept the Tigers in the game through missed free throws, unforced turnovers, and missed open shots.
Notre Dame will now face West Virginia Saturday at a time TBD with a chance to clinch a berth in the Sweet 16.
– Irish fans should hope ND got their stinker out of the way in the first round. While Colson and Farrell had solid games, the Irish struggled on the whole. ND hit just one field goal in the final six minutes and had a tough time establishing any offensive rhythm.
– Matt Ryan had a strong first half. He was able to utilize his three-point prowess and the defensive overplay into easy buckets in the paint.
– Princeton is one of the best three-point shooting teams and most efficient offenses in the country and while they were able to jack up plenty of shots from beyond the arc, the Irish were able to force the Tigers into contested attempts.
– The Irish have been great in the tournament for three years, but only the Wichita State win in the Sweet 16 in 2015 was a breather in the final minutes. Every other game has taken years off my life.
– For as good as Notre Dame has been in March since 2015, this is the list of seeds they have defeated in the tournament: 14, 6, 7, 11, 14, 7, 12.
– While Colson had another strong game and was the force behind ND’s offense for most of the contest, you could tell his ankle was still bothering him. He still led the team with 18 points but managed just seven rebounds. Steve Vasturia led the Irish with eight rebounds on the day.
– Vasturia and Beachem combined to go 4-21 from the field. The confidence I have going into the West Virginia game comes from the fact that Thursday was ND’s worst game since their loss to UVA in January and it is hard to imagine neither Beachem nor Vasturia will bounce back.
– Yet again, Torres and Geben’s contributions won’t show up in the box score, but their defense and ability to do the dirty work is invaluable.
On to West Virginia:
– As much as the Princeton matchup was a game of IQ’s, the West Virginia contest will be the biggest chasm between team IQ’s in tournament history.
– Singing “Country Road” when we kicked WVU’s ass in 2012 in their last year in the Big East was fantastic.
– Bob Huggins, who famously had a strong 0% graduation rate while at Cincinnati, employs a full court press for the entire game. Their style is not foreign as Brey faced off with Huggins for years in the Big East and found himself on the winning end more often than not
– The Mountaineers are a poor man’s and intellectually equal Louisville. They generate most of their offense through turnovers and capitalize on an opponent’s fatigue and poor decision-making.
– Notre Dame has been good with the ball and strong at the free throw line all year and they will have to keep with those tendencies if they are to down the Mountaineers Saturday.
– WVU plays a physical brand of basketball, but often run into trouble when refs call games in the tournament tighter than conference play. If ND can get in the bonus early in each half, they will be in the driver’s seat.
– ND”s defensive effort vs. Princeton was phenomenal, but they will be facing a different kind of athlete Saturday. WVU struggles in the half court and if the Irish are able to limit their second-chance opportunities, they will find themselves in the Sweet 16.