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March 12, 2013

How ND matches up in BE tourney

NEW YORK - In what is now officially Notre Dame's last go-round in the Big East tournament, the Irish - the No. 6 seed with a single-bye - will take on the winner of No. 11 Rutgers and No. 14 DePaul late Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

Notre Dame defeated DePaul, 79-71, in overtime in Chicago, and 82-78 in overtime at Purcell Pavilion. The Irish also defeated Rutgers at home, 69-66, in January.

"I think it's the most ridiculous line ever: 'Man, you got a good draw!'" said Irish head coach Mike Brey moments before the Irish left for New York Sunday night. "Somebody said that when I was getting on the bus (in Louisville) and I almost punched him.

"I don't want to hear anybody say you got a good draw in this tournament or Sunday at 6:30 (when the NCAA pairings come out) because you have no idea if you have a good draw, believe me.

"We're going to have to play a team that we have beaten before. If it's DePaul, we've stolen two from them. If it's Rutgers…Those are three games that we escaped with. Three of our 11 league wins were over these teams, and they were flat-out escapes. So for us, we're ready for a dogfight, whoever we play."

Brey's comments aside, some match-ups are better for the Irish while some aren't nearly as advantageous, depending upon comparative strengths and weaknesses, and advantages/disadvantages that may arise due to personnel.

Ultimately, Brey is right, particularly as it pertains to the Irish, who are capable of defeating or falling to just about anyone they face in the post-season. Here's a little pre-Big East tournament speculation heading into Tuesday's action at the Garden, which starts with No. 12 Seton Hall versus No. 13 South Florida.

Rutgers-DePaul The Irish have defeated DePaul twice and Rutgers once. Two of those three games were at home. Both teams are more athletic than the Irish. They're also a combined 7-29 in Big East play with the Scarlet Knights winning five times and the Blue Demons just twice.

All things being equal, the Irish would prefer to play DePaul, which has no history of success in the Big East tournament. (The Blue Demons lost by 14 to Connecticut last year and by 26 to the Huskies the year before in their first game of the Big East tournament.)

Rutgers was a tough out at Purcell Pavilion in mid-January when the Irish pounded out a 69-66 victory. The Scarlet Knights out-rebounded the Irish by five and forced the Irish into a season-high (in regulation) 16 turnovers. Rutgers lost by 21 to Villanova in its first game of the Big East tournament last year.

Notre Dame is a veteran basketball team with a roster full of Big East tournament-tested talent. It likely would be a close game against the Scarlet Knights, but the Irish should prevail, particularly with the Notre Dame guards now having the green light to push the basketball when the situation dictates.

"We can't think past Wednesday night because it was hard for us to beat those teams," Brey said. "I don't know what a good draw is anymore. But whoever we face, because we had three dogfights, I've got to believe everybody's attention is going to be up."

Georgetown It goes without saying the Irish don't want this match-up per se because the Hoyas appear to be on the verge of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Of course, if the Irish play Georgetown, it would be in the Big East tournament championship. The Irish have never gotten to the championship game in the Big East tournament after three straight trips to the semifinals. Obviously, they would be playing quality basketball if they're still alive Saturday night.

Notre Dame lost to the Hoyas, 63-47, at Purcell Pavilion in late January when the Irish were struggling to find an identity as Scott Martin played in his final game in a Notre Dame uniform.

The Hoyas hammered the Irish on the boards, led by Otto Porter, Jr., who should be named Big East Player of the Year Tuesday.

Georgetown has difficulty scoring at times, and in a game in which the Irish dictate the pace, they certainly can hang with the Hoyas. But John Thompson III's squad has won 12 of its last 13 games. Of course the Irish want a crack at the Hoyas because it would mean a Big East championship tilt. But the match-up certainly wouldn't favor the Irish.

Marquette Yes, the Golden Eagles defeated the Irish, 72-64, a couple of weekends ago. Marquette is deep and aggressive, and has made a couple of Sweet 16 trips under Buzz Williams to show how dangerous they are in the post-season.

But the Golden Eagles are not as talented as they were a year ago when Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom combined for about 35 points per game. Of course, Marquette bowed out as a double-bye recipient a year ago in a double-digit loss to Louisville.

Marquette is a poor outside shooting team (.299 from three-point, which is 14th in the conference). The Irish can play and beat this team on a neutral court. They can't let big man Chris Otule have a career game, as he did against the Irish in Milwaukee. Fellow big man Davante Gardner can be a force as well.

But of all the top seeds in this tournament, the Golden Eagles are the ones the Irish can vanquish the easiest. If Notre Dame gets past the winner of Rutgers-DePaul, it will get its wish for a rematch with Marquette Thursday night.

Pittsburgh Like Georgetown, the Irish wouldn't get a crack at the Panthers until the Big East championship game. Unlike playing the Hoyas, the Irish would have a much better chance of defeating the Pittsburgh for a second time this season.

Notre Dame went into the Petersen Events Center and stunk it up for a good portion of the first half, falling behind, 19-3. Pittsburgh's pressure defense gave the Irish trouble. But a couple of three-pointers by Pat Connaughton loosened things up. So, too, did the officiating.

Notre Dame destroyed the Panthers on the backboards, 40-25, and Jamie Dixon would have his troops psyched to even the score against the Irish. The Irish match up pretty well against this team and could just as easily be in the Panthers' No. 4 slot in the Big East tournament.

Louisville The Irish split with the Cardinals during the regular season, and all things considered, played much better on the road in the regular-season finale than they had in previous road trips to Syracuse, Providence and Marquette. The Irish had some success during a second-half surge by pushing the tempo against the ultimate up-tempo program.

But the Irish don't match up well with Louisville, mainly because of 6-foot-11 Gorgui Dieng, who influences everything the Irish do around the bucket. He neutralized Jack Cooley (seven points, seven rebounds) this past weekend, and the Irish can't count on another quality performance from Garrick Sherman.

The Eric Atkins-Jerian Grant guard tandem is effective against most backcourts. But Louisville's dynamic duo - Peyton Siva and Russ Smith - is tournament tested. Plus, the Cardinals are well accustomed to bringing the Irish down in the Big East tournament, as they have each of the past two seasons in the semifinals.

This looks like a long shot if the Irish catch the Cardinals Friday.

Syracuse Everyone knows Syracuse is tournament tested, but the Orange were either bored by the regular season or are simply ready to pack it in. They enter the Big East tournament having lost four of the last five and reached a new low in the regular-season finale when Georgetown held them to 39 points on 15 field goals and 31.9 percent shooting.

Even head coach Jim Boeheim seems ready to pack it in - permanently - as he threw out the possibility of calling it a career after 37 seasons.

There's no shortage of talent with C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche, Michael Carter-Williams and James Southerland leading the way. But the Orange are not the same squad they were a year ago with Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Scoop Jardine. Their confidence level is shaken, and Notre Dame is well-equipped to avenge a 16-point loss in the Carrier Dome in early-February.

Of course, if the Irish play the Orange, Boeheim's squad will have gotten past Pittsburgh and Georgetown to get to the championship game, so their confidence level will have been given a boost.

Villanova The Wildcats have defeated No. 1 seed Georgetown, No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Marquette and No. 5 Syracuse during the regular season, so to say the Irish would relish a shot at them in the semifinals seems a little silly.

And yet Notre Dame converted 9-of-21 three-pointers against Villanova and had a 20-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio against the Wildcats in a 65-60 victory at Purcell Pavilion in late-January. Villanova may have had a bit of a letdown when they came to Notre Dame since they were coming off huge home wins over Louisville and Syracuse.

Villanova lost at No. 12 seed Seton Hall recently, and fell by 18 at a struggling Cincinnati in mid-February. The Wildcats also lost to Providence and Pittsburgh twice each.

You never know what you're going to get from Jay Wright's Wildcats. This would be an interesting match-up Friday night. Call this one a toss-up.

St. John's This is the other team on Notre Dame's side of the bracket that the Irish could face if the Red Storm somehow gets past Villanova and Louisville. There would be plenty of emotion involved after the recent scuffle between Notre Dame's Cam Biedscheid and Sir'Dominic Pointer of St. John's.

Notre Dame lost to the Johnnies in Madison Square Garden in mid-January when the Irish were trying to cope with Scott Martin's injury, and then bounced back for a "hard-fought 26-point victory" after trailing by seven late in the first half.

St. John's is young and fearless, although they're short-handed without leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison, who was suspended by head coach Steve Lavin a few weeks back. Freshman JaKarr Sampson seems to present match-up problems for the Irish, and don't forget that Notre Dame would have to play the Red Storm on their home court.

That being said, if the Irish get a match-up with St. John's in the semifinals, it would be a heckuva lot easier than playing either the No. 2 or No. 3 seed.

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