Jerian Grant and the Irish were always teetering on the edge last night. Almost the entire game was an uphill climb, but not so much so that it was overwhelming. The scoreline was infuriatingly relentless, constantly simmering at a 5-8 point Louisville lead. The sense was always that if Notre Dame could go on even the briefest of runs, they were in great position to win. However, if Louisville went red-hot for just a couple minutes, the game would be out of hand.
But for the longest time, neither of those things happened. It was always on that edge, an incredibly tense Friday evening for fans of both teams. That is, until the final few minutes, when Louisville's defensive pressure finally cracked the Irish and allowed them to coast in the final minutes with a double-digit victory.
That's not to say the Irish had much of a rhythm offensively before that, but it was their defense that kept them in it for most of the game. They stayed even in the turnover and rebounding margins, keys to beating a team like the Cardinals. But Louisville's defense was a step above, especially late, forcing turnovers that led directly to points and sucked the life out of the Irish for the remaining minutes.
Louisville was led by Russ Smith (20 pts, 6 asts) and Peyton Siva (12 pts, 6 asts), the latter of which led the defensive charge with 7 steals. The insufferable Luke Hancock chipped in 11 of his own, including two huge buckets late that helped seal the Irish fate.
Notre Dame' scoring was led by All-Big East members Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley, who had 14 points apiece. Garrick Sherman contributed 8 points in the first half but was ineffective in the second half, as he faced foul trouble and a Louisville front line that forced him into a midrange game that he simply does not have.
Pat Connaughton, the hero of the first two rounds for Notre Dame, had 9 points on 3 threes but was simply not given enough opportunities to shoot. It's frustrating that Cam Biedscheid had only two less shots in 20 less minutes than Connaughton, so Mike Brey is going to need to make some adjustments to get Connaughton the ball more and maybe Biedscheid in less of a position to shoot so much from long range.
This was a frustrating one, as I really made myself believe that Notre Dame was going to win this ballgame. It just felt like the crazy Big East tournament type of thing to happen, that red-hot Louisville would be upset, especially to a team that still owes them. Alas, this was not the case, and Notre Dame exits the Big East without having played in a tournament final. This just wasn't the time for them; that time really was two or three years ago with narrow semi-final losses to West Virginia and, ugh, Louisville. Oh well, here's to better luck in the ACC tournament.
As for Selection Sunday tomorrow, the Irish look to be almost universally a 6 or 7 seed. I have seen them as a 5 seed in one place, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out for Notre Dame tomorrow evening. I wish they didn't have to face the best team in the nation right now while other teams around them get to play comparatively easy resume-boosting games, but such is life in the Big East.
I'm not sure how big of a difference it makes between the 6 or 7; there are plenty of teams in the 10-12 range that I would love or hate to play, and same thing goes for the 2-3 seed cluster if the Irish were to move on. For instance, Minnesota as a potential 10 seed would be great as a fading, mistake-prone team, but teams like Belmont or St. Mary's as an 11 or 12 seed scare me. Likewise, I would love to play Miami as a 2 seed but hate to play Michigan or Ohio State as a 3.
So, I guess there may be nothing magical about the seed this year, with as much parody in college basketball this season as ever. It's all in the matchup, so we will be waiting anxiously for the bracket reveal tomorrow. If you believe that a better seed will equal a better draw, which statistically is probably true, then you should be rooting against teams like Butler, NC State, UCLA, UNC, UNLV, and VCU, who are all still alive in their conference tourneys and are projected in the same range as the Irish.
We will have plenty of in-depth coverage this week, looking at Notre Dame's path to the Final Four, previewing their first round matchup, and predicting how we see the Irish performing in the tournament.