For the first time since the 2016-2017 season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team has made the NCAA Tournament field of 68.
On the NCAA Tournament Selection Show just now on CBS, it was announced that Notre Dame had earned a bid to the Big Dance as one of two teams in the play-in game for the 11-seed in the West region, facing off against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Dayton on Wednesday night. Rutgers went 18-13 on the season overall and 12-8 in Big Ten play, including wins on the year over Purdue, Iowa, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Illinois.
The Irish finished the regular season with a 22-9 overall record and a 15-5 record in the ACC, good enough to tie them with the North Carolina Tar Heels for second place in the conference and earning them the 2-seed in this past week’s ACC Tournament due to their head-to-head win over UNC. However, after their double-bye, the Irish were a quick one-and-done in Brooklyn, falling by 7 at the hands of the 7th-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies, who would go on to defeat the Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils en route to winning the ACC Championship on Saturday evening.
Despite losing to the eventual conference champs removing a tiny bit of the sting of such a quick exit from the ACC postseason, it hasn’t exactly been a dazzling finish for the Irish down the stretch, as they appeared to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament a few weeks ago before they lost 3 of their final 6, including a loss to a depleted Florida State Seminoles team in the second-to-last game of the regular season and then being eliminated so quickly by the Hokies, who until their run to the title were considered a long-shot bubble team at best.
So, the Irish and their fans were certainly sweating it out until Sunday evening when the field was announced and it was known that Notre Dame had made it. The 2018 recruiting class, much heralded as Mike Brey’s best in his tenure, was in danger of going their full four years without an NCAA Tournament appearance. Now, they can at least say they managed that in their final season as undergraduates, even if they just barely made it and have to win a game in order to technically advance to the “First Round.”
If the Irish get past Rutgers in Dayton, they will then play Alabama, the 6-seed and a squad who went 19-13 on the year, on Friday in San Diego. The winner of that game will likely see 3-seed Texas Tech in the 2nd Round on Sunday, although 14-seed Montana State will certainly try to have something to say about it.
Brey and the crew have their work cut out for them if they want to make any sort of magical/miraculous March run as a Cinderella of sorts, so we’ll see if they’re able to come out firing or fail to rise to that occasion on Wednesday — but for now, at least they still have a chance to make a run.