You know about The Great Wall in front of Northeastern. Any team that downs Larrañaga, Duke, and North Carolina in consecutive days is special, and Notre Dame is no exception. And while Northeastern’s task will be extremely trying, the Huskies can make things interesting if they play just their game. 14 seeds win these games 15% of the time, a stat that’s been affirmed three times in the past five years.
Here’s what we know about Notre Dame: Mike Brey’s team boasts one of the nation’s most explosive offenses. The Fighting Irish scores 1.22 points per possession, trailing only Wisconsin in adjusted offensive efficiency. The staples of this excellence come in the form of a nation-leading 58.6% effective field goal percentage and a 14.4% turnover rate, good for third in D-I. Notre Dame is 18-0 when scoring at least 1.18 points per possession.
Now, the roll call.
Senior Jerian Grant spearheads the offense. The All-American guard has rebounded from a season curtailed by academic shortcomings to average 16.8 points and 6.6 assists per game. He’s a big strong guard who’s an absolute force in the lane. Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, Steve Vasturia, and V.J. Beachem can absolutely stroke it from three, with the first pair scoring over 11 points per game.
Zach Auguste is Notre Dame’s skillfully efficient center, and if you watched any Notre Dame games over the last three weeks, you’re probably familiar with the undersized big man frosh Bonzie Colson.
This is the part where I tell you how I think Northeastern can keep pace with the Irish.
Notre Dame is largely average defensively, and such disparities between offense and defense can be a death sentence in March. The Irish do a decent job defending the three-point line. Last Friday, the Irish let Jahlil Okafor do whatever he wanted in the paint, but refused to relinquish open outside shots to Quinn, Tyus, and Co.
Northeastern doesn’t have any future NBA Lotto picks, but I’d expect Mike Brey to once again sell out to guard the perimeter against a Northeastern team that’s shot 38.8% (24th in D-I) from three this season.
So I’m thinking this will be a Reggie Spencer game, because Northeastern needs to attack the heart of a Notre Dame defense that frequently plays small lineups featuring the 6’5” Connaughton at the four. Perhaps if Northeastern’s bigs can get things flowing towards the hoop, they can get a few early fouls on Auguste, and get into a shallow Notre Dame bench.
I say a shallow Notre Dame bench because (like Northeastern) Notre Dame is bottom five in D-I in percentage of minutes played by bench players. Okay, so we might need to send Lucas Goodwin to a data center to find what Litos wrote about the (in)significance of that same subject once upon a time. And given how good Vasturia is and how well Colson has played, you could say Notre Dame has an advantage here.
But we saw how well Spencer, Caleb Donnelly, and Devon Begley played in Baltimore. If that trio can carry some of that success to Pittsburgh, Northeastern might have an advantage here.
To summarize: I want to see Northeastern attacking the lane, crashing the boards, and forcing Mike Brey to rely on his depth-less frontcourt. These things are all much easier said than done — many have tried and failed this season. There’s a reason the Fighting Irish is 29-5.
But Bill Coen has dragged this team on holiday roadies to New Orleans, San Juan, and California over the past 18 months, and it’s all been in preparation for this exact moment. The game won’t be too big for a Northeastern squad playing with house money.
And for a Notre Dame program that’s only won two Tournament games since a 2003 Sweet 16 run, there’s a bit of pressure to perform.
Can the CAA force another high-powered Notre Dame team into the wrong side of a rockfight like it did in 2010?
The head and the heart disagree, but you’ve got to keep the faith.
Northeastern 70, Notre Dame 68