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Saturday, March 2, 2024
The Observer

Irish earn a No. 5 seed, face Princeton on Thursday in NCAA tournament

The Irish are Buffalo bound.

Notre Dame (25-9, 12-6 ACC) found out its tournament fate Sunday evening when the NCAA selection committee awarded the Irish the No. 5 seed in the West region.

The Irish play their first game at 12:15 p.m. Thursday against Princeton, the region’s No. 12 seed, in Buffalo, New York. The Tigers (23-6, 14-0 Ivy League) earned an automatic bid to the 68-team field after an undefeated conference slate and a victory in the first-ever Ivy League tournament.

Notre Dame is favored in the matchup by virtue of its seed, but that does not mean the fifth-seeded Irish are taking their first-round matchup lightly.

Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brushes past a defender during Notre Dame’s 64-60 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion.
Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brushes past a defender during Notre Dame’s 64-60 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion.
Irish junior guard Matt Farrell brushes past a defender during Notre Dame’s 64-60 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 26 at Purcell Pavilion.

“They’re a really good team — had a great year in the Ivy League,” Irish junior guard Matt Farrell said. “Good guards, they can play small ball, they can shoot, dribble and pass. They’re kind of just like us.”

The Tigers and the Irish do share some similarities, particularly their propensity to play small ball. Princeton usually runs a starting lineup with the tallest player standing at 6-foot-5, and 41 percent of its offense comes from beyond the 3-point line.

Irish head coach Mike Brey said the similarities extend to the offensive systems the two teams run as well.

“We even do some of it. We get some elbow hits, some cuts,” Brey said. “We have a book on stuff, and we’ll go back to that this week. There’s a lot of touches; they like to enter everything in at that elbow. You’re guarding spacing — of course, we’re guarding spacing everyday when we guard ourselves. You’re guarding shooting, we’re guarding shooting every day because that’s who we have, that’s our personnel. [There is] a lot of back cutting; they’re famous for a lot of back cutting. But we cut a lot a lot, so we guard cutting.

“We’re Princeton-ish without the predictable movement. Ours is very free-flowing, but it’s Princeton-ish philosophy as far as spacing and cutting.”

To guard that distinctive offense, Notre Dame will rely on a defense that improved vastly during the ACC tournament, according to Brey.

“I think our defensive intelligence can really help us against a group like this, and it has helped us all year, even in our non-league stuff,” Brey said. “We’ve been able to adjust to a scouting report and an opponent’s tendencies offensively. And our main guys have been really good at talking through it, switching it when we have to. I feel we can prepare well for this.”

The 12:15 p.m. start time for Thursday’s game makes it the first full-field game of the tournament, and until then, the Irish will be getting their legs back under them after playing three games in three nights in Brooklyn, New York. Notre Dame’s ACC tournament ended with a 75-69 loss to Duke in the final. Brey said the team will be in recovery mode for the early part of the coming week.

“We’ve had tough stretches during the regular season, and I think we have a pretty good recovery plan,” Brey said. “We will not do much [Monday] physically at all. Tuesday will be really, really light as well. We’re past physical practices. … I’d say by Tuesday we’ll be bouncing around pretty good.”

Another tie Notre Dame has with Princeton is Tigers’ sophomore guard Devin Cannady. Cannady played his high school basketball at Marion High School in Mishawaka, Indiana — where he was teammates with former Irish guard Demetrius Jackson.

“He’s a pretty good friend of mine,” senior forward and Fort Wayne, Indiana, native V.J. Beachem said. “You meet a lot of guys with the game of basketball. He’s a great kid, a great player. It should be a lot of fun playing against him Thursday. I don’t think we’ve ever played against each other in a real game, it’s just been pickup and stuff like that.

“He can shoot it, he can drive it. He scores at all three levels, he’s crafty, he’s just a really good player. We’re really excited about the matchup. … Devin is obviously really smart. He’s just a cool guy to be around and spend time with. He’s a hard worker, always in the gym and that reflects as far as his game. With guys like that, there’s always mutual respect when somebody really works hard at their game.”

Farrell is also a friend of junior guard Amir Bell, as both players came up through the New Jersey pipeline.

“I’m excited. I know some of the guys on Princeton,” Farrell said. “I’m excited to play against them. I know [Cannady] plays for Princeton. I know their guard Amir Bell just from being around Jersey — we’re pretty close I’d say, we talk to each other here or there. It’ll be a fun time playing against them.”

Even Brey’s son Kyle played football at the University of Buffalo.

“I have a lot of memories of Buffalo because my son Kyle played [football] at [the University of Buffalo],” Brey said. “I spent a lot of time [in] — as he calls it, and as many Buffalonians call it — ‘Rough Buff.’”

No. 5 seed Notre Dame plays No. 12 seed Princeton at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Buffalo, New York, at Keybank Center.