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The return of power forward Bonzie Colson was thought to be enough for Notre Dame to earn an NCAA tournament bid. The selection committee thought otherwise. Notre Dame will not participate in this season's tournament. (SBT File Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)

Battling back to its feet from a series of staggering gut punches throughout a trying college basketball season, Notre Dame was delivered the ultimate knockout early Sunday evening.

It will be tough to get up from this one.

For much of the weekend, really ever since the Irish regular season ended Thursday with a loss to Duke in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Notre Dame was in the NCAA tournament field of 68. The Irish were going back to a place they had been the previous three seasons. They would get the chance to right a regular season that had gone so wrong.

Notre Dame was less than three hours away from being awarded one of the 36 at-large bids. And then, thanks to one game, one of the last games of over 10,000 played played by the 351 Division I teams this season, cost Notre Dame.

Cost Notre Dame everything.

E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.

Bam!

Good night.

When Davidson upset top-seeded Rhode Island to win the Atlantic 10 championship around 3:25 p.m., it forced the NCAA selection committee to eliminate one team from the at-large group. That team, said Creighton athletic director and tournament selection committee chair Bruce Rasmussen, was Notre Dame.

"They just didn't have enough on their resume to be an at-large," Rasmussen told TBS.

Understood, but the way this unfolded. Man, it's hard. Really hard.

"After a season of gut punches, that was yet another gut punch," Irish coach Mike Brey said. "I'm kind of proud of them, but hurting for them at the same time.

"We've had all kinds of things happen and on the most important day, it was a heartbreaking day. It's a tough one to swallow."

Rasmussen then offered another kick to the Irish gut when he revealed that the last team in the field was ... Syracuse. The same Syracuse team that Notre Dame beat - at the Carrier Dome - without its two best players. Notre Dame and Syracuse finished with identical 8-10 conference records. So one league loss that could have been a win and Notre Dame would have been in. Should have been in.

The 36 at-large teams were revealed in alphabetical order on TBS, which also carried some drama. When studio host Ernie Johnson got to where the Notre Dame name should have popped up, he paused and asked the live studio audience if this was where they would see Notre Dame.

Then paused....

The name of Ohio State appeared, which meant Notre Dame was out.

Another gut punch.

"Next time I see him, "Brey told the Tribune of Johnson, "I'm punching him in the face."

He was joking. He was serious. It was that kind of night.

Next up for the Irish (20-14) is a first-round National Invitation Tournament home game. A No. 1 seed in the 32-team tournament, Notre Dame will host No. 8 Hampton (19-15), a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Tip time Tuesday at Purcell pavilion is 9 p.m.

It’s not what anyone around the program wanted to do or hoped to do, but it’s all it has left for this month, for this group, for this season.

Grin and bear it. Grin and win it.

That’s likely a tough task for a senior class that’s the winningest in program history. A senior class that won an ACC tournament championship. A class that has consecutive NCAA tournament Elite Eight runs.

This consolation prize their last time through is of little consolation. March Madness? More like March Sadness for Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell and Martinas Geben and Matt Gregory and Austin Torres.

It was one weird week for Notre Dame leading into Selection Sunday. Having won five of its final eight, and then two ACC tournament wins kept the Irish on the minds of many throughout college basketball. In or out? Out or in? With the return of Colson, who missed 15 league games over eight weeks while recovering from a broken foot, Notre Dame made a late run at an at-large bid.

With a healthy Colson, who was preseason league player of the year, and a healthy Farrell, who missed five league games with an ankle injury, Notre Dame felt it could play with anyone in the country. All the Irish wanted was the chance to prove it. They could be the feel-good story for an NCAA short on them.

However the decision fell for the Irish, it wasn’t going to be a surprise. They were good enough to get in, yet not good enough to remain out. Had they found their way into the field, it would have been an invitation long on emotional and feel-good vibes and short on quality wins. Resume wins. Season-making wins.

Notre Dame went 1-7 against ranked teams this season. It finished 2-9 in league games against teams with winning records. It lost four league home games. It didn’t really beat anyone the last two months of the season that it wasn’t supposed to beat. There were no “wow’ wins. A lot of good wins, a lot more wins that were supposed to be wins, but not a lot else.

And losses to three teams with crusher Ratings Percentage Index numbers — Ball State (120), Indiana (129) and Georgia Tech (159) — likely was too much for Notre Dame to overcome. It could have absorbed those early losses to those in-state teams if it would have eventually earned those back somewhere along the ACC line.

The Irish never got those back. Those four home losses in league play — to Louisville, Miami (Fla.), North Carolina and Virginia Tech — likely sealed Notre Dame’s postseason fate. The Irish didn’t have to win all of them, but they had to get at least two of them. They got none of them.

As a result, Notre Dame is headed back to that other tournament — whisper voice, N-I-T — for the first time since 2009. The Irish are 26-10 all-time in the NIT.

It was an unusual Sunday for Notre Dame in myriad ways. Unlike the previous three, there was no official team watch party, where the Irish would gather around the televisions in Club Naimoli, high above the Purcell Pavilion main floor. The Irish were left on their own until right after the announcement. Then they were required to do something they’ve never done after the pomp and circumstance of a Selection Sunday.

They practiced. For about 40 minutes, Brey had his guys run off the frustration of being left out of the NCAA and get the focus back to make a run in the NIT.

Players were unavailable for comment as of Tribune press time. The quotes would have been predictable. They were disappointed at the outcome. They’re honored for the chance to keep playing. They want to go prove people wrong. They want to make a run in the OTHER tournament. They would love to get back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 2013. Win it all. Hang a banner. That would mean something.

But it won’t mean as much. There’s a heck of a party that’s about to start, and the Irish aren’t invited. That hurts. But that’s life in college basketball.

Notre Dame just didn’t do enough when enough needed to be done.

(574) 235-6153

Twitter: @tnoieNDI

(27) comments

Bernard12

Don't blame Davidson; blame Mediocre Mike. For the 6th time in his 18 years, he has failed to make the big dance. We have a team not a program. Other lesser Catholic schools like Xavier, Gonzaga, and Villanova have programs. The big dance is a given. No excuses.
How sad it is that Mediocre Mike is locked into a 10 year contract. Years of suffering await us.

nyona lake

Over the years I have not been a big Bray fan, but I don't really think you can put this one on him. Take any top team that lost as many players as they did and they would be hard pressed to win.

NDomer70

My Dear Bitter Bernard, you ,sir, define what I consider to be a spoiled little brat. Your animus toward Mike Brey is very hard to fathom. There no Power 5 school out there that is considered a "football school" that has a better basketball program than the one we have here at Notre Dame. There is no one out there that has done more with less than Coach Brey. The same conditions that cause our legions of football fans to bemoan the recruiting situation at ND are every bit as much a consideration in major college basketball as in football. ND is blessed to have him and I hope he can stay as long as he wishes.

Paul Privitera

Students, players, coaches, and fans all disappointed. This team never gave up, lost so many close games, kept suffering injuries and still persevered. To me, this coaching staff and the team stayed so upbeat and played so hard that I enjoyed this season as much as the past three. Looking forward to a run in the NIT. Go Irish 🍀

stjoeballer

I am not a ND far, but think Brey is far better than average. Bernard always has some smart alec thing to put down Coach, but he is full of the night soil of a very large ox. Name me who you think ND should go after if you were AD. I think I remember you also love putting Swarbick down as well. Have you had your cup of gall yet today?

Bernard12

Chicago Loyola's Porter Moser on line 1, Jack.

NDomer70

Good, Bernie, submit your argument. Show us why Porter Moser is a better fit than Mike brey.

Bernard12

Plan B: Break the glass ceiling, Jack. Hire our own Hall of Fame coach, Muffet McGraw. Princeton Offense and fast breaks rock!

FZ2018

You say your not a Notre Dame fan but you seem to know quite a bit about the program.

Crenshaw

Ball state, IU. End of discussion

WillieT

This is ridiculous, and Notre Dame should not have been given any consideration for the tournament. No team that piled up 14 losses and also went an entire month between wins deserves to be in the tournament. Enough of this nonsense.

rays1969

The reason they didn't get in was 4 home conference losses. If they win 2 of the four they would have been in the tournament.

NDHoopsAddict

Bernard T: Loyola's Moser? Recruiting in the ACC? Dreamland. The lousy coach you want out keeps taking 3 and low-4 star guys and putting them in the NBA. He now has 4 top-100 kids coming in and a UConn transfer that was a top 20 the year before. 500 career victories. Recent Elite Eights and ACC Championship. You clearly have a personal agenda against Brey, because you look kinda foolish criticizing (at least the recent) results.

WillieT

NDHOOPS: 500 career victories? And how many of those victories have come at the expense of the gaggle of hopelessly overmatched cupcakes, set-up, and pushovers Brey invites to Purcelll every December to artificially and shamelessly pad his win count? I'm guessing close to 200.

NDomer70

Dear Wee Willie, according to the NCAA ND had the 30th strongest schedule in the nation this year
Rank Team Rating High Low Last
30 Notre Dame (20-14) 9.0 3 147 30

So your statement is obviously more a result of your ignorance than any basis in fact.

WillieT

Dear Dopey ND Domer: Oh yes, yes, yes, all those ferocious opponents like Chicago State, D-II Chaminade, St Francis (the powerhouse from New York, of course, not that unknown St. Francis from Rhode Island), Mt. St. Mary's, SE Lousiana, and Depaul. Lol. I know, maybe next year the Irish can schedule mighty Lemonade State, St. Cecelia's, Cupcake State, Marshmellow Tech, and Northern Platville State. All at Purcell, of course. Then the Irish can boast of a "20 win" season and sneak into the NCAA on the strength of "20 wins". You Bozo.

NDHoopsAddict

Willie T: Did you know that 29 teams in the NCAA have double digit losses this year? And most of those didn't lose their top two players in the midst of conference season. Alabama has 15 losses, Texas 14.

WillieT

NDHOOPs: No team that has accrued 14 or 15 losses belongs in the tournament, and that certainly applies to Texas and Alabama.And if those teams had been excluded, as they should have been, one would hope they would have enough decency and dignity to simply accept the fact that they did not earn a place in the tournament. ND is exactly where they belong.

NDHoopsAddict

Oh and hey Bernard. I think 3 of the 4 guys coming in next year were offered by Villanova as well as Notre Dame.....

Bernard12

Coaches are judged by tournament results. By that standard, Brey has had 3 good years in his 18 year career ( 1 Sweet Sixteen and 2 Elite Eights ).
In the last 5 years, he has had 2 Elite Eights; however, he failed to make the tournament 2 times in that time period, also. That is why ND is a team, not a program. Villanova, Xavier, and Gonzaga are. Why not us?
Looking once again at Brey's results in the tournament through the years, it is clear that they are not good: In 6 of the years, we did not even make it into the big dance; in 4 of the years, we were one-and-dones, losing to such doormats as Old Dominion and Winthrop.
You have great hopes for the new recruits. That is logical. However, Brey's seniority system dictates that older players will play before the newcomers. Talent takes a backseat to seniority.
For example, either Carmody or Goodwin should replace Rex as a wing shooter; however, Mike has already made Rex a captain, so he will get his 35 minutes a game. Rex will hurt this team again with his fear and inability to shoot the three pointer, his foolish pump fakes and unsuccessful forays to the basket, and his goofy tongue wagging in those very rare instances when he does hit a three.
It will be the same for guys like Djogo and Burns. They will get undeserved minutes based on seniority, not on merit, so you should temper your enthusiasm for the new recruits. Mike's " loyal " to his older guys. How painfully clear this was when Mike put Torres in at the end against against IU. Torres is a brutal free throw shooter; and, of course, when he got fouled, he missed both free throws. If he hit just one, we would have won the game and been in the tournament this year.
The greatest fault of Mike Brey has been his end of game strategy. Beginning with Chris Thomas 18 years ago, his strategy is to let his point guard go one on five against the opponent. It fails virtually every time. It cost us the Louisville and UNC games this year, and it cost us a chance at beating Kentucky in the tournament, which would have put us in the final four. After the game, Jerian Grant admitted that he should have shared the ball. Of course! A regular motion offense should be run and the guy with the best shot should take it. Brey will never learn his lesson.
Fans should have a class action lawsuit for coaching malpractice on his inflexible, idiotic end of game strategy.
So, NDHoopsAddict, I hope that you can find a 12 step program to keep you from drinking the Brey Kool-Aid; otherwise, Mediocre Mike will break your heart.

NDomer70

Apply your assessments to every other Power 5 program. Let's see where ND truly lies. Or better yet, look in the mirror and apply your same criterion of performance to your own career. Show us why we should take you seriously.

nyona lake

Do not agree with a lot of what you say, but will agree 100% on being to loyal to the older players and all the game he has lost over the years with the one on five at end of game. Seams like most of the times they either have a turn over or bad shot. I have said this for years, but who am I, just a dumb fan and everyone knows that fans that have been watching games for over 50 years know nothing about the game.

Bernard12

You are not a dumb fan. When a point guard goes one against five, he's going to lose. Unfortunately, we have a dumb coach who doesn't understand that. The definition of insanity: Keep doing the same thing over and over without having success. I guess 18 years makes Mike well qualified.

NDHoopsAddict

Willie T: Your assessment of Notre Dame is also a perfect assessment of #10 seed Oklahoma.

WillieT

No it's not. Oklahoma had 14 losses, ND 14. Oklahoma lost 6 in a row, and ND lost 7 in a row. And Oklahoma demolished Ball State bt 40, and ND, hilariously, lost to Ball State. At home. With Bonzie and Farrel. Oklahoma may well be lousy, but ND is lousier. And under no circumstances does ND deserve to be in the tournament. Fortunately, they are not.

NDfanforalongtime

Better save some of your venom for football season Willie T. Pace yourself. By the way, who is your team, or, are you just an anti-ND viper?

WillieT

NDfanfor: Actually, I'm mostly indifferent to bouncing balls and such. What I find appalling is the sense of entitlement expressed by the essay. Notre Dame had a lousy season and simply did not earn a place in the tournament. The fact that some 14 and 15 loss teams somehow managed to sneak in and degrade the tournament does not mean that additional 14 and 15 loss teams should also be included and degrade it further.

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