Notre Dame headed to Brooklyn to open NCAA tournament
SOUTH BEND – Viewing the NCAA Tournament selection show on the center scoreboard from high atop Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame senior power forward Zach Auguste watched his collegiate career come full circle early Sunday evening.
Auguste was a freshman when Notre Dame closed out its conference affiliation with the Big East. Later this week, one of the four team captains has a chance to extend his collegiate career when the Irish travel back to the one city synonymous with their former conference home.
Notre Dame is headed to New York — and the borough of Brooklyn — to open the 2016 NCAA Tournament.
Handed a No. 6 seed in the East Region, Notre Dame (21-11) plays Friday at approximately 9:40 p.m. (CBS-TV) against an opponent to be determined. Michigan (22-12) and Tulsa (20-11) are two of the four teams that must start tournament play later this week in Dayton, Ohio as part of the two play-in games.
“I love New York City; Brooklyn’s great,” Auguste said. “It’s going to be a great time (but) I take this very seriously. I want to play as long as I can.
“It’s just going out there and making a run.”
The Michigan-Tulsa winner advances to face Notre Dame in a first-round game.
“It is a little unusual that you don’t know your opponent yet,” said Irish coach Mike Brey. “Usually we start breaking down one team. We’ll try to get a little bit a of a feel for both but not waste too much time.”
Senior manager A.J. Meyer headed back to the basketball office Sunday even before the Notre Dame name popped up in the bracket to begin gathering intel on the other teams in what Brey often likes to refer to as a weekend mini-tournament.
A mini-tournament with a twist.
"It's a five-team bracket right now," Brey said.
Friday’s winner advances Sunday to meet the winner between No. 2 West Virginia (26-8), a former Big East colleague for Notre Dame, and No. 15 Stephen F. Austin (27-5).
Notre Dame is 1-1 at Barclays Center, an arena it will get to know really well in the coming years. The Irish are scheduled to play an early-season tournament game — the Legends Classic — in Barclays the weekend before Thanksgiving next season. The arena, which opened in 2012, also will serve as the home for the ACC tournament for two years starting next March.
The Irish visited Barclays early during the 2012-13 season — Auguste’s freshman year — where they lost in overtime to Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) before beating Brigham Young in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
“We’re thrilled to be in New York,” Brey said. “It’s a great Notre Dame town. We have great memories of our Big East days playing and hanging out in the city.”
The Irish are 7-15 against Michigan, 0-1 against Tulsa.
Notre Dame was most recently a 6 seed in 2010 when it lost its opening game to No. 11 Old Dominion in New Orleans.
It’s the 11th time in 16 seasons under Brey that the Irish have earned a trip to the NCAA tournament — 10 of them, like Sunday, as an at-large team.
Notre Dame was one of 36 teams to receive an at-large invitation. It was one of seven ACC teams to earn NCAA invitations. Two league teams — North Carolina and Virginia — are No. 1 seeds.
Notre Dame lost to North Carolina, the eventual conference champion, by 31 points in Friday's tournament semifinal in Washington. That loss is among four of the last seven games for the Irish, who get a good chunk of this week to worry only about themselves.
Two years ago this week, days after closing the books on a disastrous first year in the ACC at 15-17 overall, Notre Dame skipped postseason play entirely and commenced with offseason workouts that featured only six players. While the rest of the college basketball world lived and breathed the twists and turns and the madness of March, the Irish concerned themselves only with ball-screen defensive drills.
“Man, that was a tough feeling,” Auguste said. “I promised myself that I’d never feel that way again.”
Getting back to the only postseason tournament that really matters for the sixth time in the last seven years and eighth time in the last 10 is something that nobody in the locker room — or the coach’s corner office — takes lightly.
Even the freshmen who have no idea what they’re getting into later this week are going to make sure they embrace the moment.
“Not many college basketball players are promised to go to the NCAA tournament at all their four years,” said freshman guard Rex Pflueger. “You can never taken anything in life for granted.
Going to the NCAA tournament is a huge blessing.”
Brey seconds that emotion. And then some.
“I hope people realize, man, it’s hard to be in this thing,” he said. “It is hard to be in it and I am just so thrilled when our program, our fans, our team can celebrate this day.
“It’s the best time of year when you’re in it; it’s the worst time of year when you coach and you’re not in it.”
WHO: No. 6 seed Notre Dame (21-11) vs. No. 11. Michigan (22-12) or No. 11 Tulsa (20-11).
WHERE: Barclays Center (17,732), Brooklyn. N.Y.
WHEN: Friday at 9:40 p.m. (approximately).
RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).
ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at twitter.com@tnoieNDI.