All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Date: Saturday, March 28
Time: 8:49 pm Eastern
Location: Cleveland, OH
More than 40 years ago, Notre Dame famously ended UCLA's amazing winning streak. Can they do the same to Kentucky?
Kentucky Notre Dame
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #1 Strength: #12
Median play: #1 Median play: #14
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#1 Sagarin: #12
Pomeroy: #1 Pomeroy: #9
Offense: #6 Offense: #3
Defense: #1 Defense: #100
LRMC: #1* LRMC: #13*
BPI: #1 BPI: #9
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #1 2nd half/season: #12
Last 6 games: #2 Last 6 games: #5
Consistency: #313 Consistency: #278
Notre Dame's offensive bent is what could keep them in the game despite their defensive ineffeciency. Or rather, it will have to be what keeps them in the game because defense ain't gonna do it. The Wildcats are number one across the board now, even for the 2nd half of the season (they overtook Arizona). In recent play the Irish are close, but not quite better.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (16): Buffalo+19, =Kansas+32, Providence+20, Texas+12, North Carolina+14, =UCLA+39, @Louisville+8, Mississippi+OT, Georgia+11, @LSU+2, Arkansas+17, @Georgia+8, =Arkansas+15, =Hampton+23, =Cincinnati+13, =West Virginia+39
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (4): North Carolina+14, =UCLA+39, @Louisville+8, =West Virginia+39
- Losses to tournament teams (0): None
- Other losses (0): None
Key Info: The chart and the 13 tournament team wins—and the lack of losses, tournament or otherwise—speak for themselves. Not only is it pretty amazing, but it refutes the last possible objection to Kentucky's march to going 40-0—consistency. The team has become perhaps the most consistent team in the country over the last 9 games or so. They dipped to #4 over the last six games, but playing at that high level without variation is something else. It looks exactly like Louisville's chart before they won the tournament two years ago—except without any red in it. What else can we say about Kentucky? They have too many good players to even address, so we'll use tournament game results to highlight them.
The Hampton game was a notch down from their last 10 games—their worst since the 2-point LSU win. Against the Pirates Karl-Anthony Towns led with 21. They were held to 37% shooting by Cincinnati but held the Bearcats to 32%; Aaron Harrison led with 13. Five players were in double figures for the West Virginia rout, but it was defense that won the game as UK held WVA to 39 points on 24% shooting; Andrew Harrison had 4 steals and a block. Aaron Harrison injured his finger during the game but it seems he will be ready to play against the Irish.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (11): Michigan St.+OT, =Purdue+31, @North Carolina+1, @North Carolina St.+OT, Duke+4, @Louisville+12, @Duke+10, @North Carolina+8, =Northeastern+4, =Butler+OT, =Wichita St.+11
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (8): Michigan St.+OT, @North Carolina+1, @North Carolina St.+OT, Duke+4, @Louisville+12, @Duke+10, @North Carolina+8, =Wichita St.+11
- Losses to tournament teams (3): =Providence-1, Virginia-6, @Duke-30
- Other losses (2): @Pittsburgh-4, Syracuse-5
Key Info: Notre Dame played a laughably easy non-conference schedule (ranked #347 of 351 by Pomeroy) but they beat the two tourney-bound Big Ten teams they faced and once in conference they proved they could run with the big boys. Their last five games included a road win over 4-seed Louisville and essentially road wins over 1-seed Duke and 4-seed North Carolina. The performance of the ACC in the tournament mean that the Irish have a huge amount of Sweet Sixteen victories, no matter their poor non-conference SOS.
Senior guard Jerian Grant has been Notre Dame's spark this year, leading the team in scoring (16.8ppg) and assists (6.6), but three other players average in double figures for the Irish's excellent offense, including forward Zach Auguste who had 25 points to keep the Irish ahead of Northeastern. #5 scorer Steve Vasturia stepped up with 20 in the overtime Butler win, and Demetrius Jackson had 20 points against Wichita State.
Game Analysis: We have to do some self-back-patting: we called the West Virginia blowout. But that's not a tough call for this Kentucky team, and even our 25-point spread didn't go far enough toward forecasting the Wildcats' 78-39 demolition of the Mountaineers. Kentucky played their best game of the year, and it's undoubtedly going to be followed by a lesser performance. How much lesser? It depends on how much they start thinking Notre Dame will be an easy win.
Thoughts like that will have to creep in, and after Thursday's action—where Notre Dame's effort was very inferior—no one will be giving the Irish a chance. That's why the Wildcats are ripe for a letdown. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, almost everyone has had a scare during their run to a championship, no matter how dominant they were record-wise. And it's often come from an unexpected source, and prior to the Final Four.
Notre Dame doesn't have much to offer in terms of upset hopes. Their defense is sorry, they aren't a very tall team by any means, they don't rebound well, and they don't force turnovers. What they do have, perhaps, is the element of surprise. That and a history of streak-busting in many sports, including ending UCLA's 88-game win streak in 1974. And they have offense: the Irish shoot the ball very well, they don't turn it over, they don't get their shots blocked, and on defense they don't put teams on the line. That might not be enough to win, but it's enough to give Kentucky a scare—and to have a chance at the end to make history.
Kentucky by 11
Power rating: spread
Kentucky by 9.9
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Notre Dame: 26.7%
Once again, Kentucky is a double digit favorite. Historically a 1 vs. 3 seed in the Elite Eight is a 60/40 proposition, but Notre Dame is a weak 3 and Kentucky a very strong 1.
Bottom line: Like we said last time, Kentucky is due for a real test. West Virginia's style didn't look right for that—it looked too much like it could backfire and lead to a blowout, which is what happened. Notre Dame is a different kind of team. Their defense bends (a lot) but doesn't break, doing just enough to allow them to work their magic on the other side of the floor. And if they get hot, they can do thing like upset Duke twice. It's much less likely for things to get out of hand, and 4 of their 5 losses were by fewer than 5 points. If they can make their shots, Notre Dame might hang around the whole game and give Kentucky that elusive "test".
Final prediction: Kentucky 70, Notre Dame 67
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.