Busting Brackets

2015 NCAA Tournament Midwest Preview: Notre Dame vs. Northeastern


For the second season in a row, Kentucky entered the season ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. This time around, however, they managed to maintain that ranking throughout the season, bulldozing through their schedule on the way to an undefeated regular season and an SEC Tournament title.

In the Midwest region of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, all eyes will be on Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection. However, 15 other teams in the region will be fighting for the opportunity to send the Wildcats home early. Kicking off the second round in the Midwest are two teams who earned automatic bids by winning their respective conference tournaments, but in two very difference conferences.

Thursday, March 19; 12:15 p.m. – No. 3 Notre Dame (29-5) vs. No. 14 Northeastern (23-11)

Notre Dame

Mar 14, 2015; Greensboro, NC, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish players and including head coach Mike Brey (with net) celebrate after the game. The Fighting Irish defeated the North Carolina Tar Heels 90-82 in the championship game of the ACC Tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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Strengths: Head coach Mike Brey‘s squad ran through the ACC tournament and became the first team to ever win the conference title while knocking off both Duke and UNC in the same year. Oh, and they also beat Louisville in that run, too. In the gauntlet that is the ACC, the Fighting Irish held their own against some of the nation’s top teams. They have an elite offense that averages 78.8 points per game, led by senior guard Jerian Grant. A National Player of the Year candidate, Grant is the type of player who can single-handedly take over a game with his scoring (16.8 points per game) and distributing (6.6 assists per game). Grant is flanked by some great perimeter shooters in senior guard Pat Connaughton (.436 from deep), sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson (.409) and sophomore guard Steve Vasturia (.409), all of whom average over 30 minutes of playing time per game. Junior forward Zach Auguste (12.4 PPG) can score in the post when the shooters draw too much attention.

Weaknesses: For all of their offensive prowess, Notre Dame is limited defensively and can be hurt on the glass. Auguste is a 6″10′ presence in the low post, but is more useful as an offensive piece than as a rim protector. The 6’5″ Connaughton led the team in rebounds, and nobody on the squad averaged more than 0.8 blocks per game. If a team with size and a strong interior scorer comes along, Notre Dame could be in trouble. The team’s discouraging tournament history, with three first-round losses in their past four NCAA appearances, is also a cause for concern.


Mar 9, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Northeastern Huskies players celebrate with the trophy after beating the William & Mary Tribe 72-61 during the finals of the Colonial Conference Tournament at Royal Farms Arena. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

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  • Strengths: As the preseason favorites to earn the CAA‘s automatic bid, head coach Bill Coen led his team to a four-way share of the regular season crown before defeating three teams that they went a collective 2-4 against in the regular season to earn the team’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1991. The Huskies are flush with experience, with six of their top eight contributors being juniors or seniors. They are a patient squad that uses the dominant post presence of senior forward Scott Eatherton (14.6 PPG, 6.4 rebounds per game) to draw defenders, space the floor and wait for good shots. Northeastern has a handful of great shooters who helped the team rank 29th in the nation in 2-point percentage and 42nd in 3-point percentage, along with a 54.1 effective field goal percentage. Junior forward Quincy Ford (10.4 PPG), junior guard David Walker (13.4 PPG) and sophomore guard T.J. Williams (9.7 PPG) are all capable of both hitting from deep and driving hard into the paint for points. While they prefer to spread the ball and look for the best shot, Northeastern is capable of scoring in transition, as well. Their x-factor might be junior guard Caleb Donnelly, a walk-on who averaged 3.3 points per game in the regular season before dropping 24 points in the last two games of the CAA tournament.

    Weaknesses: While the team has taken better care of the rock at the end of the season, Northeastern turns the ball over on 21.3 percent of its possessions. With the 263rd slowest average possession length in the nation, the Huskies might not move fast enough to keep up with a team that can score and force them into turnovers. Additionally, depth could pose a problem for the Huskies, especially in the post. If Eatherton gets into early foul trouble, as he has at times this season, it will be up to 6’7″ senior forward Reggie Spencer and 6’5″ junior guard Zach Stahl to limit the damage of an Notre Dame’s big men. In fact, the team will struggle against any deep teams that get one of their key contributors into foul trouble. While their CAA title is a great achievement for a squad that won 11 games last year, the conference is not as strong as it was a few years ago, and Northeastern is not as battle tested as other potential foes.

    Notre Dame Wins If: Their offense is any semblance of what it was in the ACC tournament. While Walker’s strong defense could make it tough on Grant, the Irish have the ability to pull away from the Huskies in a hurry. By limiting the possessions that Northeastern has and forcing them to take shots late in the shot clock, Notre Dame will prevent the Huskies from scoring enough to keep up.

    Northeastern Wins If: They space the floor and get a hot-shooting start to stake them to an early lead. With Ford’s versatility, Walker’s athleticism and Eatherton’s post ability, the team requires defensive attention on multiple players. If their shooters can start hot and give them an early lead, Northeastern could slow the pace, limit turnovers and try to hold on.

    Prediction: Notre Dame. While Northeastern could have been a tough match-up for some higher-seeded teams, the Irish were a really tough draw. If the Huskies find themselves in an early hole, it might be hard for them to catch up.

    Next: NCAA Tournament Midwest Region Top 5 Players