Former Big East rivals meet up in Buffalo with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line
Survive and advance is a way of life in March and when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, some teams have to sweat it out in order to do just that. Such was the case in the opening round for both Notre Dame and West Virginia, setting up what could be an incredible clash between two of the most underrated programs in the field.
The Mountaineers moved onto the Second Round thanks to a six-point victory over a pesky Bucknell team on Thursday. While it looked like the team was going to run away with the game at times, each run was met with an answer despite Bob Huggins’ trademark defense looking stifling for stretches. WVU is a popular dark horse to make it all the way to the Final Four this season but the Mountaineers need to turn up the intensity on the defensive end if they want to make it to the second weekend.
No strangers to a disappointing effort in their opener, the Irish are lucky to advance after barely sneaking past Princeton. In addition to not seeing much scoring outside of Bonzie Colson, the team missed several chances to secure the win and needed a last-second three to miss in order to get the win. Perhaps it was a wake-up call for Mike Brey’s squad but the ACC tourney runner-up is hoping the performance was a one-off.
They’ll both come together looking for more in Buffalo with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line as two very good teams are hoping their season continues just a little bit longer in 2017.
West Region: No. 5 Notre Dame (26-9) vs. No. 4. West Virginia (27-8)
When: 12:10 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: KeyBank Center (Buffalo)
Line: West Virginia -2.5
Keys for Notre Dame
Don’t let a team beat you twice is a common saying after a loss but it might apply to the Fighting Irish too given how stunned they looked after just barely beating the Tigers. There should be no time to dwell on those mistakes down the stretch however as you’ve got to go into a game against West Virginia ready for everything from the moment the ball is inbounded. Notre Dame remains on quite a run this month and need to get back to their free-wheeling ways on offense while eliminating those mental mistakes on defense.
Keys for West Virginia
Bucknell played the Mountaineers fairly close because they were cognizant of the ball at all times and turned it over just 15 times. That’s not the number WVU is accustomed to forcing and will need a much more active effort on the defensive end as a result against Notre Dame. The Mountaineers did shoot fairly well and spread the ball out offensively, two things that they’ll need to do once again in order to go 2-0 in Buffalo.
When the brackets came out, many zeroed in on this potential matchup as potentially being one of the best that could happen in round two and it makes plenty of sense. Both are stocked with talented but undervalued players and take their cues from some of the best coaches around. Just as notable, the path to a Final Four run isn’t out of the question given the way their bracket is looking right now too. The Irish will certainly make this a back-and-forth contest that may come down to the final shot but ultimately the Mountaineers’ depth should win out in a close one.
Prediction: West Virginia 73, Notre Dame 69
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.