March 26, 2015

Irish NCAA Tournament Central

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

It’s rainy and 43 degrees in Cleveland as the University of Notre Dame men’s basketball team continues its prep work for the NCAA Midwest Regional.

The team practiced on its Purcell Pavilion court at 1 p.m. Tuesday, then left campus for Cleveland at 3 p.m. in two buses (one for players and coaches and a second for support staffers). The Irish travel by bus because the distance from South Bend to Cleveland is inside the NCAA limit of 350 miles required for a flight.

The Irish team had dinner at 8 p.m. Tuesday at a downtown Morton’s the Steakhouse, with the Kentucky squad also eating at the same spot.

The Notre Dame group has breakfast at its Marriott headquarters at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, then at 11:15 a.m. heads over to Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center for some work in a practice gym there. (The main arena is in use for a three-day robotics competition that starts Thursday, followed by a Barry Manilow concert Monday.) The practice gym features seven baskets, so the Irish players pair up and use the period mainly for shooting. By noon the session is complete. There’s a photo on the hallway wall of the Cleveland State women’s team playing Notre Dame in the 2010 NCAA Championships.

With Quicken Loans Arena occupied this week by the NCAA, the Cleveland Cavaliers play on the road Thursday at Memphis and Friday at New Jersey before returning home for a late Sunday afternoon home date versus Philadelphia. Next door to The Q is Progressive Field, home of the Indians, with a big sign that says “16 Days Until Opening Day” when the Indians meet Detroit (April 10). A few blocks from the Irish hotel is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Irish arrive at Quicken Loans Arena about 12:30 p.m., with the Wichita State team on the floor. Notre Dame’s official NCAA media session there begins at 1 p.m., followed by an open practice from 2:10-3 p.m. Checking the Irish team into the arena is Kristin Williams, daughter of former Irish football All-American Larry Williams and former Irish tennis standout Laure Lee. (Kristin is assistant commissioner for institutional services for the Mid-American Conference, co-host of the Midwest Regional.)

Irish coach Mike Brey does a quick radio interview with Westwood One’s Bill Frieder (former Michigan and Arizona State head coach) at 1 p.m., then heads to the official interview area at 1:45, after Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton finish their assignment. Grant returns to the locker area and is surrounded by a gaggle of cameras in the hallway, as Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall walks by headed back to his locker room.

On the court, the Irish work up a good sweat, going end to end for a 20-minute segment. At 2:45 p.m., as his team finished shooting, Brey sits down with the announce team of Marv Albert, Chris Webber and Len Elmore.

During practice a fan yells out to Martin Geben, “Hey, 23, you got a lot to live up to in this building. Go Irish.” Geben wears the same number as the Cavaliers’ LeBron James.

A few minutes past three o’clock, Kentucky coach John Calipari heads down the hallway, embraces Brey and offers his condolences on the loss of Brey’s mother Betty.

Brey does one last interview for the South Bend television stations, noting, “No one’s been in more hard games than us based on the league we’re in.

“Sunday (in Orlando) was a great day with my brother and sister and my dad. We watched hoops all day, assigned everybody to scout either Wichita State or Kansas and had so many positive reminiscences about my mother. I got home about 1 a.m.”

The Irish grab a quick post-practice lunch of barbeque beef, potatoes and salad, as the Kentucky players file past in the hallway on the way to their open workout. The Notre Dame group is back at the hotel by 3:30 p.m.

The Irish return to the hotel for 5:30 p.m. Mass, followed by the team dinner and a late-night snack.

Connaughton is featured in the Tuesday edition of USA Today, including a large color photo, in a piece on multi-sport athletes. Brey is slated to do a sit-down interview Wednesday night with Rece Davis of ESPN.

— Here is some television rating detail relating to Irish men’s basketball games in 2014-15:

* First-round coverage last Thursday of the NCAA Championship averaged a combined 6.6 overnight rating on CBS, TBS, TNT and TruTV, up 10 percent from last year (6.0) up 14 percent from 2013 (5.8) and the highest average for the opening day of the tournament since the current format began in 1991. All four windows hit at least a 24-year high.

The early-afternoon window produced a respectable 4.6, even with last year, up 12 percent from 2013 (4.1) and tied as the top overnight for the window on record. The window featured two #14-over-#3 upsets, Georgia State/Baylor on TBS and UAB/Iowa State on TNT, as well as the Notre Dame/Northeastern game on CBS.

* The late Saturday primetime window that included the Notre Dame-Butler game generated a combined 8.9 overnight, up 9 percent from last year (8.2) and matching 1993 as the top overnight for the window under the current scheduling format.

* The Duke/North Carolina rivalry qualified as the top draw during the 2014-15 college basketball regular season, generating the two largest audiences on any network. The March 7 meeting led the way with a 2.6 rating and 4.2 million viewers, and the February 18 overtime clash drew a 2.6 and 4.1 million. The Michigan State/Wisconsin Big Ten Tournament final ranked third, with a 2.6 and 4.0 million on CBS–and the Notre Dame/North Carolina ACC title game ranked fourth (2.2, 3.5M). — by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director