Freshman Bonzie Colson enjoying his first-ever NCAA Tournament experience (Photo by Matt Cashore, University of Notre Dame).

Irish in the 2015 NCAA Championships: The Notre Dame Men in Pittsburgh

March 18, 2015

Irish NCAA Tournament Central


Tuesday, March 17
— Mike Brey’s University of Notre Dame men’s basketball squad practiced Tuesday afternoon on its Purcell Pavilion court, then headed to Atlantic Aviation where its 5 p.m. charter flight awaited.

— Brey walked to the rear of the plane prior to take off to visit with the Irish band and cheerleaders and merited a loud cheer.

— A little St. Patrick’s Day celebration onboard featured homemade cookies in the shape of shamrocks (with green icing) and green napkins that read “Everyone’s Irish Today!”

— The 50-minute XTRA Airways Boeing 737-400 flight arrived in Pittsburgh just before 6 p.m. EDT, and the traveling party split up over three buses to head to the Sheraton Station Square on the south side of the Monongahela River.

— The Notre Dame “Victory March” played in the hallway as the team checked in to its assigned hotel. Hotel keys at the Sheraton feature March Madness dates and images, and there’s plenty of NCAA signage in and around the lobby.

— The Irish team enjoyed dinner in the hotel, and otherwise it was a quiet night in advance of a busy Wednesday that featured official NCAA tournament organizational meetings and hour-long team practices at the Consol Energy Center for all eight squads assigned to Pittsburgh. Duquesne University is the institutional host for the games in Pittsburgh.

— In the effort to fairly seed all the teams in the NCAA brackets, recent seasons have seen schools sent to various regions to better balance the championship. But the 2015 Midwest bracket seems to be a throwback to when teams more often than not remained in their geographic region. This year all five Indiana programs–Notre Dame, Purdue, Indiana, Butler and Valparaiso–fell into the Midwest bracket, as did Kentucky and Cincinnati. In fact, it’s possible that the Midwest Regional semifinal pairings could feature two all-Indiana matchups. It might take some upsets along the way, but it could be Purdue vs. Valparaiso and Notre Dame vs. Indiana.

— At some point down the road, there will be a banner raised to the rafters in Purcell Pavilion designating the Notre Dame men’s team achievements in Greensboro last weekend. The Atlantic Coast Conference designates the winner of its postseason tournament as the official ACC champion, as opposed to simply the ACC Tournament champion.

— Brey stopped at the hotel’s front desk and was approached by an Irish fan in a bright green shirt. The man asked to take a photo with the Irish head coach, Brey agreed and moments later the man jumped in a cab and left the hotel.

— The Irish pulled off a more-than-noteworthy achievement in 2014-15 in defeating Duke twice and North Carolina twice. The last time anyone accomplished that came three years ago when Florida State beat both Duke and North Carolina twice in the 2011-2012 season:
* January 14, 2012 – Florida State 90, North Carolina 57
* January 21, 2012 – Florida State 76, Duke 73
* March 10, 2012 – Florida State 62, Duke 59 (ACC Tournament semifinal)
* March 11, 2012 – Florida State 85, North Carolina 82 (ACC Tournament final)

— While eight men’s teams have taken over Pittsburgh and the Consol Energy Center for two rounds of the NCAA Championships this week, there’s plenty of chatter about what the Pittsburgh-based teams are doing:
– The Pittsburgh men (19-15) lost 60-54 Tuesday night on their home court against George Washington in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
– The Pittsburgh women (19-11) head to Knoxville, Tennessee, for an NCAA first-round game Saturday against Chattanooga.
– The Robert Morris men play Wednesday night in the NCAA First Four in Dayton, Ohio, versus North Florida. – The Duquesne men finished 12-19 following a second-round loss last Thursday to George Washington in the Atlantic 10 Championship.
– The Duquesne women (21-10) play a first-round WNIT game Thursday at Youngstown State. Wednesday, March 18

— The Notre Dame coaching staff spent about an hour this morning watching film together. Following a late-morning team breakfast, the Irish at 11:20 a.m. headed over to the Palumbo Center (the Duquesne University home arena just a few blocks southeast of the Consol Energy Center) for an hour of private practice. It mostly comprised a lively shooting session. Outside, the sun shone bright on a 43-degree day in Pittsburgh.

— Then it was on to the Consol Energy Center for the official NCAA open workout from 1:30-2:30 p.m. Prior to the practice, the Irish did 40 minutes worth of media interviews. Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton handled one segment in the media room, followed by Brey. The Irish followed Texas onto the court, with Butler following Notre Dame. Connaughton high-fived a couple of young boys in green Notre Dame shirts on his way to the court, and that earned the two youngsters an interview with a local television crew. Strains of the “Victory March” followed the Irish as they entered and exited the court. Brey spent a few moments following practice visiting with the television crew, and he and his players all signed some autographs on their way back to the locker room.

— The Consol Energy Center boasts the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins as its primary tenant, but both the Pittsburgh and Duquesne men’s basketball teams have played a handful of games there since the building opened in 2010. The setup this weekend features two rows of seats behind the team benches and inside the hockey boards.

— Lewis Johnson, a familiar name to Irish fans from his work on the sideline of Irish football games for NBC for a number of years (2001-06), is handling that same role in Pittsburgh for CBS. He rolled into town at 5 a.m. Wednesday after working NCAA First Four games Tuesday night in Dayton. Johnson will work with Brian Anderson (play by play) and Steve Smith (analyst) on the Notre Dame-Northeastern game, as well as the other three Thursday contests in Pittsburgh. The two afternoon games from Pittsburgh can be seen on CBS, while the two evening games are on TBS.

— President Barack Obama made his “Barack-etology” picks today and picked Kentucky and Notre Dame to reach the Midwest Regional final (he picked the Irish to defeat Northeastern, Texas and Kansas). Obama picked Kentucky to win the NCAA title. Said the president, “I’m picking Notre Dame (to reach the regional final), they’re coming off a great conference tournament. They look good, and (Jerian) Grant is a really solid player.”

— The Notre Dame squad returned to its headquarters by midafternoon, then regrouped for a team Mass at 5:30 p.m., followed by another team dinner in the hotel.

— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director