Notre Dame Basketball: The Case for a No. 1 Seed in the NCAA Tournament

Ed LeiserCorrespondent IMarch 10, 2011

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 08:  Ben Hansbrough #23 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish plays defense during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats in the 2010 DIRECTV SEC/BIG EAST Invitational at Freedom Hall on December 8, 2010 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Weeks of speculating about who’s in and who’s out of the NCAA Tournament are almost over as conference tournaments begin to deliver upsets, buzzer beaters and eventual champions to be crowned.

In the big bad Big East Tournament, one team in particular can plunge themselves into the national spotlight—if they haven’t already done so.

Notre Dame has more than an outside shot at earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament—but they’ll obviously need to work to get that coveted No. 1.

While it’s anyone’s guess as to the true meaning of a No. 1 seed, there’s no denying the significance of such a seed and the numbers generally back up the belief that it is better to be a No. 1 than a No. 2.

First off, a No. 1 seed has never lost a first-round matchup, while there have been upsets with No. 2 seeds before.

Moving beyond that, the second round generally sees the No. 1 seeds advance, but every once in a while a No. 2 seed will be defeated by a very game seven-seed.

The Sweet Sixteen contests will never be easy, but you like the increased odds of at least getting to that round as a No. 1.

So, can the Fighting Irish be a No. 1 seed?

Well, the pollsters certainly think so.

Currently ranked No. 4 in both the Associated Press and Coaches Polls, Notre Dame looks like it belongs.

Of course, the rankings can fly out the window once the tournament field is drawn—they mean nothing after Selection Sunday.

Most everyone will have Ohio State, Kansas and Pittsburgh penciled in as No. 1 seeds if the field were announced today, meaning there is a battle for the last No. 1 seed between several teams.

Let’s briefly examine the “contenders” for the last No. 1 seed.


The name recognition is there, and the numbers certainly support Duke for a No. 1 seed.

The 27-4 record is very impressive, and the Blue Devils are in the top 10 in the nation in points-per-game.

But Duke’s résumé is not flawless.

They’ve lost two of their last three games (@ Virginia Tech, @ North Carolina), and were not named regular season champs in a watered-down ACC conference (North Carolina was).

Also, their schedule doesn’t feature many great wins.

Out of conference, Duke beat a good Kansas State team, a good Temple team and an at-the-time good Michigan State team (the Spartans have proven to be an overrated mess of a team, to say the least).

In conference, they beat the rival Tar Heels, but that’s about it.

It was a bad year for the ACC and the Blue Devils’ non-conference schedule really didn’t boost its résumé that much.

They’ll likely need to win the ACC Tournament to be a No. 1 seed.


The Cougars have star guard Jimmer Fredette, but not much else—especially with the dismissal of forward Brandon Davies, the team’s leading rebounder and a double-digit scorer.

The 28-3 record features wins against Arizona, Utah State and San Diego State (twice), but the bulk of their wins come against a Mountain West conference that isn’t very talented.

BYU opened the month of March with a loss to New Mexico—that loss will stick with them even if they win the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

They can get a No. 1 seed, but will likely need some of the big boys to lose their conference tournaments.


At one point, the Longhorns were winners of 11 straight and a near-lock for a No. 1 seed.

Many thought they were the best team in the land, in fact.

But after losses in three of their last five, the sparkle is definitely off the Texas façade.

Non-conference wins over Illinois, Michigan State, and the surging North Carolina Tar Heels look good, as does their win against Kansas Jan. 22, but the recent slide is hard to ignore.

The Longhorns, with a strong showing in the Big 12 Tournament, will be helped by their 8-3 road record and their six wins against RPI top-50 opponents.

A strong showing could be translated to winning the entire tournament, which would mean another victory over the Jayhawks of Kansas.

If they do this, they can be a No. 1 seed.

North Carolina

The red-hot Tar Heels look awfully strong now and this is without a doubt the best time of the year to be playing your best basketball.

The Heels were 4-3 at the end of November, but have lost only three more games since,  and have won seven straight, including wins over tournament locks Florida State and hated rival Duke.

With 11 wins over RPI top-75 teams and the regular season ACC title already under their belts, an ACC tournament-title might be enough to secure the coveted fourth No. 1 seed.

What will hurt the Heels’ chances are neutral-site losses to Minnesota and Vanderbilt to start their season, and a home loss to Texas—a team it will be competing with for a high seed.



The Boilermakers have earned every win this season and have done so without one of the game’s biggest stars—forward Robbie Hummel, injured for the season, hasn’t slowed down the train in West Lafayette.

The Boilers knocked off the top team in the nation in Ohio State and also took down Wisconsin, Illinois (twice) and Michigan State ( twice).

With the exception of their recent ugly loss to Iowa, Purdue doesn’t have any terrible losses and has immediate star power in guard E’Twaun Moore and forward-center JaJuan Johnson—two of the conference’s (and nation’s) best.

Where Purdue will get hurt is their lack of quality victories out-of-conference and the fact that the recent loss to RPI No. 169 Iowa will leave a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth.

The Boilermakers can fix that, of course, by winning the Big 10 Tournament this weekend.

Do that, and Purdue will have as good a case as anyone to get a No. 1 seed.


San Diego State

You can’t rule out the Aztecs’ chances for a No. 1 seed, but they really needed to win at least one of their games with conference rival BYU, a team it will be going against for high seeding.

San Diego State is 29-2 with an RPI of 3, but it’s the two losses that stand out.

Again, they’re not bad losses, but their simply badly-needed wins that didn’t materialize.

In other words, the Aztecs don’t have many signature victories (if any).

Victories over UNLV are their only wins over RPI top-40 opponents, but their non-conference resume boasts victories over St. Mary’s (CA), Gonzaga and California.

Their 11-1 road record won’t hurt, either, but there probably isn’t enough substance on their overall résumé to garner a No. 1 seed.

So, back to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame has tons to brag about so far.

The Irish are 9-1 in their last 10 games, finished second in the toughest conference in the nation, have 10 wins over RPI top-50 opponents, went undefeated at home and have the ninth-best overall RPI of anyone in college basketball.

They won on the road (Pittsburgh, Connecticut), out-of-conference (Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgia), and of course in the Big East (14-4 overall).

A case against the Fighting Irish will be that they fattened themselves up with wins against very inferior opponents.

Wins over Chicago State, Georgia State and Stony Brook don’t exactly scream “No. 1 seed” to anyone.

The Fighting Irish have six victories against teams with RPI’s of 200 or greater.

But they also have 15 wins against RPI top-100 teams and, unlike some No. 1 seed hopefuls, have no bad losses.

They were beaten by Kentucky on a neutral court (though the game took place in Kentucky) and on the road against Syracuse, St. John’s, Marquette, and West Virginia.

The problem with the losses is they all came by at least 12 points.

In fact, they were beaten by 20 at Marquette and by 18 at St. John’s.

No. 1 seeds generally don’t have such margins of defeat of their résumés, but they generally do have the record and strength of schedule that Notre Dame possesses.

If Notre Dame can make it to Saturday night’s Big East Tournament Title game and perhaps win it, can you make a sane argument why they should NOT be a No. 1?

You hear all the time about finishing strong, protecting your home court and faring well in your conference.

Notre Dame has done all three, and then some.

If Duke is the top contender for a No. 1 seed, you have to compare them with the Fighting Irish.

The Blue Devils are just 2-2 against RPI top-25 teams—Notre Dame is 7-4.

And Duke, like the Irish, has also fattened up their wins with five wins over RPI 200+ teams.

Notre Dame deserves a No. 1 seed, and if the tournament filed were announced today, they should be on everyone’s top line.

We will see how the Irish fare in the Big East tournament when they take the court tomorrow night.

A deep run could mean great things for the Fighting Irish.





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