NCAA Bracket 2011: Notre Dame's Journey To the Final Four

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst IMarch 16, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Head coach Mike Brey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish claps while looking on from the bench against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the quarterfinals of the 2011 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament presented by American Eagle Outfitters  at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The last time the phrase "Final Four" was synonymous with the Notre Dame men's basketball program was 1980. Since then, the program has not been anywhere near the Final Four conversation. However, that changed this season.

Beginning in mid-February, the Irish began to be included in the conversation for a No. 1 seed. If not for an overtime loss to Louisville in the Big East Tournament, Mike Brey's squad most likely would have been one of the four #1 seeds.

Earning a No. 2 seed wasn't half bad. Notre Dame will set up shop for the newly coined "second round" at the United Center in Chicago—just a 90 mile bus trip from South Bend. The Irish open play against Akron on Friday at 1:40 EST. The Zips might make things interesting early, but Notre Dame's talent and toughness will take over and lead them to a big win.

The rest of the journey has the potential to land the Irish in the Final Four.

The next foe will either be Florida State or Texas A&M—both teams who play great defense. I believe A&M will get it done against the Seminoles, who might be without star player Chris Singleton.

A Notre Dame-Texas A&M matchup will be interesting because of the Aggies' ability to get out on the perimeter on defense and deny the passing lanes. The Irish have struggled against teams who get out and deny—Louisville, Marquette, St. John's, and West Virginia. However, the experience and grit of a veteran Notre Dame team will carry the Irish to victory.

The Sweet 16 matchup for Ben Hansbrough and Co. will most likely be the Boilermakers of Purdue. Purdue has a fast, athletic defense which also gets out on the perimeter and denies the passing lanes. The Irish will be tested on offense, but if the defense can contain E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson then an Irish victory is imminent.

The Elite Eight opponent for Notre Dame would most likely be the Kansas Jayhawks. Many experts and fans have predicted Kansas to handle the Irish in this game. However, the Irish have a chance to win if they can run the "burn" offense to perfection. The Jayhawks like to get up and down the floor, but that style of play will be neutralized if the Irish can execute the burn to perfection like they did in a win at Pittsburgh earlier in the season.

A win over Kansas might be a stretch, but anything is possible in March.