(2) Notre Dame vs. (15) Akron
(2)Notre Dame Fighting Irish
After losing seniors Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody from a team that won 23 games and advanced to the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the expectations in South Bend were relatively low for Notre Dame coming this season. Seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, however, helped the Fighting Irish finish second, going 14-4, in the ultra-competitive Big East. Hansbrough led the team in scoring (18.7 ppg), assists (4.3) and steals (1.3) while shooting .449 from behind the three-point line, ninth best in the country. Notre Dame won seven games against the RPI Top 25, including road wins over No. 9 Pittsburgh and No. 17 Connecticut. Four of the Fight Irish’s losses came inside the RPI Top 25, with Marquette (an at-large team) being the worst loss on Notre Dame’s resume. Coach Mike Brey’s team lives and dies by the three-point shot, proving to be nearly impossible to beat when shots are falling.
In one of the most hotly-contested conference tournament finals this season, Akron won the Mid-American crown against neighbor Kent State (the two schools are 14 miles apart). After starting the season 12-10, Akron went on to win eleven of its last 13 games, including its upset victory of the MAC regular season champion Kent State. Senior Nikola Cvetinovic (second team all-MAC) leads the team in both scoring (11.9 points per game) and rebounding (7.0) while seven-foot sophomore Zeke Marshall, who had nine points, 13 rebounds and nine blocked shots, including the potential game-winner for KSU,in the MAC Tournament championship game is the anchor of the Zips defense. Akron is making its third NCAA Tournament appearance and second in three years.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Notre Dame. The shot-blocking ability of Zeke Marshall will be rendered useless against the sharp-shooting Fighting Irish as Notre Dame erases the memory of its first round departure from a year ago.