Cleveland — There are reasons for Notre Dame to have hope. Back in 1974, the Irish ended UCLA’s 88-game winning streak, and the Bruins of Bill Walton seemed even more unassailable than the 2014-15 Kentucky Wildcats. Coach Mike Brey was an assistant on the Duke team that felled undefeated UNLV in the 1991 Final Four, and those Rebels were likewise considered untouchable.
There’s also this: Notre Dame is the champion of the conference that sent five teams to the Sweet 16. The Irish are 4-1 against Duke and North Carolina, 1-0 against Michigan State and 1-0 against Wichita State. This isn’t some double-digit seed that got unbelievably lucky. This is a very good team playing very well.
That said, it’s a double-figure underdog against Kentucky.
I can make a case as to why the Irish have a chance Saturday. They shoot it well. They can score in the way few latter-day college teams score. They’re seasoned. They’re quick and resourceful. Against anybody else in this tournament, I’d think very hard about picking them. Kentucky isn’t anybody else. Kentucky is the one and only.
One thing Brey said today should be filed for Saturday reference: He remembers that Duke got off to a good start against Vegas — the same Vegas, give or take, that had destroyed the Devils by 30 points in the 1990 title game — and that changed the dynamics. At that moment, Duke began to believe it could beat the unbeaten.
If Notre Dame scores 18 points on its first seven possessions, as happened Thursday against Wichita State, these dynamics could change, too. But Kentucky doesn’t often let opponents score in clusters. (West Virginia managed 13 baskets in 40 minutes.) Kentucky is unbeaten for a reason, which isn’t to say it’s unbeatable. But the only three teams I think stand a real chance are Arizona, Duke and Wisconsin, and none of those are here.
Further reading: Is rampaging Kentucky “destined” to win it all?
Still further: The Big Blue blowout: Kentucky annihilates West Virginia.
Further still: In an upset, Notre Dame runs past Wichita State.
Even further: ACC champ Notre Dame: An underdog against Wichita State?
And further: An old nemesis menaces Calipari and Kentucky.