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Irish Prep for Xavier in Greensboro

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Sure, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" was written about Christmas, but if you ask a sports fan, there's no better time than the first weekend of the NCAA tournament. Over the course of 48 games on four networks in four days, 64 teams will be whittled down to 16 Final Four hopefuls. Heroes will be born and hearts will be broken.

Tipping off at approximately 9:45 pm ET tomorrow, the Notre Dame men's basketball team will be one of the last teams to begin its March Madness pursuit.

This afternoon, the Irish hit the court at Greensboro Day School for a short practice in preparation for Friday's matchup with the Xavier Musketeers.

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The Dillard Gymnasium is home to the GDS Bengals and their legendary coach Freddy Johnson, who earlier this season set a state record by notching his 819th victory.

Built in 1991, the gym was a really nice place for the Irish to get some work in before heading to the Greensboro Coliseum later today for a media session and 40-minute open practice.

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UND.com will have coverage from the Coliseum later this evening, so check back and stay tuned to YouTube.com/NotreDameAthletics, and right here on Irish UNDerground for more from Notre Dame's trip to the NCAA tournament.

Also, if you're on Twitter, check out the new account @theUNDblogger, where I'll be featuring more behind the scenes content on the Fighting Irish, beginning right here with men's basketball in the Tar Heel State.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Gone to Carolina

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Outside the team hotel

If last night's 'First Four' games are any indication, we're in for a wild three weeks. March truly is one of the most exciting times of the year for a sports fan.

The Notre Dame men's basketball team departed campus for the Piedmont Triad International Airport and Greensboro, N.C. this afternoon in preparation for its NCAA South Region second round matchup with #10 seed Xavier.

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In the charter terminal at South Bend Airport

Joining the team on the flight were the Band of the Fighting Irish and the Notre Dame cheerleading squad. While their friends might be spending spring break in Florida, Mexico or the Dominican Republic, a trip to North Carolina isn't too bad either.

In a shocking mid-March twist, the South Bend weather was nearly identical to the 79-degree sunshine that greeted the Irish upon their arrival in Greensboro.

The 7th-seeded Fighting Irish will meet with the media tomorrow at 4:30 pm, before taking the floor for an open practice from 5:10 pm to 5:50 pm at the Greensboro Coliseum. Head coach Mike Brey's team will also have a closed practice in the early afternoon.

UND.com will have practice reports, updates and plenty of coverage of the Irish in the Tar Heel State. Stay tuned to Irish UNDerground for more, and tune in to CBS on Friday night as the Notre Dame takes on Xavier at approximately 9:45 pm ET.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Catching Up With Ben Hansbrough

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Are the Irish a March Madness Sleeper?

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While your bracket probably already has the Fighting Irish making a run deep into March, if you're tirelessly reexamining your tournament picks, Seth Davis might be able to help. The college basketball reporter and analyst for Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports has Notre Dame among his five sleeper picks in this year's field.

"They have cruised through the BIG EAST largely because of their ability to take care of the basketball," Davis says. "They've committed fewer turnovers than any other team in the conference. That has made them a lot more efficient than other teams they play."

Speaking of Davis, Irish head coach Mike Brey was on his CBS Sports Network program "Courtside with Seth Davis" while in New York for the BIG EAST tournament last week.

Brey also had a chance to catch up with Davis afterwards for a feature with UND.com. Though he doesn't say specifically how far he thinks Notre Dame might go in this year's bracket, in picking the Irish as a sleeper team in his SI.com video, Davis may be putting aside confidence in his alma mater. He was a student at Duke (ND's potential third round opponent) during Brey's time as an assistant coach in Durham.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Broghammer Up For 'Coolest Name in NCAA Tourney'

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As March Madness kicks off this week, the men's and women's fields of 64 (or 68) are not the only brackets popping up across the Internet. The Weather Channel is selecting the all-time favorite weather song, Grantland.com is determining the best character from HBO's The Wire and ESPN.com's Page 2 is asking fans to vote upon the players in this year's men's tournament with the 'coolest names.' In fact, this bracket features one of Notre Dame's own - junior forward Mike Broghammer.

Here's a look at the quick writeup from Page 2's Thomas Neumann:

Page 2 is once again entrusting you, dear readers, to determine which player has the coolest name in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Our criteria for coolness are similar to how Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart described obscenity in 1964: You know it when you see it. A great basketball name should be fun to say, fun to spell, or funky and unusual.

We've selected our 64 favorite player names from this year's NCAA tournament field for your balloting entertainment -- feel free to blame the selection committee if your school got snubbed.

Last year, Purdue guard Bubba Day captured the crown, completing an unlikely run as a No. 15 seed. This year's tournament is wide open, especially because prohibitive favorite God'sgift Achiuwa missed out on participating when St. John's failed to qualify for the Big Dance.

Without further ado, Page 2 presents the Coolest Name in the 2012 NCAA Tournament bracket.

The field of 64 is broken up into four regions honoring former college players with unique names, including Uwe Blab, Dallas Comegys, God Shammgod, and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.

Broghammer is the #11 seed in the Uwe Blab region, paired up with #6 seed Staats Battle from North Carolina State. Though his first name might suggestion otherwise, Battle unfortunately did not accumulate too many stats this season, as he only appeared in six games in his freshman season with the Wolfpack.

Broghammer and Battle are just two of the 64 players with interesting names selected for this year's bracket. A few of my personal favorites:
  • Peter Pappageorge (Long Beach St.): Peter Pettigrew of Harry Potter come to mind for anyone else?
  • Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse): Of course he wears #25.
  • Jordair Jett (St. Louis): With a first name like that, he was born to play hoops.
  • Festus Ezeli (Vanderbilt): Frank Costanza likes this one ... By the way, his full name is Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndelue.
  • Dakota Slaughter (Alabama): Not to be confused with Notre Dame football's Jamoris.

But anyway, remember to visit ESPN.com's Page 2 to vote for Broghammer. He might not have the wildest name in the field of 64, but with the support of loyal Irish fans, perhaps he could be a sleeper pick to make a deep run in one of March's wackiest brackets.

And who knows, by the time the Final Four comes around, mid-March heroics could transform a few of the not-so-easy to pronounce identities into household names among basketball fans (see Ali Farokhmanesh, circa 2010).

- Josh Flynt ('11)

Everything You Need To Know About Xavier

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As the NCAA announced the field for this year's tournament last night, the #7 seed Notre Dame men's basketball team gears up for a South Region second round matchup with #10 seed Xavier University on Friday night in Greensboro, N.C. Tip-off is scheduled for approximately 9:45 pm ET and the game will air on CBS with the broadcast team of Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Tracy Wolfson.

For those unfamiliar with Xavier, here's some information about the Irish's upcoming opponent:

  • Record: 21-12 (at-large bid)
  • Coach: Chris Mack (3rd season)
  • Best wins: at Vanderbilt (82-70 OT), Cincinnati (76-53), Purdue (66-63)
  • Home arena: Cintas Center (capacity: 10,250)
  • Best players: Tu Holloway, Sr., G (17.0 PPG, 5.1 APG), Mark Lyons, Jr., G. (15.5 PPG)
  • NCAA history: Seventh straight appearance, 23rd in program history
  • Deepest tournament run: Elite Eight (2004 and 2008)

And a few facts about the university:

  • Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Founded: 1831
  • Conference: Atlantic-10
  • Enrollment: 4,368 undergraduates, 7,019 total students
  • Academics: 85 undergraduate majors, 54 minors and 11 graduate programs
  • Religious Affiliation: Catholic (Jesuit)
  • Mascot: Musketeers
  • Colors: Navy blue and white
  • Notable alumni: John Boehner (Speaker of the United States House of Representatives), David West (NBA all-star, Indiana Pacers forward), Jim Bunning (Baseball Hall of Famer, former U.S. Senator)

The Musketeers finished 10-6 in the conference and earned the #3 seed for this year's Atlantic-10 tournament. They fell to fourth-seeded St. Bonaventure in Sunday's conference championship game, 67-56.

Friday night's game will be the 19th all-time meeting between Notre Dame and Xavier, a series the Fighting Irish lead, 15-3. The teams last met in 2001, which also happened to be an NCAA tournament. The Irish won the first round contest in Kansas City, 83-71.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

'93 Alumna Wins BIG EAST Fan Contest

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The Notre Dame family is full of passionate sports fans, but you will be hard-pressed to find a bigger Irish basketball fanatic than Lisa Kelly ('93). Lisa recently won Volvo's "Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST" contest, and was featured on the Notre Dame Alumni Association website in a post from Josh Stowe ('01). Check it out below:

Lisa Kelly '93 has won Volvo's "Biggest Fan of the BIG EAST" contest after receiving an outpouring of votes from fellow alumni and Notre Dame fans.

Kelly, who competed on Notre Dame's behalf, won a flight to New York City last week courtesy of Volvo, allowing her to cheer on the Irish in this year's BIG EAST Tournament

"They had a video crew follow me around for a couple of hours Saturday afternoon and interview me about the competition," she said. "Then at halftime of the BIG EAST Championship game they brought me down to center court, where they presented me with the keys to the Volvo S60!"

Kelly edged her fellow competitors in part thanks to her strong online presence, which includes a Notre Dame fan blog as well as a Twitter account she used to update friends and fellow fans. She also got an assist from Fighting Irish Digital Media, which posted videos of her returning to campus to watch the Irish defeat No. 1 Syracuse -- an upset she predicted -- and to show off her favorite spots.

"I have always loved Notre Dame ever since I can remember," Kelly wrote on her contest profile page. "My Dad is a Notre Dame alum, and ever since I was a kid we made the trek back to Notre Dame for football games. Then I myself attended Notre Dame, and my love for Notre Dame grew even more. Today I am what I guess you would call a Notre Dame fanatic!"

On Friday, @und_video_crew caught up with Lisa outside the team's hotel in midtown Manhattan. Check out her interview with UND.com's Jack Nolan.

Don't forget, you can read Lisa's blog at http://www.bridgetmcguiresfillingstation.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @4LeafCloverGirl. Here are a couple photos from the halftime presentation, courtesy of her Twitter stream:

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Irish Fall in BIG EAST Semifinals

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It started out as a promising evening. Notre Dame and Louisville traded buckets for the first five minutes, and it looked like the start of another classic between the BIG EAST foes.

Then the Irish used a 7-0 run to take an early 15-9 lead.

Unfortunately, however that was the last bright spot of the night and it occurred less than eight minutes into the game.

The Cardinals responded with a 10-0 spurt, and held the Irish without a field goal for the remainder of the half to build a 16-point lead at the break.

In the second half, Notre Dame never managed to get closer than 12, on the way to a 64-50 loss in the BIG EAST tournament semifinals.

For the third straight year, the Irish fall short of Saturday night in the Garden, and for the second consecutive season, it's at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals.

The mystery remains. What is it about the Garden that causes the Irish to struggle so much offensively?

Last night, Notre Dame made just four field goals in the second half, but still found a way to pull out a 57-53 overtime victory against South Florida.

Tonight was a different story. The Irish struggled to put the ball in the basket, but also could not stop the Cardinals from scoring. Every time there was a glimmer of hope that Notre Dame might sneak back into the game, Louisville seemed to respond with a bucket, several of those scored by Gorgui Dieng who finished with 16 points on 8-for-8 from the field.

Notre Dame will head back to South Bend and await Selection Sunday, where they will find out the seeding and location of their sure-thing at-large trip (though truthfully, an at-large bid is not guaranteed) to the NCAA tournament.

In the fall, Coach Brey's BIG EAST colleagues predicted the Irish would finish ninth in the conference. On Black Friday, they lost co-captain and last season's second-leading scorer Tim Abromaitis to a season-ending knee injury.

Looking at the season as a whole, Notre Dame fans have to be happy with 22 wins and a 13-5 third-place conference finish.

Still, there is some disappointment. After finding a way to win last night, this felt like a team of destiny. It seemed this would be the year that Notre Dame finally got over that hump and played for a BIG EAST championship.

Instead, that dream must wait. The BIG EAST landscape is changing, and who knows what this tournament might look like next season.

Now, the Irish look to regroup for a possible NCAA tournament run, and if the majority of the season is any indication, we have not seen the last of the fight in this year's Fighting Irish.

- Josh Flynt ('11)
Last night, Notre Dame moved one step closer to Saturday with a 57-53 overtime win over South Florida. Tonight, the Irish continue BIG EAST tournament action when they take on Louisville at 9:00 p.m. (ET) in the second semifinal of the evening at Madison Square Garden.

The game will be broadcast on ESPN, and you can hear the radio call on UND.com, but Irish UNDerground will also have all the angles in and around the action covered throughout tonight's game. Be sure to share your questions, comments and complaints and let your voice be heard throughout the Notre Dame nation.

Want to track all the action from your mobile device? No problem.

Simply click (or to be phone friendly, "touch") HERE.

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For the third consecutive year, the Notre Dame men's basketball team is in the BIG EAST semifinals. Tonight, the Fighting Irish will look to win their first semifinal game, when they take on Louisville at 9 pm ET on ESPN at Madison Square Garden.

This afternoon, head coach Mike Brey and his team returned to the Garden for a stretch and shootaround, working to stay loose before the big game. The Irish spent about 45 minutes at the arena, before returning to the hotel to prepare for tonight.

It's strange to see the World's Most Famous Arena empty. In just a few hours, it will be packed with thousands of fans, rooting for one of tonight's four semifinal teams or just on hand for an exciting night of college basketball.

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Before the Irish took the floor, I got a chance to shoot with Father Pete McCormick, Keough Hall rector and Bookstore Basketball star. My performance was less than stellar, which adds another reason to the list of why I hope the Irish get a win tonight - the opportunity to take another crack at the Garden hoops on Saturday afternoon.

But more than that, a trip to tomorrow night's final would cap off what has been a magical season for the Fighting Irish. You really cannot say enough about this year's team, and the resolve it has demonstrated throughout the season.

For the Irish to make their first appearance on Saturday night at the Garden, well, that would just add to the memorable story that is the 2011-12 season.

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Tune in to ESPN tonight, catch the radio call on UND.com and follow along here on Irish UNDerground as the Irish meet the Cardinals in the second semifinal at MSG, set to begin around 9:30 pm.

- Josh Flynt ('11)

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Event Calendar

November 15
1:00 PM
Bucknell
Notre Dame, Ind. (Purcell Pavilion)

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November 15
1:00 PM
Syracuse Final
Notre Dame, Ind. (Alumni Stadium)

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November 15
1:00 PM
Miami
Coral Gables, Fla.

ESPN3
Live Stats
November 15
All Day
Bulldog Scramble
Athens, Georgia (Dan Magill Tennis Center)
November 15
All Day
USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships
Flushing, N.Y. (USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center)
November 17
7:00 PM
Milwaukee
Notre Dame, Ind. (Purcell Pavilion)

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November 18
7:00 PM
Toledo
Notre Dame, Ind. (Purcell Pavilion)

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November 19
TBA
NCAA First Round
Campus Sites
November 20
TBA
vs. TBD
Campus sites

Interactive Bracket
November 20
7:00 PM
Georgia Tech
Notre Dame, Ind. (Purcell Pavilion)
November 20
7:15 PM
UMass-Lowell
Lowell, Mass. (Tsongas Center)

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November 20
All Day
Boilermaker Invitational
West Lafayette, Ind. (Boilermaker Aquatic Center)
November 20
All Day
Boilermaker Invitational
West Lafayette, Ind. (Boilermaker Aquatic Center)
November 21
7:30 PM
Boston College
Boston, Mass.(Fenway Park)

NBCSN
Game Week Central
Uniform Gallery Photos
Shamrock Series Merchandise
November 21
2:00 PM
UMass-Lowell
Notre Dame, Ind. (Purcell Pavilion)

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November 21
3:00 PM
South Dakota State
Brookings, S.D. (Frost Arena)

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November 21
12:00 PM
NCAA Championship
Louisville, Ky. (EP Tom Sawyer State Park)
November 21
7:05 PM
UMass-Lowell
Lowell, Mass. (Tsongas Center)

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November 21
All Day
Boilermaker Invitational
West Lafayette, Ind. (Boilermaker Aquatic Center)
November 21
All Day
Boilermaker Invitational
West Lafayette, Ind. (Boilermaker Aquatic Center)
November 22
TBA
NCAA Second Round
Campus Sites
November 22
TBA
NCAA Third Round
Campus Sites

Interactive Bracket
November 22
1:00 PM
Clemson
Notre Dame, Ind. (Purcell Pavilion)
November 22
All Day
Boilermaker Invitational
West Lafayette, Ind. (Boilermaker Aquatic Center)
November 22
All Day
Boilermaker Invitational
West Lafayette, Ind. (Boilermaker Aquatic Center)
November 23
8:00 PM
Valparaiso
Valpraraiso, Ind. (Athletics-Recreation Center)

ESPN3
Pulse FM (96.9/92.1)/WatchND
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