Notre Dame is suddenly the most complex bubble team

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Notre Dame has become one of the most intriguing teams in the country here in championship week based on the return of preseason All-American Bonzie Colson, a national player of the year candidate last season who hasn’t missed a beat in his first few games back.

Colson’s almost theatrical late-season return (he came back Feb. 28) doesn’t wipe away the team’s pedestrian credentials — 19-13 record and 8-10 finish in ACC regular-season play to go with a 70 RPI — but the back-to-healthy-form Irish present a much different at-large candidate to the NCAA tournament selection committee, which considers injuries (under unique circumstances) as part of its selection process. Starting point guard Matt Farrell also missed some time this season with an injury.

Notre Dame's Bonzie Colson (35) and Matt Farrell (5)

Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson (35) and Matt Farrell (5) walk off the court together during following their senior night in an NCAA college basketball game.
ROBERT FRANKLIN, AP

Notre Dame lost seven games in a row at one point when Colson was out, and in February the Irish’s NCAA tourney chances seemed dire. Yet after Notre Dame’s narrow win over bottom-feeder Pittsburgh in the ACC tournament’s opening round on Tuesday, this team has tournament life all the sudden.

Now, Notre Dame meets Virginia Tech in the second round on Wednesday and that’s a must-win to stay in the conversation. Should Mike Brey’s team win that one, then it draws Duke in the ACC tourney quarterfinals on Thursday. That will make things interesting. Beating a Blue Devils squad worthy of a No. 1 seed might do the trick for an at-large bid. But even without that there’s still a case to be made.

The recency effect can fool both committee members and spectators, but it’s important to consider how Notre Dame is right now in this case. The full body of work is considered for every team, and the Irish don’t necessarily get a pass in that regard. They really do present a completely unique case, though. Clearly, a team that could win three games in the ACC tourney seems NCAA tournament ready (if that happens). But it’s the same story for bubble team Oklahoma State, which has beaten Kansas twice and still finds itself on the wrong side of the bubble. If the committee isn’t being kind to ND’s injury bug, then it might take another win — over Miami (Fla.), Syracuse or N.C. State in the quarterfinals, to truly resuscitate ND’s postseason life. Long story short: The Irish don’t have to win the ACC tourney to punch a ticket. They just have to impress the committee in 3-4 days — just enough.

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► No. 1 seeds: Virginia, Villanova, Xavier, Kansas

► Last four in: Marquette, Southern California, Butler, Providence

► First Four out: Baylor, Syracuse, Utah, Oklahoma State

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Others considered for at-large bids (in no particular order): Louisville, Washington, LSU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Boise State, Nebraska

On life support: Temple, Penn State.

Multi-bid conferences: ACC (8), SEC (8), Big 12 (7), Big East (7), Big Ten (4), Pac 12 (4), AAC (3), Atlantic 10 (2), WCC (2).

Leaders or highest RPI from projected one-bid conferences — (23 total): America East (Vermont), Atlantic Sun (Lipscomb), Big Sky (Montana), Big South (Radford), Big West (UC Davis), CAA (Charleston), Conference USA (Middle Tennessee State), Horizon League (Wright State), Ivy League (Penn), MAAC (Iona), MAC (Buffalo), MEAC (Hampton), Missouri Valley (Loyola-Chicago), Mountain West (Nevada), Northeast (Long Island), Ohio Valley (Murray State), Patriot (Bucknell), Southern (UNC-Greensboro), Southland (Southeast Louisiana), SWAC (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), Summit (South Dakota State), Sun Belt (Louisiana), WAC (New Mexico State).

  • Banned from participating: Alabama A&M, Grambling, Southeast Missouri State.

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