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Luck of the Irish?

By mrasor Published: March 14, 2011

Men's basketball

Success in postseason college basketball requires luck.

The Zips received plenty of it the past week. First, in obtaining a favorable MAC Tournament draw that allowed Akron to avoid the Ohio Bobcats. Second, in having their opponents shoot only 55.4 percent (62-of-112) at the free throw line.

Did the Zips receive another gift on Sunday with their placement in the NCAA Tournament?

Coach Keith Dambrot declined to comment on how he felt about the draw. He wisely recognizes that you can't be giddy about playing the AP No. 4 team in the country.

Most fans will recognize that Notre Dame is not a program with great recent success in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Irish lost to No. 11 seeded Old Dominion. In 2008, No. 4 Notre Dame lost by 20 in the second round to No. 4 Washington State. In 2007, the No. 6 seeded Irish lost by 10 to No. 11 Winthrop in the first round.

Regardless, this Notre Dame team is considered to be one of the very best in the nation. They plowed through the nation's best conference with an 11-5 record. It will take lights-out shooting by Akron and lackluster Irish play for the game to be close. The oddsmakers favor Notre Dame by 13 points.

"They are probably one of the most skilled teams in the country -- dribbling, passing, shooting," Dambrot said. "They are very big in the wing spots, and we are not. We will have to play a terrific game to win, but that's really the fun of it."

But if you wanted a tournament where the Zips have a chance to make noise, this is it.

Dambrot and his team will draw off some experience from the 2009 tournament, when Akron played close with Gonzaga until the eight-minute mark of the second half.

"We played a pretty good game the first go-around," Dambrot said. "Maybe we didn't have enough of a belief structure as we should have at this point. I told them, 'If we get to the eight-minute mark against Notre Dame, we have to believe we can win.' We have to believe. If you don't believe from the top that you can win, then you can't."

Brett McKnight added: "We have a lot of veterans on the team that have been to the NCAA Tournament. That year, we didn't know what to expect. Now, we know what to expect. The last game showed that we are becoming a complete team."

A bigger task for Dambrot might be to get one of his best friends to root for the Zips. Gerry Faust, a former football coach at Notre Dame and Akron, is Dambrot's neighbor. But Faust won't attend the game. Nor will he pick a team to cheer for. "He's in a pickle," Dambrot said.

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