Published March 16, 2012
| Sports Network
Xavier comes in with a 21-12 overall record after finishing tied for third in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Musketeers earned an at-large bid with an impressive performance in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament which ended with a loss to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies. Coach Chris Mack has now led the Musketeers to the NCAA Tournament in each of his first three seasons. In his debut season as a head coach in 2009-10, Mack guided Xavier to the Sweet 16. To make a return or surpass that mark, the Musketeers will need to deliver strong defensive performances, as they are 17-3 this season when holding opponents under 70 points.
Notre Dame came up short of its first Big East Conference Tournament title its last time out as it had a poor showing in a 64-50 loss to Louisville. The Fighting Irish still produced enough this season to arrive at a 21-11 overall record which earned the team an at-large bid. Coach Mike Brey knows his club has the ability to get hot, as it went on a nine-game tear during its Big East schedule which included big wins over Marquette, Syracuse, UConn and West Virginia. The Irish play a slow-down style which has given them one of the top defenses in the Big East. Notre Dame has to be slightly worried about its lack of success away from home this season, as it has come out victorious in just 1-of-6 neutral-site affairs.
The Fighting Irish hold a 15-3 lead in the all-time series with Xavier. The last time these programs met was when Notre Dame defeated the Musketeers, 83-71, in an opening-round matchup in the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
Xavier will lean on its talent-laden backcourt to lead it deep into the NCAA Tournament. Senior point guard Tu Holloway paces the team with averages of 17.0 points and 5.1 assists per game. He is the only player to rank in the top five in the A-10 in both categories. Junior forward Mark Lyons is the club's second scoring option and carries an average of 15.5 ppg. Senior center Kenny Frease has stepped up his play at the right time, posting 13.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per outing over his last seven games.
Frease will have to do his best against Notre Dame's Jack Cooley, as the big man finished the season with seven double-doubles in his last 10 games to earn Second Team All-Big East honors. Cooley's improvement helped the progress of freshman guard Jerian Grant, who was able to lead the team in points, assists, and steals during his rookie campaign. Grant teams up with Eric Atkins to give Notre Dame a very strong backcourt. Forward Scott Martin has been instrumental to the team's overall success this season as well.