You're more likely to see your children born and married than witness the regular presence of a Notre Dame basketball team in the NCAA's Sweet 16.
If that's not enough of a sobering reality, consider that in just seven prior NCAA Tournament appearances have the Irish prevailed in consecutive – as in, two straight – contests.
The 9th most successful college basketball program of all-time has enjoyed the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament just twice since BYU's Danny Ainge navigated his now-infamous romp through the Irish defense in 1981.
Four future first-round draft picks left South Bend following that '81 season. It took six more years for Notre Dame to reach another Round of 16 (1987). Following that, a barren basketball wasteland and astounding 16 more seasons passed, before Mike Brey's 2003 Irish shot #4 seed Illinois out of the Round of and Notre Dame back into NCAA Tournament relevance.
In both '87 and '03, the #5 seed Irish were a mild underdog that made its way to the tournament's second weekend. Tonight, #2 seed Notre Dame stands as a firm favorite of between 5-6 points vs. the third-place team from the ACC, Florida State.
The Seminoles are physically imposing, defensively dominant, and offensively challenged.
They beat Duke in February; but also lost twice to the perennial NCAA bubble boys from Virginia Tech. They challenge every shot; but for the bulk of their double-digit-deep rotation, every outside shot's a challenge.
It's the glass-pounding gang that can't shoot straight vs. a program known not only for offensive efficiency, but for defensive lapses and athletic limitations.
Brey's Irish have won 27 games to date, the most in modern program history (only the 1909 Irish won more). The team's suprising six-loss total was matched just five times previously over the last 50 years and bettered just once – Digger Phelps's oft-referenced, 26-3 squad from 1973-74 (the UCLA streak-snappers).
But Brey knows that regardless of his team's success over the last calendar year-plus, he and his senior-laden crew will be – fairly or not – judged by their ability to play deep into March.
"This has been a great year for Notre Dame Basketball," he noted Tuesday. "I think it's an exclamation point on our consistency the last 11 years. But no one's hungrier than our staff and our players to make a run in March, because people identify with that and we're very well aware of that."
A win, followed by a loss and subsequent quiet trip home, is par for the course for the Irish program in NCAA play. Achieving only that standard would be a major disappointment following a season in which Notre Dame finished an improbable 12-5 vs. Top 50 RPI teams and an additional 4-1 vs. the next 50-team tier (including a split with fellow Sunday participant, Marquette). They're battle-tested, tournament tough, and seemingly ready to combat any of the good-not-great foes in the 2011 NCAA field.
Brey noted the Irish were chasing "The Chicago Invitational" this weekend. Step one and a mandatory dismissal of Akron has been achieved. Step two – a win tonight vs. the active, scrappy, tough, but eminently beatable Seminoles is essential for Brey's solidly-built, but thus far unspectacular program to join the nation's relative elite.
"After seeing the big bracket, you scale it back down and talk about having success on one weekend and then go from there," he noted of the team's approach.
If that seems like standard coach-speak, consider the 11-year Irish leader's mantra for his squad as this surprising season progressed:
"The true winners and successes at life, the people that do it at a high level…while they're doing it and being successful, they still wake up every morning and say, ‘Whose butt do I kick today?'
The underdog Seminoles will bring that approach every time the Irish possess the basketball tonight. But if Brey's mentally tough seven-man rotation likewise embraces that attitude, victory No. 28 (and beyond) awaits.
Notre Dame 66 Florida State 60
Season Predictions: 20-6; 16-9-1 against the spread.