Irish vs. the Best

Notre Dame has a rich history of upsetting the nation's No. 1-ranked team…but it's been awhile.

Mike Brey's still-breathing but reeling Irish face a daunting task Saturday. At 3-3 in league play with consecutive losses over the last seven days, the Notre Dame men's program welcomes the first No. 1 ranked team to South Bend since…1987?

It seems impossible considering the quality Big East schedules Brey's Irish have faced over the last 12 seasons, but no No.1 ranked group has traveled to South Bend since ex-head coach Digger Phelps's unranked Irish took down Dean Smith and No. 1 North Carolina on February 1, 1987.

Phelps won a remarkable seven games vs. No. 1-ranked teams, including a never-to-be matched four straight wins at one point. More incredible, four of Phelps' eight losses vs. top-ranked teams occurred in his first two seasons – all against perennial national champion UCLA, and while Phelps was rebuilding the program. After starting 1-5 in matchups vs. the nation's best, Phelps won five of his next seven vs. No. 1 ranked foes.

Digger the Giant-Slayer

Phelps struggled early vs. the UCLA juggernaut but just three years into his Notre Dame tenure, took down the mighty Bruins in a history-making upset.

  1. December 1971 at UCLA: Lost 114 to 56 to John Wooden's five-time defending champion Bruins. UCLA when on to win its sixth straight title at season's end.

  2. January 1972 vs. UCLA: Lost 57-32 in South Bend just five weeks after the 58-point blowout above. (The '72 contest was part of the 71-72 season and the aforementioned sixth straight Bruins coronation.)

  3. December 1972 at UCLA: Hammered again (the following season), 82-56, at Pauley Pavilion as UCLA roared to back-to-back 30-0 finishes.

  4. January 1973 vs. UCLA: Lost 82-63 in South Bend. UCLA was in the midst of its chase for consecutive NCAA Title #7.

  5. January 1974 vs. UCLA: Phelps' #2 ranked Irish upset the Bruins to end their record 88-game winning streak, 71-70 in South Bend. Click for Highlights. It was Phelps' first win over the nation's best with six to follow in his next nine opportunities.

  6. December 1975 at Indiana: Lost at Assembly Hall 63-60 to the eventual National Champion Hoosiers, who finished 32-0.

  7. March 1977 vs. San Francisco: Snapped the Don's 29-game winning streak with a 93-82 victory in which NBC Sports named the Notre Dame Student Body as its Game MVP. Click for Highlights. USF was greeted to a full student section at warm-up's outset and the reverberating portent: "29 and 1!"

  8. December 1977 at Kentucky: Lost 73-68 in Louisville on New Year's Eve. The Wildcats went on to win the national title with the Irish also qualifying for the Final Four (their last). Click for highlights (in defeat)

  9. February 1978 vs. Marquette: Beat the defending national champions, 65-58, in South Bend.

  10. February 1980 vs. DePaul: Ended the Blue Demons' 26-game winning streak with a 76-74 victory in double overtime in what remains one of the three greatest home games in Notre Dame history.

  11. December 1980 vs. Kentucky: Beat the Wildcats in Louisville, 67-61. The Irish didn't win in the state of Kentucky again until beating Louisville earlier this month – a span of 31 seasons.

  12. February 1981 vs. Virginia: Snapped Ralph Sampson and the Cavaliers' 28-game winning streak with a last-second, 57-56 victory at the Rosemount Horizon. Senior Orlando Woolridge hit a desperation turnaround jump shot from the right corner as time expired. Click here for highlights

  13. January 1983 at UCLA: A 19-win Irish team hung tough but lost again at Pauley Pavilion, 59-53

  14. January 1986 at North Carolina: Lost in Chapel Hill, 73-61. The Irish finished 23-6 with a first-round upset loss to Arkansas Little-Rock three months later.

  15. February 1 1987 vs. North Carolina: Beat the No. 1 ranked Tar Heels 60-58 in South Bend. The ACC/JACC/Purcell Pavilion hasn't welcomed the nation's No. 1 team since, but that streak ends Saturday evening in a matchup with the Orange. Click for Highlights

(Ex-Irish head coaches Johnny Dee (1-5) and John Jordan (1-3) each defeated the nation's number one team during their respective tenures as well.)

The 25-year Drought

The Irish have surrendered 100-plus points in four of their last five matchups vs. No. 1 ranked teams since Phelps last took out the nation's best in 1987. None of the games occurred in South Bend and the team's best effort was a near monumental NCAA Tournament upset in Brey's second season.

  1. February 1992 at Duke: Lost 100-71 in Cameron Indoor Stadium under first-year head coach John MacLoed. The Blue Devils went on to win their second straight national title.

  2. November 1998 vs. Duke in Anchorage: MacLoed and his scrappy but undermanned Irish (8-10 in the Big East) Lost 111-82 to the eventual national runner-up Blue Devils.

  3. January 1999 at Connecticut: Less than two months after giving up 111 to the national runner-up Duke, the Irish lost to the eventual national champion Huskies, 101-70.

  4. March 2002 vs. Duke in the NCAA Second Round: In his second season at the helm, Mike Brey's 16-point underdog Irish lost an 84-77 heartbreaker vs. the Tournament's overall top seed. The Irish led 71-64 with just over six minutes remaining. The contest ranks as perhaps the most crushing defeat of the last 25 years with beatable Indiana (national runner-up) and Kent State awaiting Notre Dame over the next two rounds en route to the 2002 Final Four.

  5. November 2008 vs. UNC in Maui: Brey's Irish entered the contest ranked 8th nationally but dropped a 102-87 decision despite 39 points from guard Kyle McAlarney.

The 20-0, No.1-ranked Orange hardly seem ripe for the picking Saturday. Syracuse has ventured from home on just four occasions this winter but was overwhelming in each as Jim Boeheim's squad has won by 16, 19, 14, and 13 points in front of opposing fans.

And though Syracuse fell once during Notre Dame's 45-game home court winning streak (2006-2008), the Orange were the only Big East team not to succumb to the Irish during the home team's recently snapped 29-game streak, instead winning by 13 on the Joyce Center Floor in 2010 (prior to the streak's outset), and prevailing in six of eight games played in South Bend during the Brey era.

Boeheim has won 11 of 15 games he's coached in South Bend, easily the most of any opposing coach over the last three decades.

The last time Notre Dame saw a significant home winning streak snapped it lost back-to-back in South Bend: first to Connecticut, then Marquette in January 2008.

After the Huskies win last Saturday, Brey and the Irish look to start a new streak while avoiding another – unfortunately, the nation's best team stands in their way.

Look for the best crowd of the season (by default, the crowd has been terrible to date) and an inspired first-half effort by the hosts but the Orange have far too much talent – not to mention overwhelming size – for the 2012 Irish to keep it close for 40 minutes.

Syracuse 77 Notre Dame 64 Top Stories