That five-year period, one in which ex-Notre Dame head coach Digger Phelps took his Irish teams to five consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, marks the last in which the Notre Dame program punched its ticket to the Big Dance in at least four straight seasons.
It will do so again in 2013, the fourth straight and sixth in the last seven seasons of the Mike Brey era. A berth is certain not only because of a 22-6 mark, but 10-5 record in the rough-and-tumble Big East.
"Its one of the things I'm extremely proud of when we do that here," said Brey of double digit league wins for the fourth straight season. "We've done it a lot (eight out of 12 seasons in the Brey era). The consistency of our program in regular season Big East play -- which gets you and NCAA Tournament bid, and has gotten us there a lot -- its something we really hang our hat on.
"We're proud of that."
But not finished.
"I know they're feeling here's March right around the corner," said Brey of his team's renewed vigor. "They also know we're in the hunt for a title. They're excited about that. When Scott Martin went down and we lost three of four (to fall to 3-3 in league play) that was the furthest thing from my mind, but all of a sudden you're 7-2 without him and we're in the middle of this thing. Let's keep going."
Still mathematically alive for a Big East regular season title with three games remaining, Notre Dame might have to settle for a third straight top four finish, one that ensures a double bye in the five-day Big East tournament.
For the Irish to claim their first-ever regular season crown, a streaking Georgetown team would have to collapse, as indicated below:
Two Weeks RemainA look at the upcoming schedule for the Big East's six contenders for a double bye in the conference tournament. None of the six have been mathematically eliminated from winning the regular season crown.
Georgetown (11-3): One of the nation's hottest teams and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Hoyas have won nine straight after an inexplicable road loss to 1-13 South Florida in mid-January. Georgetown travels to Connecticut Wednesday, then hosts Rutgers Saturday before finishing at Villanova (winners of three straight, 3-0 vs. ranked foes at home) and an end-season epic vs. Syracuse, a game that could mark the last-ever regular season meeting between the Big East's flagship programs.
Louisville (10-4): Winners of three straight and six of seven, with only a quintuple overtime loss to Notre Dame intermixed, Louisville hosts DePaul Wednesday then travel to Syracuse Saturday. The Cardinals finish with home games vs. Cincinnati and a Senior Day rematch against the Irish on March 9.
Syracuse (10-4): Losers of two of their last four, the Orange travel to Milwaukee tonight for a Pick 'Em contest vs. Marquette, then finish the week hosting Louisville Saturday. Syracuse beat Rick Pitino's Cardinals in the YUM! Center in mid-January. The Orange then host DePaul and must travel to Georgetown to conclude the regular season.
Marquette (10-4): Play host to Syracuse tonight and the Irish Saturday afternoon. The Golden Eagles dropped back to the pack with a Saturday night loss at Villanova, 60-56. They end with two straight on the road, at Rutgers and at St. John's in The Garden.
Notre Dame (10-5): Winners of four of five and seven of nine, Notre Dame has just one game this week, a Saturday afternoon tussle with age-old rival Marquette at the Bradley Center. The Irish then host St. John's on Senior Day and travel to Louisville to conclude the regular season. The Red Storm beat the Irish 67-63 in mid-January in Madison Square Garden while the Irish outlasted Louisville in five overtimes on February 9.
Pittsburgh (9-6): Still in the running for a double bye thanks to a forgiving final trio of contests, Pittsburgh hosts South Florida Wednesday and Villanova Sunday, then concludes the season on March 9 with a trip to DePaul.
Villanova (9-6): One of the nation's most dangerous teams at home, boasting wins over then-#7 Syracuse, #5 Louisville, and #17 Marquette, the Wildcats play tonight at Seton Hall, then finish with a March 3 game at Pittsburgh and March 6 Senior Night game vs. conference king Georgetown. Villanova has won five of its last six after a 4-5 start in league play.
Note: Georgetown and Syracuse hold tiebreakers vs. the Irish due to head-to-head victories. Notre Dame beat Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Villanova, but must rematch the Cardinals at season's end. Saturday's meeting with Marquette marks the only battle between the Irish and Golden Eagles this season.
Conference Standings as of February 22National rankings will be updated later today, with Notre Dame expected to rank among the nation's top 20 after a two-win week including a road victory at #20 Pittsburgh.
#11 Georgetown (10-3)
#8 Syracuse (10-4)
#10 Louisville (10-4)
#17 Marquette (10-4)
#25 Notre Dame (10-5)
#20 Pittsburgh (9-6)
St. John's (8-7)
Seton Hall (2-13)
South Florida (1-13)
*Connecticut is not eligible for the 2013 Big East or NCAA Tournament due to poor academic performance. Of the 10 college basketball programs ineligible, the Huskies are the only team from a BCS conference.