A steady diet of top 25 opponents is how you test the mettle of your team and increase your profile when it comes to NCAA tournament bids and national prominence.
It’s also a good way to get your brains beat in.
Since Mike Brey took over as head coach of the Irish 15 seasons ago, Notre Dame’s move into the upper-half-to-upper-one-third of the Big East and now the ACC has offered its share of body blows along the way.
Consider that Notre Dame is 3-13 versus Syracuse when the Orange are ranked – which is virtually all the time – while also struggling to a 5-10 record against ranked Connecticut squads.
Life against the elite can be a kick in the teeth.
Due largely to the difficulties against those two programs – 31.9 percent of Notre Dame’s/Brey’s losses to top 25 teams have come against the Orange and Huskies – the Irish are 50-72 against ranked teams since the 2000-01 season.
Thirty-four of the 72 losses (47.2 percent) have come on the opponents’ home floor while Notre Dame’s 8-19 neutral-site mark against top 25s – a .296 winning percentage – is no way to make a living.
But put the Irish in the safer environs of Purcell Pavilion and they become downright world-beaters.
Brey’s overall mark at home against top 25 teams is 27-19 (.586), which is solid but not great. The Irish were .500 or worse at home against ranked opponents in six of his first nine seasons at Notre Dame.
Over the last six years, however, including the 79-78 overtime victory over No. 19 Michigan State five weeks ago, Notre Dame is 14-2 versus ranked teams, including a perfect 5-0 in 2010-11 when Ben Hansbrough and Company led the Irish to a 27-7 overall mark, a 14-4 Big East record, and a No. 2 NCAA tournament seed.
Even last season, as Notre Dame limped through its first campaign in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Irish managed to knock off No. 7/8 Duke, 79-77, in their first game in their new conference. In fact, Notre Dame comes into Saturday’s game at Purcell against No. 3 Virginia with a six-game home winning streak against top 25 foes.
In addition to this year’s win over Michigan State and last year’s conquest of Duke, the streak includes a 104-101 five-overtime victory over No. 11/12 Louisville last year, a 64-50 win over No. 8 Kentucky in 2012-13, and a 67-58 victory over No. 1 Syracuse in January of the 2011-12 season.
To be sure, that 2012-13 Wildcat team proved to be overrated, but Notre Dame’s .875 winning percentage in its last 16 home tilts versus ranked teams is no fluke.
Neither was Notre Dame’s performance against North Carolina at the Smith Center Monday night when the Irish stormed to a 10-point first-half lead, wavered, lost the lead late, and then held on with tenacious defense.
And while the Irish have struggled against top-notch programs like Syracuse and Connecticut, they are 4-4 versus Louisville in their last eight games against the ranked Cardinals, and 8-7 against Pittsburgh, including five straight against ranked Panther squads.
Virginia, which fashioned a 30-7 record last season en route to the ACC regular season and conference tournament championship, remains a force, but has had limited experience against top 25 teams away from home.
While the Irish have played 10 such games in the last two-and-a-half seasons, the Cavaliers have played just four top 25 road games in the same amount of time, defeating Miami in two overtimes last weekend (89-80), splitting trips to Duke (a 69-65 loss in Durham) and Pittsburgh (a 48-45 win) in 2013-14, and losing to No. 2 in Miami in 2012-13 by four.
It’s another big game for the Fighting Irish at Purcell Pavilion in a clash of ACC frontrunners with the numbers favoring the home team.