Back when college basketball teams exceeded 30 games in a season only if they made a deep run in the NCAA tournament, 20 victories in a season was a measuring stick for elite status.
Entering a full slate of games on Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015, no less than 40 of the 351 Division 1 basketball teams already have reached the 20-victory plateau with another 16 just one victory away.
During his 20-year run at Notre Dame, Richard “Digger” Phelps made winning 20 games in a season commonplace. Thirteen times the Irish reached 20 victories under Phelps, including streaks of six years in a row twice.
For the record, Notre Dame has reached 20 victories in a season 38 times:
• Once under Bertram Maris when the Irish went 33-7 in 1908-09 – an outlier seasons for games played.
• Four times under George Keogan in a five-year stretch in the 1930s.
• Once under Edward “Moose” Krause (1946-47).
• Three times under John Jordan in a five-year span in the 1950s.
• Four times under John Dee in the late-‘60s, early-‘70s thanks in large part to all-time leading scorer Austin Carr.
• Thirteen times under Phelps.
• Once under Matt Doherty in his only season (1999-2000) at Notre Dame.
• Eleven times under current Irish head coach Mike Brey, including a streak of seven straight years from 2006-07 through 2012-13.
Excluding that 1908-09 season when the Irish were playing Y.M.C.A./club teams, the most victories by a Notre Dame squad in a season is 27, set in 2010-11 when Brey’s 12th Irish squad earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, only to fall to Florida State in the second game.
The most victories in a season under Phelps was 26 in 1973-74 when the Irish lost to Michigan in the second round of the NCAAs. Phelps’ only trip to the Final Four came in the 1977-78 season when the Irish won three tournament games (32 teams made the NCAA tournament at that time) and finished with a 23-8 record.
With a victory Saturday in Conte Forum at Boston College, the No. 10 Irish (23-4) would become just the 11th Notre Dame team to reach 24 victories in a season. The first 10 were achieved by Maris (1), Jordan (1), Phelps (3) and Brey (5). Brey’s squads won 24 games in 2002-03 and 2006-07, and 25 in 2007-08 and 2012-13 in addition to the 27-7 season in 2010-11.
The Irish could match Brey’s record of 27 victories in a season by winning their remaining four ACC games – at Boston College, Syracuse, at Louisville and Clemson – with a chance to exceed that number in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Prior to last season, when the Irish lost to Wake Forest in the first game of the ACC tournament, Brey’s squads had won at least one game in the previous five Big East tournaments.
Victories in the NCAA tournament are much more uncertain. The Irish have lost six of their last eight NCAA tournament games, including first-round flameouts four of the last six trips.
If the Irish were to win their remaining regular-season games, they would assure themselves of recording the fewest losses in a season – six – since the 1985-86 season when Phelps took his squad, which finished 23-6, to his final Sweet 16.