Notre Dame: NCAA tournament outlier

Of the 32 teams other than Notre Dame that have made at least 24 NCAA tournament appearances in the last 25 years, 87.5 percent have more trips to the Big Dance than Notre Dame while 62.5 percent have more trips in the last 10 years.

The overall numbers say they belong; the rest of numbers make the overall ones look like a lie.

With 33 NCAA tournament appearances, a mere eight college basketball programs surpass Notre Dame: Kentucky (53), North Carolina (45), UCLA (44), Kansas (43), Louisville (40), Duke (38), Syracuse (37) and Indiana (37). Villanova is tied for eighth with Notre Dame at 33.

Dozens of quality programs trail Notre Dame in NCAA tournament appearances, including Connecticut (31), Marquette (31), Arizona (30), Georgetown (29), Michigan State (28), Cincinnati (28), Ohio State (27) and Maryland (23).

Of course, conference stipulations when there were between eight and 32 teams in the NCAA tournament (1939-78) prevented quality programs from making the tournament while Notre Dame’s independence gave the Irish some flexibility to land a bid. Teams also readily chose the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) over the NCAA tournament as the two fought for a post-season foothold.

Notre Dame did not make its first NCAA tournament appearance until 1953. They made four trips in the ‘50s and four in the ‘60s as the Austin Carr era began to put Notre Dame on the NCAA tournament map.

Then Digger Phelps came along and took the Irish to the NCAA tournament eight straight years. The Irish went to five straight Sweet 16s (when it was still a 32-team tournament) and two Elite 8s (1978-79). The only Final Four appearance in Notre Dame history ended in the St. Louis Checkerdome in 1978 on a four-point loss to Duke.

Notre Dame’s resume doesn’t fit with the other teams around it in terms of NCAA tournament appearances. Of the 32 teams other than Notre Dame that have made at least 24 NCAA tournament appearances in the last 25 years, 87.5 percent (28-of-32) have more trips to the Big Dance than Notre Dame’s 10, and 62.5 percent (20-of-32)  have more trips in the last 10 years than Notre Dame’s six.

Of the 33 teams that have made at least 24 trips to the tournament all-time, only three have not made it to the Elite Eight in the last 25 years – Princeton, Brigham Young and Notre Dame.

It’s exclusive company that belongs to the NCAA men’s basketball national-title club. Since the NCAA tournament began in 1939 (with eight teams), a total of 35 schools have been crowned champions. Only 14 have won it more than once: UCLA (11), Kentucky (8), North Carolina (5), Indiana (5), Connecticut (4), Duke (4), Louisville (3), Kansas (3), Florida (2), Michigan State (2), N.C. State (2), Cincinnati (2), San Francisco (2) and Oklahoma State (2).

On the other hand, 69.6 percent (23-of-33) of the teams that have the most all-time NCAA tournament appearances have appeared in at least one Final Four, although Notre Dame’s came 37 years ago. Butler has more Final Four appearances in the last five seasons (2) than Notre Dame has since 1939.

Mike Brey has led a Notre Dame revival on the heels of a 10-year stretch without a trip to the NCAA tournament. Brey will be taking his 10th squad in 15 seasons.

And yet the Irish have won just two NCAA tournament games in the last 11 years and have not advanced to the Sweet 16 since Brey’s third year at Notre Dame when the Irish defeated UW-Milwaukee and Illinois.

With two games left in the 2014-15 regular season, the ACC tournament and what looks like a top four or five seed in the NCAA tournament, Notre Dame has its best chance for post-season success since 2010-11 when the Irish entered the NCAA tournament as a No. 2 seed with a 26-6 record, only to lose to No. 10 seed Florida State in the second game.

Next year, without Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton – the anchors on this year’s 24-5 team and current third-place squad in the ACC – who knows when Notre Dame’s chances for post-season success will be as good as they are right now.

It’s yet another chance for the Irish to remove their names from the dreaded NCAA tournament outlier list.


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