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History On Their Side

Jan 16, 2012, 2:01 PM EDT

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On Saturday, the Syracuse Orange will pay a visit to South Bend for a 6 p.m. nationally-televised game against the Fighting Irish men’s basketball team. After playing a few home games during the semester break, the students have returned and the “Leprechaun Legion” will be back in action at the Purcell Pavilion.

Growing up near Albany, N.Y., I always rooted for two college basketball teams – the Siena Saints, a local Catholic program occasionally making headlines in March, and the Syracuse Orange, the region’s true hoops powerhouse.

When it came to football, I was “gold and blue, through and through” long before I was a student here, but the Irish basketball team simply did not receive the same type of coverage on the east coast, and the Orange were the team I cheered for.

Flash forward to Jan. 2012, and my basketball year would be complete if Notre Dame can pull off an upset versus head coach Jim Boeheim’s top-ranked squad on Saturday night.

At 7-0 in the BIG EAST and 20-0 overall, the Orange are off to their best start in program history and look poised to make a run deep into March (or maybe even early April for the Final Four in New Orleans).

But as several other #1 teams have learned over the past few decades, beating Notre Dame on its home court is no easy task.

Notre Dame’s most notable victory over a #1 team came 38 years ago today, on Jan. 19, 1974, when the second-ranked Irish ended UCLA’s historic NCAA-record 88-game winning streak. Interestingly enough, it was Notre Dame who had last defeated the Bruins, nearly three years earlier on Jan. 23, 1971.

Other top-ranked opponents to fall at the Purcell Pavilion (Joyce Center) include San Francisco (1977), Marquette (1978), DePaul (1980) and most recently, North Carolina (1987).

The Irish also defeated #1 Virginia on Feb. 22, 1981 at Rosemont Horizon in Chicago.

Notre Dame has played 30 games against opponents ranked first in the Associated Press Poll since the 1951-52 season, and the Fighting Irish have compiled a 7-23 record during that time (They are 9-23 if you count the 1954 and 1981 victories over Indiana and Kentucky, respectively, teams that were #1 in the Coaches Poll, but not the AP).

Though the .233 winning percentage is nothing to write home about, Notre Dame has fared well in the Purcell Pavilion, where it has won its last five contests against top-ranked teams. That last home loss was in 1973, when John Wooden’s Bruins won in the midst of their unprecedented streak.

Since the victory over UNC on Feb. 1, 1987, the Irish have lost to five #1 teams, but all of these games were played away from the comforts of campus. Knocking off Syracuse on Saturday will be no easy task, but if the Fighting Irish are to come through with their biggest win in quite some time, they only need to look at their history of playing on the big stage in the Purcell Pavilion.

Other statistics about Notre Dame vs. #1 AP teams:

10: Number of games against UCLA

6: Number of games against Kentucky

4: Number of games each against Indiana & Duke

5-8: Ranked record

2-15: Unranked record

0-10: Away record

6-3: Home record

1-10: Neutral site record

2-5: January record

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