The University of Notre Dame is one of the most storied and successful colleges in the country. Established in 1842 by a small group of French priests, this storied university has seen its share of successes on and off the court. The Fighting Irish have made 24 NCAA tournament appearances since first entering the Division I Basketball Tournament in 1973.
Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament history includes four Final Four runs, two Elite Eights, one Sweet Sixteen, and 13 first-round exits. Since emerging as a national basketball powerhouse under legendary coach Digger Phelps in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, Notre Dame has seen mixed success in the NCAA tournament. Many fans fondly recall their Elite Eight run in 2003 to the championship game against Syracuse that ended with an overtime loss 75–84. Other successful tournament runs include their Sweet Sixteen run in 1990 led by Elmer Bennett and their Elite Eight run in 2015 where they beat Wichita State 81-70 before losing to Kentucky 68-74 in a closely contested battle.
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament History
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish basketball program has been a storied part of college basketball since its start in the 1920s. Throughout its history, the Fighting Irish have earned numerous accolades and made several tournament appearances, including several NCAA tournament berths. Let’s take a closer look at Notre Dame’s NCAA tournament history and examine some of the successes and failures they have experienced in their tournament appearances.
Did Notre Dame Make the NCAA Tournament?
Notre Dame first appeared in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 1971 when the school was a member of the Midwest Collegiate Conference. The team lost 88-67 to Kentucky in that year’s tournament. The Irish qualified the following season and made it to the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost to North Carolina 109-91. It would take until 1978 before Notre Dame would win an NCAA Tournament game when they defeated Minnesota 68-62 in the opening round of that year’s tournament.
Since then, Notre Dame has made regular appearances in March Madness and has reached several important milestones along their journey. In 1987, Head Coach Digger Phelps led the Irish to their first Sweet Sixteen since 1976 and three years later, he returned his team to its first Elite Eight since 1970/71. It would be another two decades before Notre Dame would reach its highest point – an improbable Final Four run with a starting lineup of five seniors under then head coach Mike Brey. That same group managed another Elite Eight appearance in 2011, before bowing out at that level in 2013 and 2015.
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament Championships
Notre Dame has only won the NCAA Championship once, in 1973, when the Fighting Irish defeated No.1-ranked UCLA for the title. To reach their first Final Four since that memorable season and their second overall, Notre Dame rolled through five rounds of tournament play—defeating James Madison and Xavier before convincingly dispatching Kentucky 74–69 in the Sweet Sixteen. Advancing to their first Elite Eight since 1978, Notre Dame was up against a tough Duke squad that featured Johnny Dawkins and Mark Alarie, but Digger Phelps’ team persevered en route to a surprising 71–70 victory.
The road to the championship game included one final hurdle in No. 2 Memphis State; led by Adrian Dantley’s 24 points, Memphy State controlled much of the game and held a six point lead with just over two minutes remaining. However, late heroics from future NBA standout John Shumate were enough to carry Notre Dame through an improbable 81–76 victory—and sent Phelps’ team off on its most remarkable March Madness journey yet. Facing Bill Walton and legendary UCLA coach John Wooden for the championship marked an epic — if ultimately unsuccessful — conclusion to Notre Dame basketball’s 1973 NCAA Tournament run.
Notre Dame’s Most Recent NCAA Tournament Appearance
In the most recent NCAA Tournament, Notre Dame made its 13th appearance in the tournament and earned the five seed in the 2018 Midwest Region. Led by All-American Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell, Notre Dame defeated Hampton, West Virginia and Wichita State to reach their first Sweet 16 since 2003. In the Sweet Sixteen, the Irish lost to Duke by a score of 75-69.
The Fighting Irish were invited to play in both of the previous two NCAA Tournaments under head coach Mike Brey as well. In 2016, they were given a seven-seed in the East Region where they defeated Michigan and Stephen F. Austin before falling to eventual runners up North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen. The 2015 season ended with a loss against Butler in the round of 32 after defeating Northeastern earlier that day.
Although they have yet to make it past their last three appearances in March Madness, Notre Dame boasts an impressive NCAA Tournament history whenever they enter into March Madness; with 18 total appearances since their first invite back in 1971, Notre Dame has won six regional titles (most recently snagging one back in response to Miami’s upset bid during 2016’s tournament). The Irish have also recorded 28 sweeter sixteen runs (including their 2018 journey) and nine elite eight runs but have not reached Final Four play since 1978 when Digger Phelps was in charge of his Notre Dame squad.
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament Record
Notre Dame has a long history of participating in the NCAA Tournament. The Fighting Irish have participated in 33 NCAA Tournaments throughout their history, the most recent being in 2021. During this time, they have won 18 games and have made 4 Sweet 16 appearances, 2 Elite Eights appearances, 1 Final Four appearance and 1 Championship game appearance. Let’s take a look at Notre Dame’s overall NCAA Tournament record and analyse their success in the tournament.
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament Wins and Losses
Notre Dame has had a strong showing in the NCAA Tournament over the years, earning tournament berths in 36 seasons since its inception. The Fighting Irish have reached the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight six times, advancing to five consecutive Final Fours from 2015-2019. During that time, Notre Dame earned four Big East regular season championships as well as four ACC tournament titles.
Despite some impressive runs into the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight over the years, Notre Dame’s best finish in a single season was its runner-up effort in 1978 when the team fell to Duke by a score of 64-60 in a game that ended with an offensive foul on Irish player Bill Laimbeer. The Fighting Irish have had plenty of other memorable moments throughout their NCAA Tournament history though, such as upsetting highly-ranked teams like UCONN and Rutgers during their run to the Elite Eight in 2003 as well as Virginia Tech during their trip to the regional finals two years later.
The most recent NCAA Tournament marked Notre Dame’s first appearance since 2019 when they lost to Mississippi State by a final score of 61-41. While disappointing results may color opinion on recent tournament history for some college hoops fans, it should be remembered that Notre Dame still holds an overall record of 48–34 (.585) in its thirty-six appearances and twenty postseason victories since 1979.
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament Records
Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament history is long and illustrious. The Fighting Irish have made 27 appearances in the tournaments since 1939 and are one of only 11 schools to appear in every NCAA men’s basketball tournament since its inception. Notre Dame has won 57 NCAA Tournament games, good for a winning percentage of .683, and advanced to the Elite Eight seven times—most recently in 2019.
In addition to their tournament play, the Irish consistently make deep runs in all postseason tournaments and have won 13 Big East Conference championships. The team has also won multiple regular-season titles in its more than 25 years of participation in the Big East Conference and placed first or second at least once each year from 2001-02 through 2013-14.
Notre Dame’s most successful tournament run came during the 1979-80 season when legendary coach Digger Phelps led the Irish to their first Final Four appearance where they fell just short of a championship after losing to Louisville in double overtime. Though they may not have secured a championship that year, Notre Dame remains one of college basketball’s most dominant teams with an impressive tournament legacy and an even brighter future ahead.