Notre Dame’s basketball team has been a great story this season. Unranked to start the year — in fact, Notre Dame didn’t receive a single vote in the Associated Press preseason poll — they’ve compiled a 14-4 record in the deep Big East conference and a 25-5 record overall. Now ranked fourth in the country in the A.P. poll, they could secure a No. 1 seed in the N.C.A.A. tournament with a strong performance during the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
The Notre Dame team is experienced — their lineup often consists of five seniors — but not deep or particularly athletic (they rank just 162nd in the country, for instance, in shot-blocking, which is a decent indicator of raw physical talent). Their best player, Ben Hansbrough, will probably not be drafted until the 2nd round of the N.B.A. draft if he is selected at all. Instead, they’re a smartly-coached, overachieving team that has had a knack for winning close games.
History would suggest, however, that when teams with this profile enter the tournament, the tables are sometimes turned. Instead of exceeding expectations, they often become the victims of upsets.
Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, there have been 41 cases in which a school that was unranked to start the season entered the tournament ranked in the A.P. top 10 (excluding a couple of cases where the team was ineligible for tournament play). These schools, as you might expect, were seeded highly: eight were No. 1 seeds and another 17 were seeded No. 2.