April 9, 2015

Wondering where in the world the month of March (and early April) went?

For followers of the University of Notre Dame’s basketball programs, those days were spent watching the most successful and dramatic month (and a few days more in April) in the history of the Irish men’s and women’s programs.

Consider exactly what took place:

  • From the start of March through the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship title game Tuesday night in Tampa, the two Notre Dame programs combined for a 17-2 record.
  • Both teams knocked off five ranked opponents during that period. The men defeated No. 14 Louisville, No. 2 Duke, No. 19 North Carolina, No. 23 Butler and No. 13 Wichita State. The women defeated No. 16 Duke, No. 6 Florida State, No. 14 Stanford, No. 5 Baylor and No. 3 South Carolina. (The rankings mark the highest between the Associated Press and USA Today polls at the time of the games.)
  • The only losses by the two Irish squads came against the respective No. 1-ranked teams in the country. The men lost to a 37-0 Kentucky team in the NCAA Midwest Regional title game. The women fell to a 37-1 Connecticut team in the national title game (Notre Dame’s fourth appearance in the NCAA championship game in the past five seasons).
  • Mike Brey’s squad ended up 9-3 in 2014-15 against teams that finished in the final USA Today poll of coaches, including a 5-1 record from March 1 on. Muffet McGraw’s women finished 11-2 against teams in the final USA Today poll (8-2 versus teams that finished in the top 10), 5-1 in games played after the start of March. 

Through that amazing month of March (and seven days in April), the two Notre Dame programs never went more than eight days without defeating a ranked opponent. Here’s how the calendar unfolded (wins over rated opponents in bold italics):
1–The women defeated North Carolina State 67-60 in South Bend in their final regular-season outing.
4–The men traveled to play at No. 14 Louisville and won 71-59.
6–The women opened Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament play with a 77-61 quarterfinal win against Miami.
7–The men knocked off Clemson 81-67 in their last home game.
7–The women defeated No. 16 Duke 55-49 in an ACC Tournament semifinal.
8–The women beat No. 6 Florida State 71-58 in the ACC Tournament title game.
12–The men defeated Miami 70-63 in an ACC Tournament quarterfinal.
13–The men eliminated No. 2 Duke 74-64 in an ACC Tournament semifinal.
14–The men won the ACC Championship with a 90-82 victory over No. 19 North Carolina.
19–The men defeated Northeastern 69-65 in the NCAA second round in Pittsburgh.
20–The women defeated Montana 77-43 in the NCAA first round in South Bend.
21–The men beat No. 23 Butler 67-64 in overtime in the NCAA third round in Pittsburgh.
22–The women defeated DePaul 79-67 in the NCAA second round in South Bend.
26–The men defeated No. 13 Wichita State 81-70 in an NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal in Cleveland.
27–The women knocked off No. 14 Stanford 81-60 in an NCAA regional semifinal in Oklahoma City.
28–The men fell 68-66 to No. 1 Kentucky in the NCAA Midwest Regional title game in Cleveland.
29–The women eliminated No. 5 Baylor 77-68 in the NCAA regional championship in Oklahoma City.
5–The women defeated No. 3 South Carolina 66-65 in an NCAA national semifinal in Tampa.
7–The women fell 63-53 to No. 1 Connecticut in the NCAA title game in Tampa.
Over the first weekend of the combined NCAA Championships, the Irish men and women played four straight days, won four straight games and in the process eliminated a No. 23-rated Butler men’s squad in the process.
Over the NCAA regional weekend, the two Notre Dame teams again played on four straight days and ended the seasons of No. 14 Stanford (women), No. 13 Wichita State (men) and No. 5 Baylor (women) in the process.
No institution had both its men’s and women’s teams alive longer than did Notre Dame.
Several of the Notre Dame men’s games in March drew monster television ratings:

  • The ACC Tournament title game against No. 19 North Carolina drew a 2.2 rating (3.5 million viewers) on ESPN, making it the fourth most-watched game of the 2014-15 men’s college basketball regular season.
  • The March 19 window that featured the Notre Dame-Northeastern NCAA contest on CBS drew an overnight 4.6 rating, matching the best ever for that time slot.
  • The March 21 window that included Notre Dame’s primetime overtime NCAA win over Butler featured a combined 8.9 overnight rating.
  • The March 26 NCAA regional semifinal on CBS between Notre Dame and Wichita State (combined with Wisconsin-North Carolina on TBS) drew a 9.3 overnight figure, the highest in that slot since 1991.
  • Then, the March 28 meeting between the Irish and unbeaten Kentucky finished with an 8.4 rating (14.7 million viewers), making it (at the time) the highest-rated and most-watched basketball game ever on a single cable network. At the time, it also qualified as the highest-rated telecast of any kind in the history of TBS.

The Notre Dame men played a key role in making the 2015 NCAA Championships the highest-rated since 1998 and the most-viewed since 1993 based on the combined 7.0 average rating and 11.3 million average viewers over the course of the three weeks of play.
Meanwhile, the Irish women’s game in the NCAA title match Tuesday against Connecticut drew 3.1 million viewers on ESPN, following a semifinal game against South Carolina Sunday night that drew 2.0 million viewers.
With the women advancing to the NCAA title game and the men playing in an NCAA regional championship, Notre Dame finished 2014-15 with the most successful combined men’s and women’s programs of any institution in the country.
That proved accurate whether the squads were compared by combined final USA Today rankings, combined victories, combined winning percentage or combined NCAA graduation rates. Notre Dame qualified as the only institution to have both its men’s and women’s programs advance to the 2015 NCAA Elite Eight.
Notre Dame ranked atop the standings in four combined categories:

  • USA Today poll rankings (based on postseason polls): Notre Dame women were No. 2, men were No. 5.
  • Victories: 68 (Notre Dame women had 36, men had 32). That qualified as the best all-time Irish combined record, topping the numbers from 2012-13 when the women finished 35-2 and the men ended up 25-10 (for a combined 60).
  • Winning Percentage: .883, based on a combined 68-9 record for the two Notre Dame teams (women were 36-3, men were 32-6).
  • Graduation Success Rate figures: Both the Notre Dame men’s and women’s programs featured perfect 100 figures in the combined four-year individual sport graduation rates released by the NCAA in October 2014

Notre Dame also ranked as the only program to produce 2015 AP and John R. Wooden All-America selections in both men’s and women’s basketball in Jerian Grant and Jewell Loyd.

Loyd finished as the runner-up in voting for the AP national player of the year, while Grant ended up tied for third in voting on the men’s side.

— by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director