Dec. 10, 2002
By TOM COYNE
AP Sports Writer
After three upset victories, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish believe they belong ranked among college basketball’s elite.
“I think everyone on the team thought we were underrated in the first place,” freshman Torin Francis said. “We felt like we had to prove it. We weren’t given anything, we had to go earn it. And we did it.”
The Fighting Irish (8-1) went from being unranked to No. 10 in The Associated Press college basketball poll Monday. By beating then-No. 13 Marquette, then-No. 9 Maryland and then-No. 2 Texas, Notre Dame made the third-biggest leap into the rankings since the poll expanded to a Top 25 for the 1989-90 season.
The only teams to make bigger jumps after being unranked were Arizona, which went from unranked to No. 8 last season, and Kansas, which went from unranked to No. 5 after winning the Preseason NIT during the 1989-90 season.
“This is new territory for our group and our program – territory that we really want to be in,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. “It’s territory you strive to be in and we want to be thought of that way.”
The only other time Notre Dame beat ranked teams in three straight games was in 1978, when the Irish beat Houston and Utah, both of which were ranked No. 14, and No. 3 DePaul to advance to the Final Four.
The Irish, who depended on a tough man-to-man defense in their first six victories, switched primarily to a matchup-zone defense to pull off the three upsets.
They also got key play from Francis and fellow freshman Chris Quinn, who has hit some timely shots. The Irish also are averaging 83 points a game, led by Chris Thomas at 17.8 points, Matt Carroll at 17.8 and Dan Miller at 17.3.
The focus now, Brey said, is to ensure that the players don’t become complacent.
“We have to remember who we are and how we got into this territory and see if we can keep consistently doing it,” Brey said.
The Irish have risen to No. 10 in the rankings twice in the past 17 years, but lost their next game both times. Two seasons ago, they lost to Indiana and Miami, Ohio, after moving up to No. 10.
Carroll said he thought about those losses shortly after beating Texas.
“We’re going to do everything we cannot to let that happen, especially since I’ve been through that and it’s happened to us in the past,” Carroll said. “It’s nice to be ranked high and I’d like to keep our team there for a while.”
The last time the Irish were ranked No. 10 or higher for more than a week was 21 years ago, when they moved up to No. 9 following a 4-1 start and stayed there or higher for two months.
Thomas said the Irish have worked too hard to get the ranking to lose to DePaul on Saturday.
“I don’t think this team is going to let that happen,” Thomas said. “I think we have too much pride to let that ranking and all the hard work we’ve put in just go to waste.”