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The Kansas-Notre Dame rivalry was the most prominent rivalry in college basketball during the 1980's and is still regarded as one of the premier non-conference college rivalries of all time. The rivalry was driven largely by the prominence of the two programs during the 1980's and early 1990's, when they met frequently, and was as much a program rivalry as it was a professional rivalry between their head coaches - Notre Dame's Terry "Mac" McDermott and Kansas' Bobby "Pins" Pinsarelli. The rivalry included near-annual clashes between the two power programs, who each won four national titles between 1983-1990 (Notre Dame in 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988; Kansas in 1984, 1987, 1989 and 1990).
By splitting the eight national titles in that span equally, both programs established themselves as the two great powers of college basketball during the era - however, the rivalry was far from equal, as McDermott and the Irish have a 6-2 record against Pinsarelli since their first meeting in the 1977 Division I tournament, with Pinsarelli's Jayhawks not defeating McDermott until the 1987 Final Four and in the 1989 National Championship game.
List of Matchups
1977: Notre Dame 57, Kansas 39 (Sweet Sixteen)
1981: Notre Dame 71, Kansas 55 (Final Four)
1982: Notre Dame 77, Kansas 64 (Elite Eight)
1983: Notre Dame 65, Kansas 60 (Championship)
1985: Notre Dame 72, Kansas 66 (Sweet Sixteen)
1986: Notre Dame 70, Kansas 50 (Championship)
1987: Kansas 72, Notre Dame 68 (Final Four)
1989: Kansas 80, Notre Dame 79 (Championship)
History of Rivalry
1977-1982: The Beginnings of a Rivalry
The Irish and Jayhawks met for the first time in the Sweet Sixteen round of the 1977 tournament, when it was still a 32-team tourney. McDermott's Irish, led by star forward Hank Rooney who scored 23 points, defeated Pinsarelli's Jayhawks 57-39. It was the first tournament appearance by either coach - Pinsarelli had been hired at Kansas in 1974, McDermott at Notre Dame in 1973. The Irish would lose in the next round to eventual national champion Indiana, one of their archrivals in all sports, but especially in basketball.
In 1978, Kansas missed the tournament and Notre Dame lost in the first round to Alabama, despite all five of their starters from the previous year's squad returning. In 1979, both teams qualified - and Kansas advanced all the way to the Final Four, where they were defeated by eventual national champion Indiana 83-69 and outscored almost 2-to-1 in the second half. Notre Dame, meanwhile, had lost to national power Oregon in the opening round.
The Jayhawks narrowly lost the 1980 title game to Oregon while Notre Dame lost to North Carolina in the Elite Eight. Pinsarelli was given a lucrative contract extension for taking the once-moribund Kansas basketball program to the national title game, even though he was unable to win it. The next year, however, the two head coaches met once again in the 1981 Final Four in their first rematch since the 1977 drubbing. Once again, McDermott's stingy defense dominated Kansas's fast-shooting offense and won 71-55 in convincing fashion, leading many to consider Pinsarelli a choke artist due to his constant appearances in the tournament and inability to win big games. McDermott, however, lost his first national title game as well, being soundly trounced by San Diego in the title game 76-50.
Kansas and Notre Dame wound up facing off again in the Elite Eight of the 1982 tournament, and Pinsarelli's record against McDermott fell to 0-3 - the Irish, led by star sophomore guard Eric McKenna, dominated the Jayhawks from start to finish and won the game 77-64, and although they fell to Georgia in the national semifinals, McDermott joked about how "we still got Kansas again this year" before the Final Four loss. A rivalry was clearly being formed.