Tag Archives: Mike Brey

Mike Brey and Irish Basketball: A Winning Combination

In the nascent stages of ACC conference play, the Irish seem to be firing on all cylinders once again. A strong 9-0 start was derailed after the Irish blew double-digit leads against No. 1 Villanova and  No. 15 Purdue, but Notre Dame got back on track with a big road win in overtime against Pittsburgh, and a hard-fought win at home against No. 9 Louisville. This Notre Dame team remains on the periphery of the College Basketball elite, but it is never to be taken lightly.

The reason for that: Mike Brey. In his 17 seasons at the helm in South Bend, the Irish have locked down the fundamentals of the game and truly become feared opponents. Each year Brey and the Irish are among the best in the NCAA in offensive efficiency, free throw percentage, and assist-turnover ratio. This year the Irish are third, first, and first, respectively, in those categories. Brey has emphasized time and time again that his philosophy uses veteran leadership and solid, fundamentally-sound basketball to win games, and that he does.

After back to back Elite Eight appearances, the expectations were high but fans and critics alike anticipated a drop in performance following the departures of essential playmakers Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson. But then again, they expected a drop in performance after Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant left after the 2014-2015 season. A third straight Elite Eight is not at all unrealistic for this Irish team. Matt Farrell has proven that he can take care of the ball and lead the Irish offense, while sharpshooters V.J. Beachum and Steve Vasturia provide a lethal threat from behind the arc and driving to the basket. Bonzie Colson and Martinas Geben are the brute force rebounders and post players. Year after year, Mike Brey seems to be able to resist the inevitable personnel turnover and maintain a high level of success.

Those are just the tangible, statistical aspects of this Irish team. On paper, they’re efficient, lethal, and fundamentally-sound. But it’s the intangible that really stands out. On the sidelines, Brey is fired up like any other head coach. But Brey exerts a positivity almost unheard of among the likes of college basketball’s elite coaches. In a world of Jay Wright, John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, and Roy Williams, it seems like the level-headed positivity of Mike Brey wouldn’t find its place at the top. Yet it does, and it permeates the team. No matter what five players are on the floor, they all seem to radiate the hope and positivity that Brey embodies. No matter the opponent, no matter how big the task, The Irish always seem to be within striking distance. Since the 2014-2015 season, the Irish have notched wins against top 15 North Carolina and Top 10 Duke on the road, as well as at home against No. 4 Duke and No. 1 North Carolina. The Irish are 4-1 against Louisville in the last five years. When the big games arrive, Notre Dame is there to withstand the challenge and emerge victorious.

There is just an aura of hope and confidence that surrounds Brey and his troops that can’t help but lead to success. I was tentative to make a prediction earlier in the season, but I am confident now. This Notre Dame can certainly make a third straight Sweet Sixteen, but I think they could make a third straight Elite Eight and possibly earn their first birth in the Final Four since 1978.

Mike Brey and Notre Dame Basketball are on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.

Contact writer John Horlander via email: [email protected], or on Twitter: @John_Horlander

Image – Google Images

Who Will Further the Irish’s Success in 2016-2017?

ACC media day this week means one thing for me: hope is reborn. Notre Dame football has been like a car crash I can’t take my eyes off of, and finally, I can shift my focus to basketball. After two consecutive Elite Eight appearances, the Irish are primed to make another run at the ACC title and advance deep into March. Head coach Mike Brey has done wonders to turn Notre Dame into a serious threat in the conference, and he’s sent three players to the NBA in the last year.

Two years ago, a team predicted to finish in maybe the top five of the ACC defied the odds and won the conference tournament. The 2014-2015 Irish didn’t stop there. As a No. 3 seed, the Irish knocked off Northeastern, Butler, and Wichita State on their way to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1979. That team, led by standout guard Jerian Grant, was one shot away from upsetting Kentucky and making the Final Four.

The next year, everyone expected a slight dip in performance, considering Grant and Pat Connaughton had left for the NBA. However, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste stepped up and filled their shoes. Jackson provided the guard play that many feared would be lost with Grant’s departure, and Bonzie Colson stepped up to dominate the paint. The Irish advanced to the Elite Eight for the second consecutive year, eventually falling short to North Carolina, 88-74. Jackson and Auguste will not be back this year for the Irish.

Considering the Irish have lost the bulk of the talent that brought them success, what can we expect from them, and who will step up and make plays when it counts? The absence of Jackson and Auguste is huge, but nobody should be surprised if the Irish don’t struggle to replace them. Bonzie Colson averaged 11.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg despite averaging just 25 minutes per game. Colson has proven that he can play as a big man, grabbing rebounds and banging bodies with the best of them. Austin Torres and Matt Ryan can provide help off the bench as well.

V.J. Beachem will have to be the guy who controls the ball and dictates the tempo. Beachem really came into his own last season, especially in the tournament. He will be seeing a lot more of the floor this season, and Brey will expect him to pick up the scoring after he averaged 12 points and four rebounds per game last year. Expect him to play a much bigger role this time around.

Also expect to see a lot of Rex Pflueger and Matt Farrell, both of whom played major roles in the postseason last year. Pflueger and Farrell can both handle the ball very well and are more than capable of running the offense and creating points.

Despite the exits of several key players over the past two years, Brey and the Irish hope to continue manufacturing success through the strength of their bench. Facing a tough ACC slate, the next generation of Notre Dame basketball must rise to the occasion if they will once again challenge for the conference title and play well into March.

Contact writer John Horlander via email: [email protected] or on Twitter @John_Horlander

Image via Flickr -Thomson20192

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Notre Dame’s Final Four Bid: No Cigar

Close, but…well you know how that saying goes. Last night was fun, despite Notre Dame losing an emotional heartbreaker. It was fun to see social media light up with basketball fans around the country (except one state) root for Notre Dame. Even on TV I heard the “Let’s Go Irish” chants ringing through the arena.

However, not all that glitters is gold and the Fighting Irish came painfully short of a huge upset against the heavily favored Wildcats. The loss ends an unforgettable run in the NCAA tournament that saw the Irish reach the elite eight for the first time since 1979.

Fighting to the End

I would say by the time this column goes live, I feel a lot better about the outcome of the game last night. “Gut-wrenching” is a word I would use to describe what happened. I was so proud of the team. The Irish were not intimidated whatsoever, weathered numerous emotional moments and at time at times, really took it to Kentucky. In the end, the depth of Kentucky ended up being a problem Mike Brey and the Irish could not solve.

Considering the beatdown that West Virginia received Thursday night, many fans wondered how Notre Dame would fare against the overall number one seed in the tournament. The three point threat of Notre Dame allowed the Irish to work the ball around and the Irish defense kept the game close. Center Zach Auguste had a great game, considering the size disadvantage, scoring 20 points with numerous highlight slam dunks. Notre Dame played a gutsy game and Kentucky had a difficult time pulling away.

Looking back, there really is not a whole lot Notre Dame could have done different. They played a tremendous game and even led the majority of the game. Ultimately, the talent of Kentucky was too much to overcome. Notre Dame had no answer for Kentucky center Karl-Anthony Towns, who single handedly killed the Final Four dreams of the Irish. I’m not going to go into a lot of depth of how Kentucky won or get into the stats of the game. I am more interested in what this means to the Notre Dame basketball program moving forward and reflect on a tremendous season that was for the Irish.

Notre Dame is not really known for basketball. The football program (rightfully so IMHO) garners a majority of the attention. It has been 36 years since Notre Dame went deep in the NCAA tournament. There were times over the past few years I wondered if Mike Brey had the chops to take the Irish to the Sweet 16 or later. I am glad to be proven wrong.

This team, was the best team Mike Brey has had at Notre Dame. When Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant came back this year, they did so to go to the Final Four and win a national championship. Despite coming up short in that regard, Grant and Connaughton led the Irish to a 32-6 record and this year’s ACC tournament championship, including two wins against both Duke and North Carolina, as well as Michigan State and Louisville.

Notre Dame basketball has nothing to be ashamed of. The loss last night was painful, but a reminder for all that the games have to be played and nothing is handed to any team. 32 wins and an Elite Eight is a exceptional season for any team. The future looks bright for Mike Brey and the Irish. Steve Vasturia, Demetrius Jackson and Bonzi Colson all return to Notre Dame next season. All three made meaningful contributions in the ACC and NCAA tournaments.

In his post game press conference, Mike Brey said his team left all they had on the court. At the end of the day, that’s about all you can ask. Saturday night Notre Dame certainly lived up to their nickname, the “Fighting” Irish.

Photo Credit: Tom Gilbert from Flikr (original image). Creative commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/