By Josh Kramer
Knute Rockne, Frank Leahy, Ara Parseghian, Lou Holtz, Digger Phelps, and…
Typically, when a basketball team enters conference play with a record of 8 and 5, they are in big trouble in terms of tournament aspirations. To add on to the lackluster record, if the team’s best player and senior leader is already out for the season, they are toast. Add in the fact that this team participates in the Big East Conference. You probably have a better shot at winning the lottery than going dancing in March.
Enter Mike Brey. The 52-year-old who has patrolled the sidelines in South Bend for well over a decade may have pulled off his best David Blaine act yet. There is a reason why Notre Dame has made the tourney 7 of Mike Brey’s 11 years at a school predominantly known for its football program. In addition, it is no coincidence that Brey has taken home the Big East Coach of the Year Award three different times during his tenure in South Bend, including last season (could this year be number four?). Let’s take a step back though before we think about the present.
Brey took over for Matt Doherty after a very disappointing 1999/2000 season in which Notre Dame lost in the NIT finals, despite sophomore sensation Troy Murphy. It is not as if Brey walked into a basketball powerhouse, but with Murphy around for at least one more year, the cupboard was not bare. Brey quickly took advantage and led the Fighting Irish to the tournament in each of his first three seasons. During the Mike Brey era, Notre Dame has been predominantly known as a soft team that can really shoot the lights out from the perimeter. In essence, a team that wins via skill rather than toughness.
Now let’s fast forward to 2011/2012 again.
During the team’s recent hot-streak, the Fighting Irish have made their mark on the defensive end, rather than the offensive end, giving up just 55 points a game (9 less per night than were allowing in the first 19 games of the season). In addition, though they are scoring just 65 points per night during this great stretch, which happens to be 4 points less than they were scoring during games 1 through 19, they are winning.
The Fighting Irish showed up for a huge showdown against number one ranked and undefeated Syracuse with a conference record of 3 and 3, and an overall record of 11 and 8. It appeared any hopes of going dancing in March were already over, and it was only mid-January. Surely they couldn’t upset a team that was off to the best start in the history of a school with a very rich basketball tradition? An 8 for 16 night from 3-point range and a +13 rebounding margin later, and Notre Dame had upset the top ranked team in the country by double-digits.
Now Notre Dame not only finds itself on an extremely impressive seven game winning streak, but they also find themselves ranked and a team that will have no reason to be on edge come Selection Sunday in 23 days. Oh, how things in College Basketball can change in less than a month’s time. You have to love it. With just five games remaining, Notre Dame is not only in serious contention to finish in the top four in the conference and secure a double-bye for the Big East tourney, but they also have an outside chance of winning the conference. Wouldn’t that be something special?
I guess you could call Notre Dame’s impressive 2011/2012 hoops season thus far the “Luck of the Irish.” Or you could attribute the success to one of the best coaches in America who is often overshadowed, Mike Brey.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.