The (Tobacco) Road To The Final Four: The Undervalued Mike Brey

    Mike Brey has made Notre Dame one of the most consistent programs in college basketball. The longtime head coach has the Fighting Irish in prime position in the ACC.

    January 21, 2017

    Mike Brey has made Notre Dame one of the most consistent programs in college basketball. The longtime head coach has the Fighting Irish in prime position in the ACC.

    Notre Dame wasn’t supposed to be this good in 2016-17. But, then again, when do we ever not doubt Mike Brey?

    The Fighting Irish head coach still seems to be the most underappreciated program-builder in college basketball, as he has led his squad to a 16-3 record and a 5-1 mark in the ACC, going unscathed through its first five conference games to post its best start in league play in program history. The Irish were the lone remaining undefeated team in the best league in the country, falling for the first time on Wednesday night at Florida State, which is unbeaten at home this season.

    Before the loss to the ‘Noles, who had won 15 in a row at home, the Irish defeated Miami to break its 24-game home win streak as well as Virginia Tech, which had won 15 in a row at home. The Irish have been road warriors.

    It may not have the history or sex appeal of traditional blue bloods such as Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina and Duke, but Notre Dame—under Brey’s watch—has become one of the steadiest programs in college basketball. And it’s a team that can arguably be a No. 1 or 2 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

    Brey has the Irish in position for their seventh tourney appearance in eight years despite the losses of Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste over the past two years. They have wins at Miami, Virginia Tech and Pitt as well as a home victory against Louisville behind a sizzling offense. It’s a veteran team led by Bonzie Colson, who is a rebounding machine; point guard Matt Farrell, who has led an offense that is one of the best in the country in turnover percentage; Steve Vasturia, who has become “Mr. Clutch” as the late-game hero in ACC play; and V.J. Beachem, who has a chance to stick at the next level.

    Brey, who is in his 17th season in South Bend, has led the Irish to 11 NCAA Tournament bids and four trips to the NIT. For a school that has been known for its football program for so long, its basketball team is about as consistent of a product as you can get.

    This is a team that refuses to quit, and it’s excelled in close games. If it continues to play this well, Irish fans may be able to enjoy yet another Elite Eight run—and possibly more.

    …We know about Louisville’s suffocating defense, but we also know about the Cardinals’ offensive woes as well. Now with Quentin Snider sidelined for the next few weeks, how will Rick Pitino’s squad manage to score points in the brutally difficult ACC? The point guard is likely out until early February with a hip injury, and his absence was noticeable early on in Thursday night’s home game against Clemson. The Cardinals managed to get by the Tigers short-handed, but a big test looms on Saturday at Florida State. One player who has really stepped up for the Cards, though, is Anas Mahmoud. The 7-footer had 17 points and 11 rebounds in last week’s win over Duke, and he has become a blocking machine since earning the starting center role. Any additional scoring will be very welcomed, especially with Snider out.

    …North Carolina’s Tony Bradley is expected to play in Saturday’s game against Boston College after missing the last two games dealing with the aftermath of a concussion. The freshman was hurt in the first half of the Tar Heels’ game against Wake Forest when he appeared to hit the back of his head on the court after being fouled by Dinos Mitoglou in the lane. The 6-10 forward is averaging 8.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, averaging about 15 minutes per contest. He has scored in double-figures 10 times this season, so he gives the Tar Heels an additional scoring option on a loaded team.

    …After a very rough stretch, NC State bounced back nicely on Tuesday night with a win over Pitt. Mark Gottfried debuted a different backcourt, pairing Markell Johnson with future NBA lottery pick Dennis Smith, and the offense seemed to be more efficient with the two point guards. The Wolfpack moved to 2-4 in the ACC and host Wake Forest on Saturday in Raleigh in a game that they absolutely must win.

    …Duke, which is still without head coach Mike Krzyzewski, really misses Amile Jefferson. The Blue Devils’ fifth-year senior missed two games last week because of a foot injury, and they gave up an average of 83.0 points in the two setbacks to Florida State and Louisville. Jefferson’s inside presence has been missed. Duke is 2-3 in the ACC and hosts Miami on Saturday in a crucial game. The Blue Devils can ill afford to fall further behind in the conference race.

    Saturday’s best game

    No. 12 Louisville at No. 10 Florida State, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN: The Cardinals struggled initially in their first game without Snider, so this is a tough draw on the road. Rick Pitino’s squad fell behind early against Clemson at the KFC YUM! Center on Thursday night before picking things up and playing the way we are used to seeing them compete at home. The nation’s best defense came to life and made things difficult for Clemson, as the Cards altered shots inside and dominated the offensive boards, getting easy buckets. If the Cards are able to have the advantage on the offensive glass again on Saturday, it doesn’t bode well for the Seminoles. In FSU’s losses to Temple and North Carolina, Leonard Hamilton’s squad lost that battle. But this is a team that has not lost in Tallahassee this season. Ultimately, Dwayne Bacon, Jonathan Isaac and Co. may be too much for a Snider-less team. Louisville does not have the offensive firepower to keep up with FSU, especially without Snider.

    MORE: College Hoops Weekend Primer – Best Games, Bets For Jan. 20-22


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