Mike Brey: Still A Few Tricks Up His SleevePosted by rtmsf on January 26th, 2012
Brian Otskey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Notre Dame’s victory at Seton Hall on Wednesday night.
Mike Brey is used to it by now. After losing Luke Harangody to an injury late in the 2009-10 season, the Fighting Irish coach changed the way his team ran its offense by going to the “burn.” Its been a staple of his program ever since, which is a stark contrast from Brey’s teams in the mid to late-2000s that played at a tempo ranked in the top third of Division I or better.
This season, with Tim Abromaitis out for the year with a torn ACL, Brey continues to have his team playing deliberate, grind-it-out type of games, such as the upset win over previously undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse this past Saturday in South Bend. It worked wonders again Wednesday night as the Irish rolled to a surprisingly easy 55-42 road win over Seton Hall in Newark, following up the big home win over the previously-No. 1 Orange with a solid performance away from Purcell Pavilion, something Notre Dame hasn’t historically put forth all that well.
“Our group is conditioned to concentrate if the game is kind of ugly and we’re not scoring,” the Notre Dame coach, now in his 12th year at the South Bend school, said. Kind of ugly? That’s an understatement. In a game where neither team scored a single point before the first media timeout and the halftime margin was 19-18 in favor of the Irish, Notre Dame’s stingy defense and its mental and physical toughness frustrated the cold-shooting Pirates into their lowest point total in six seasons, equaling their output in a 44-42 home loss to Northwestern on December 18, 2005.
Despite the frigid start by both teams, the game remained close until Notre Dame broke it open after halftime with a 10-1 run to start the second stanza. Brey praised his team’s growth and maturity in putting its first half struggles to bed. “We didn’t let it discourage us,” he said. “That shows some maturity. There’s no way this team could have done that in November and December. No way.” Even with its best player sidelined, this Notre Dame team is finding ways to win. It starts with the play of junior forward Jack Cooley who had 13 points and 11 rebounds against the Pirates, his second consecutive double-double and fourth since Big East play began. Cooley, who posted less than four points and rebounds per game in limited playing time last year, is now averaging 10.9 PPG and 8.5 RPG while leading the Irish to their second straight win and eighth in 12 games. “He’s got to be a candidate for most improved (player) in this league,” Brey said. “It’s neat to see him get more confident.”
With Cooley breaking out, Eric Atkins taking good care of the basketball while running the point, and guys like Jerian Grant and even Alex Dragicevich making timely plays, Notre Dame is putting itself in a position to possibly make a run at the NCAA Tournament, something almost nobody thought was possible even a month ago. At 13-8 (5-3 Big East) with a poor RPI, the Irish still have plenty of work to do. However, opportunities are aplenty in the Big East and another one comes calling this Sunday at Connecticut.
Nobody is publicly talking about the postseason since there is still such a long way to go but Notre Dame is building up a lot of positive momentum in the middle of the Big East. In the latest projected brackets here at RTC and on ESPN.com, the Fighting Irish are among the last four teams out of the field of 68. With a few more wins like the one against Syracuse, Seton Hall (road) and Louisville (road), Notre Dame may find itself in the bracket easier than you might expect in yet another year with a weak bubble.
One thing is for sure; If Notre Dame keeps playing well with this style of basketball, Seton Hall won’t be the only opponent to become completely frustrated by the slow pace, lack of transition opportunities and ugly meat-grinder style. And that’s just the way Mike Brey likes it.