The Frustrations of Brey-Ball and the 2013-14 Season

Eric Atkins and Mike Brey look on as the Irish fall to Wake Forrest in the ACC tournament. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Eric Atkins and Mike Brey look on as the Irish fall to Wake Forrest in the ACC tournament. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The 2013-2014 Notre Dame men’s basketball season is a frustrating thing to deconstruct. On one hand, you have one of the most incredible snake-bitten season’s possible with the academic suspension of Jerian Grant, Austin Burgett needing heart surgery of all things, Demetrius Jackson had his own academic issues for a short while, and Cameron Biedscheid going from redshirt to transfer. On the other hand, you have simply the worst Fighting Irish basketball season in the Mike Brey era, ending the season below .500 and winning only one conference game on the road against Boston College, an eight-win team.

The season was also full of multiple frustrating performances and some, like Indiana State and Ohio State, came while Grant was still on the roster. While I can certainly say, this team “never quit”, the other side of that coin is that they could never quite get over the hump. When something like that happens, I can’t help but look at coaching.

And perhaps this is a good time to take an aside. I’m far from Brey’s biggest fan. My first experiences with him as a student weren’t exactly great:

Season Reg Season (Conf) BE Tourney Postseason
2003-04 16-11 (9-7) Quarterfinals NIT (Quarterfinals)
2004-05 17-10 (9-7) First Round NIT (1st Round)
2005-06 15-12 (6-10) First Round NIT (2nd Round)
2006-07 23-6 (11-5) Semifinals NCAA (1st Round)

Three incredibly mediocre-at-best seasons, with some court-storming worthy upsets mixed in, all ending with postseason disappointments. I thought that streak stopped during my senior year after a horrid 2005-06 campaign, but then I was slapped in the face with a 10 point loss to 11-seed Winthrop. Not exactly a great way to win someone over.

And that seems to be the way of things: meddle around, throw in a big win here and there, finally get a bit of hope, and get slapped in the face by postseason reality. And right or wrong, those postseason memories (or lack thereof) are the ones that stick the longest.

I do understand that Brey and Notre Dame are fighting a bit of an uphill battle as it is in men’s basketball. ND isn’t in the business of attracting the one-and-done superstar nor are they ever going to be heavily involved in the ever-increasingly shady AAU programs. Basically, I don’t have any illusions that ND will ever be considered an annual national title contender, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a bit of postseason noise/excitement on a semi-regular basis.

I’m also aware of the other favorite excuse: sub-par facilities. While I know it isn’t helping the cause, Brey pulling in two of his best recruiting classes ever seems to shoot that argument down immediately. Further, I’d argue it’s easier to sell postseason excitement to a recruit than nicer practice digs. And while I hate drawing analogies to football, to me it would be like saying that we should’ve been more patient with Ty because the Gug was on the way or that Weis’ two BCS appearances were a direct result of the Gug.

In short, for the past decade of watching Brey-ball (and for others that have seen this for four additional seasons), all the excuses and continual postseason disappointments have grown increasingly stale (and that’s with my personal preference of boring play-style aside). However, this year, coming off Brey’s two best recruiting classes, falling this flat, loss of Grant or not, is inexcusable.

Even worse, Brey had this to say about next season:

We were 6-12 in the regular season. How far were we from nine league wins? We weren’t that far from nine league wins or I would be even more concerned…Nine league wins would be absolute heaven next year. That’s where you start.

Absolute heaven?! I’m not sure trying to be next year’s NC State, who just barely scraped their way into the Big Dance thanks to SMU’s horrid out-of-conference schedule, fits that bill.  And while Brey believes this year’s team was close to nine ACC wins, they were also just as close to only having three ACC wins as two came in OT and one by a margin of only three points.

I can understand Brey trying to deflect a bit of concern away from his team considering what happened to them this season, but to set the bar so low for next year is just mind-boggling. Going .500 in conference play should be a stepping stone of a season–nothing more, nothing less.

Perhaps that .500 mark is a good measuring stick for a young team rebuilding, but if Grant returns as planned that isn’t a rebuilding year, that’s getting back a potential NBA lottery draft pick. With Grant in place, if young players like Jackson and Zach Auguste play up to their potential, you have a team that, on paper, should have a much higher expectations that tripping over a .500 bar.

In short, I’m not exactly sure which direction this program is going. To crib from True Detective, Notre Dame is in a flat circle of time, going nowhere but right back to where they started a few years ago.

I certainly hope that I am wrong about all this and this is all simply my pessimistic bias of Brey taking over rational thought. At some point though, I need to see a spark that shows me 2014-15 is a new beginning for this team. Because if it looks like we are starting another classic cycle of Brey, I’m going to go mad watching the rest of the Brey-era.


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  • Irishize

    Jack Swarbrick made a colossal blunder by giving Brey a 10 year deal. Didn’t the ND administration learn anything about the folly of a 10 year contract with the case of Phat Chuck? That incompetent should have been sued for coaching malpractice ( insert comments from Kansas fans here ); however, he is reaping a king’s ransom in ill-begotten buyout money.
    ” Mediocre Mike “, “One and Done Brey ” is given support by Jack in his recent interview, nevertheless. They deserve each other.
    Meanwhile, Tim Miles, who has put Nebraska, of all schools, on the basketball map, has publicly stated that he would like to do the same at Notre Dame. He would kill to coach the Irish–he’s got fire in his gut for the job.
    Oh well, it’s time for a reality check: We have Mock Brey on the docket for the next 8 years. Get that buyout money ready, Jack.

    • IrishElvis

      A couple things to remember here: a coach always has the “full support” of his AD…until he doesn’t. What’s said publicly in press conferences is not legally binding. And a 10-year contract may (or may not) contain termination clauses dependent upon performance or any number of other factors. The sky’s not falling just yet.

    • ndtex

      I would love to meet the lawyer that files a “coaching malpractice” lawsuit.

  • KyNDfan

    I don’t see the Irish being relevant in Bball while Brey is there. BTW relevant = regular sweet 16 appearances. There are plenty of up and comers out there for ND to go after. Swarbrick’s challenge (as with every sport) is to find a guy that can recruit Student Atheletes. One and doners generally aren’t ND material.

    • ndtex

      I think “regular sweet 16 appearances” is a super-high bar at this point, especially considering how much parody exists in the game today.

      Making the NCAA Tourney annually and maybe a sweet 16 every 1 in 4 years would be a high bar to hit in itself, but I believe it’s doable.

      Just give me some excitement that ND can make a threatening run and I’ll be much happier. The one & done alone isn’t the painful part, but that the fact the losses aren’t consistently competitive.

      • KyNDfan

        I would say 1 out of every 3-4 years is regular. The point is to always be in the mix. Always be thought of as a program that can make a deep run. With Brey this will not happen.

        • ndtex

          This we can agree on. I want to be a threat, not a punchline.

  • ndtex

    Firstly, sorry it took two days to approve this comment!

    I’m not going to go as far as to call Brey “incompetent”, but I will say “stagnant” is a more appropriate term, in my opinion.

    I’m just frustrated that we, at best, just hit a glass ceiling in the postseason and the best we can hope for is a good tease before then that we will do something, but not deliver.

    It could be a lot worse, but it could be a lot better. I don’t envy the position Swarbrick is in, but I do think it is yet another lesson on why super-long extensions aren’t a good idea.