January 18, 2009

Mike Brey

After nine years of Notre Dame basketball under Mike Brey, we have accumulated more than enough evidence to draw reasoned conclusions about the future of the program. When determining whether Mike Brey should continue indefinitely as the head coach of Notre Dame, the question is quite simple: what is the goal?

If, after the terrible lows of the John McLeod era, Notre Dame is content to field a team that periodically contends for the Big East title, plays exciting basketball and makes the NCAA Tournament roughly every other year, then Brey is unquestionably the right man for the job. Brey is a good man and a fine representative of ND. Moreover, he has demonstrated exemplary patience in the face of a university that has failed to deliver on its promises with respect to facilities. Finally, his staff has shown an ability to identify and recruit skilled players who fit the system very well and who excel in the classroom.

If, however, you believe, as I do, that Notre Dame should never settle for less than excellence, then Brey is not the guy for this program. Even assuming that Notre Dame will upgrade the basketball facilities, it is unlikely that Brey will be able to recruit the type of athletic players that we need to compete with the big boys of college basketball. He hasn't recruited such elite players in nine years and I believe that it is extremely doubtful that his shortcomings on the recruiting trail can be fixed by simply improving the practice complex.

More importantly, in order for Notre Dame to ascend to the next level, Brey would need to adopt an entirely new coaching philosophy. While Brey's teams, including this year's outfit, are particularly proficient on offense, studies have shown that the shopworn "defense wins championships" cliche is, indeed, quite true. As observed by Basketball Prospectus and, most recently, SI's Luke Winn, no Final Four team in the past five years has been ranked outside the top 25 in adjusted defensive efficiency and only two Elite Eight teams in the past five years have ranked outside the top 50 in adjusted defensive efficiency.

So where has Notre Dame ranked in defensive efficiency over the last five years? 2009-160th (yes, you read that right); 2008-42nd; 2007-49th; 2006-120th; 2005-64th. Thus, under Mike Brey, it is quite clear that Notre Dame has never been, and almost certainly never will be, a great defensive team. As such, it is highly unlikely that Notre Dame will ever reach the pinnacle of college basketball unless Brey is somehow able to (1) realize that defense should be a top priority, (2) recruit players who can play great defense and (3) coach said players effectively. In his sixteenth year of coaching, it is of course extremely unlikely that Brey will be able to change his stripes in this manner.

Since most Notre Dame alums and the administration appear to be behind Brey 100%, Notre Dame fans can expect to see more of the same. Commitment to mediocrity- it's the new Notre Dame way!


Jeremy said...

Outstanding post Michael. I've always felt like Brey gets a pass because 1) Basketball will always be second banana, and 2) He's a nice guy, great representative of the university, and seems to really love ND.

I'll also say that he's not gotten much help from the university in the form of facilities. Although I also tend to believe that this argument is a bit tired. Facilties might make the difference when a guy is down to two or three schools. But Brey hasn't been able to get these elite guys to even come visit for the most part.

The defense is an abomination. Its damn near impossible to watch this year's version of the Irish without becoming infuriated at series of unending layups, wide-open shots and offensive rebounds. Brey obviously does not make defense a priority and his kids are consistently out of position and fundamentally miserable when it comes to defense.

If the ND administration and fanbase is happy with the current status and their expectations don't rise above those you mentioned at the top of your post, I completely agree that Mike Brey should remain the coach. But like you, I believe ND should strive for something more than middle-of-the-pack BE, occasional NCAA tourney, one Sweet 16 in 10 years, etc.

Mike said...

I went to the game yesterday and I told everyone beforehand that Onuaku and Jackson would have a field day against ND's post defense. Sure enough, Syracuse was able to feed the post at will and score easy baskets. In most cases, the recipient caught the ball less than 6 feet from the basket. Transition defense was terrible as well and SU's guards were able to shoot outside jumpers without any bothersome defenders nearby.

To quote Bob Davie, "it is what it is" under Brey. We will recruit a bunch of polished (and predominately white) offensive players, but we will lack the athletes to compete with the big boys. I know that we fell on hard times in the late 80s and early 90s but Notre Dame is a top 15 program historically- it's about damn time we acted that way. I'm sick of settling for average or slightly above-average. Greatness should be the standard.

Jimmy said...

Sage words Mike. Unfortunate telling numbers on the defensive efficiency rankings. This year's defensive mindset is the biggest abomination in recent memory. Every team makes entry passes with ease into the paint, and pass it around the interior with little pressure. Louisville and Syracuse feasted on layups and dunks.

The Georgetown victory is mind boggling to me now since their offense is predicated on passing and cutting. I really thought the Hoyas executed very poorly throughout. Louisville even helped us by being impatient and chucking up quick shots. Our best "defense" is our opponent's lack of execution. It's nothing that we impose on anyone. Brey's defensive philosophy puts little pressure on dictating the rhythm on defense, taking a team out of the offense it wants to run.

Part of the problem is another fundamental problem with Mike Brey-led teams - lack of bench depth. Brey falls prey to getting attached to a short rotation and it's a huge Achilles heel. How any coach could expect to run through the gauntlet of a Big East slate with 6.5 players boggles my mind (Jonathan Peoples stinks in my opinion and only counts as 1/2 a body). It's schedule suicide to ask his players to go 35+ minutes every game and not expect the attrition to wear them out. As such, in nearly every BE game, the team fades dramatically at the end of games (don't even mention OT vs. Louisville). By riding his horses so much early in the season, he mortgages their stamina and health come tournament time. Not to mention Brey goes Cheddar Plax on us not trying find out if guys like Ty Nash and Carl Scott can contribute and make a difference on the defensive side.

I'm a huge fan of Mike Brey the individual and fashion trendsetter, but have never felt comfortable with his coaching philosophy and overall track record in attaining program excellence.

Matt said...

Whoa, whoa whoa. As someone who has signed a petition to name the court after Mike and Tish Brey, I have to say I'm a little shocked by all of this. Does Brey have his flaws. Of course. If Tom Izzo or Roy Williams suddenly said that they wanted to move to South Bend, than sure, I would welcome them with open arms. But to advocate getting rid of a guy who has seemed to have established ND as a perennial tournament team year in and year out in the toughest conference in the country, I can't get behind that.

I'll admit - Brey's shortened rotation drives me nuts. I think it's about time we see what Ty Nash can offer. And I'm not crazy about the defensive effort at times. We let Syracuse move the ball up and down the court with no resistance. But there is no shame in losing to teams like Syracuse and Louisville on the road. UCLA just lost at home to Arizona State. Louisville lost to UNLV at home. You can't win them all.

I guess it comes down to fans expectations. Believe me, I want ND to win the Big East and national championship every year. That is the goal. But I'm also a realist, and once you get into the Dance, so much of it sometimes depends on your draw and a little luck. No doubt our tournament results have been disappointing, but I don't judge a season as a complete failure because we didn't win a title. At the end of the day, I respect the niche that Brey has been able to carve out amongst powers like UConn, Syracuse and Georgetown, along with schools like Cincy, Nova, Pitt and others that can admit guys that we can't and have facilities that make the JACC and the Pit look like middle school gyms.

I'm ok with the discussion and evaluation of Brey, and I think Jeremy has a point that it's sometimes difficult to criticize Brey because he's such a good guy and universally respected. Put as of right now, put me firmly in the pro Mike Brey camp. Let the Mock roam the sidelines...

Antonio said...

Fire Brey Please!!! We suck on the road, have no defense, live by the three, and die by the three. Sell your stock in mock turtlenecks, and let's get someone who can at least tie a necktie.

Wolf '02 said...

I'd like to see what everyone has to say on the topic now. We can't expect Nat'l Championships in football and then settle for the NIT year after year in Basketball. Especially with the talent we've got on the court. Fresh start. Fire Brey NOW....a drastic change is needed. Maybe a coach who isn't best buds with everyone and actually lays into a player when the make a costly mistake.