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!
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