Grant: Best of Brey's Best?

Notre Dame's Jerian Grant finished second in the ACC Player of the Year voting but he ranks first among our list of head coach Mike Brey's best single-season performers during his 15 seasons at the helm in South Bend.

There's been no shortage of top tier collegiate talent during Mike Brey's 15 seasons as head coach at Notre Dame. A collection of Brey's best begins with four-year starters and stars such as Luke Harangody and Chris Thomas, No. 2 and No. 4 respectively on the program's all-time scoring list.

But the list below is not about career accomplishments. We're not looking for compilers, and it's clunky to compare a four-year starter's production on what might have been a better and/or worse collection of squads vs. the exploits of a single-season superstar.

So we'll focus on the latter.

Below are the 10 best single-year efforts of the 15-season Brey era. Reasonable minds can disagree…though I don't see how.

With the exception of Thomas, each player listed below won team MVP from the Notre Dame Monogram Club during his season referenced (Thomas won the award in two seasons not listed among the Top 10 below).

#10 CHRIS THOMAS -- FRESHMAN 2002

Accolades: Named third-team All-Big East and won the league's Rookie of the Year award. Also named to the Big East's All-Tournament team.

By the Numbers: Hit nearly 90 percent of his free throws as a true freshman en route to 15.6 points and 7.6 assists, destroying the program-record for assists by a freshman (252 to 154, previously held by Doug Gottlieb. Yes, that one.) Thomas' 15.6 ppg average is the second-highest by a freshman in program history. His 72 steals set a team record that stands today.

Translation to Team Success: The Irish finished 22-11 overall with a 10-6 mark in the Big East, losing in the conference semi-finals to #19 UConn and in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament to #1 Duke, a game the Irish led by seven points with under five minutes to play.

In Summation: One of the all-time rookie spark plugs in program history, Notre Dame became a viable national contender the moment he stepped on the floor. To nit-pick, and thus rank him at No. 10 instead of as high as No. 7 or No. 8, Thomas came off the bus shooting, so to speak -- connecting on just under 39 percent of a whopping 413 attempts hoisted as a true freshman to lead what should have been a more balanced attack.

#9 CHRIS QUINN -- SENIOR 2005

Accolades: Named first-team All-Big East and won the conference's Sportsmanship Award; earned A.P. Honorable Mention.

By the Numbers: Averaged 20.6 points and 6.5 assists in conference play, shooting 87 percent from the free throw line (second-highest all-time by an Irish senior) and 45 percent from the field for the entire season, including 42 percent from beyond the arc. Produced arguably the best single-game effort of the Brey era, erupting for 37 points at No. 22 Pittsburgh in a 100-97 defeat.

Translation to Team Success: None. The Irish finished with the second-worst record during Brey's tenure, 16-14 overall, 6-10 in league play, losing nine games by four points or fewer including a remarkable five straight on the final two possessions. The season concluded with a second-round NIT loss at home to Michigan.

In Summation: Quinn was left to fend for himself as a senior and it showed. With a little help inside, his team's success could have opened tournament doors for Quinn to make a greater impact when it mattered most. He was nonetheless rewarded with a six-year NBA career and is a future NBA head coaching candidate.

#8 CHRIS THOMAS -- SOPHOMORE 2003

Accolades: 2nd Team All Big East selection…Finalist for the Wooden, Naismith, and USBWA player-of-the-year awards…A.P. Honorable Mention All-American.

By the Numbers: Second to Matt Carroll with 18.7 ppg and became the only player in program history to dish out at least 200 assists in back-to-back seasons…Scored more than 20 points in 14 games with 10 or more assists in five. His 6.8 assists per game led the conference while ranking fifth in steals with 2.1 per game…Averaged 20.3 points over season's final 16 games.

Translation to Team Success: Helped the program reach its first Sweet 16 since the 1987 season and played a large role in that run, erupting for 27 points and eight boards in a harrowing 70-69 first-round escape vs. UW-Milwaukee. Added 17 more in a second round win over Illinois, a squad that boasted future NBA star Deron Williams, plus college standouts Brian Cook, Dee Brown and Luther Head.

In Summation: Thomas' sophomore season was arguably his best as a floor general and he was the chief playmaker on Notre Dame's most successful NCAA Tournament team since, not coincidentally, point guard David Rivers led the Irish to the Sweet 16 in '87.

#7 MATT CARROLL -- SENIOR 2003

Accolades: 1st Team All Big-East, Associated Press Honorable Mention All-America, Monogram Club MVP Award.

By the Numbers: Averaged 19.5 points per game and elevated his play in Big East action with a 21.9 ppg average in 16 contests. Added five rebounds per game from his two-guard position, scored more than 20 on 14 occasions and 30-plus three times. Carroll hit better than 40 percent of his three-point field goal attempts and set the program's single-season record for three-point field goals (99) at the time.

Translation to Team Success: Team finished 24-10 and tied for fourth in the Big East at 10-6 (eventual national champion Syracuse finished tied for first with A.P. #5 Pittsburgh). The Irish suffered a first-round loss to St. John's but went on to reach the Sweet 16 as a #4 seed, beating UW-Milwaukee, 70-69, and Illinois (the early Dee Brown/Deron Williams years), 68-60. The season ended with a blowout loss to No. 1 seed Arizona, 88-71. The Irish reached a #5 national ranking in early January and were as high as #9 in late-February and their Sweet 16 appearance was a program first since 1987.

In Summation: Carroll ranks as the best (pure) shooting guard of the Brey era and it's likewise notable that Carroll is among the five, perhaps three most-improved players (freshman through senior year) over the last quarter-century at the program.

#6 RYAN HUMPHREY FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR 2002

Accolades: Named to the Big East's first team all-conference squad and second-team All-America by Basketball News.

By the Numbers: Averaged 18.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists to go along with a program-record 87 blocked shots while notching more than a steal per game in 31 outings…Finished with 18 double-doubles in the team's 27 regular season games, then produced a combined 35 points, 23 rebounds, and nine blocked shots in tournament games against Charlotte and overall No. 1 seed Duke.

Translation to Team Success: Teamed with Thomas and Carroll to lead the squad to a 10-6 Big East finish and 22-11 mark overall. Notre Dame's 10 regular season losses came by a combined 42 points. The Irish lost to #18 Connecticut in the conference semi-finals and #1 seed Duke in the second-round of the NCAA Tournament, a game in which Humphrey starred (15 points, 12 boards, 4 assists, 6 blocks).

In Summation: The 5th-year senior transfer has since served as the definitive answer to the sports parlor game, "Which former player would you like to add to the current Notre Dame team?" Is there a higher compliment to be paid?

#5 LUKE HARANGODY -- JUNIOR 2009

Accolades: Second-team A.P. All-America selection, first-team All Big East and third in MVP voting for conference player of the year.

By the Numbers: Averaged a remarkable 25.2 points, 12.8 boards while shooting 46.7 percent in 18 conference games…Posted 10 games with at least 15 rebounds and hit for 30 or more points six times with 25 double-doubles…Finished 9 points shy of all-time single-season Big East Scoring record held by Donyell Marshall (454).

Translation to Team Success: None. Notre Dame fell from No. 9 in the A.P. Pre-season poll and as high as No. 7 in early January all the way to the depths of the NIT thanks in large part to a seven-game losing skid from mid-January through early-February. The Irish finished 8-10 in conference and 21-15 overall.

In Summation: From a numbers standpoint, he was outstanding, better than No. 4 below (technically better than everyone on the list). It's telling, however, that Harangody did not win Big East Player of the Year (finished 3rd) after easily earning the honor the previous season (detailed below).

#4 BEN HANSBROUGH -- FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR 2011

Accolades: Named Big East Player of the Year and was a unanimous first-team all-conference selection. Earned second-team A.P. All-America honors

By the Numbers: Hit for 18.4 ppg. while shooting better than 42 percent from three-point range, 81 percent from the charity stripe, and 48 percent overall.

Translation to Team Success: Notre Dame enjoyed its best regular season since 1981, finishing 25-5 in the regular season and 14-4 in the Big East, surging from unranked in the pre-season polls to A.P. No. 5 entering the NCAA Tournament. The Irish split two tourney games, losing in overtime to eventual champion Louisville in the semi-finals, then were bundled as an NCAA #2 seed in the second round to an athletic Florida State squad. The 27-7 overall finish should be surpassed as the best of the modern era by this year's 26-5 Irish.

In Summation: He could probably rank a touch lower, but Hansbrough willed (or perhaps beat into submission and molded into his image) an unranked Notre Dame team into a national title contender. Hansbrough's in-your-face, 24/7/365 leadership was wholly necessary for a team that had rested on its laurels in two previous seasons.

#3 TROY MURPHY -- JUNIOR 2001

Accolades: First-team A.P. All-America selection…Unanimous first-team All Big East pick and the Co-Big East Player of the Year (Murphy also won the award under former head coach Matt Doherty the previous season as a sophomore).

By the Numbers: Averaged 22.8 points and 9.1 boards in 16 Big East Games (led the Big East in scoring, 12th nationally) while hitting 48.8 percent of his field goal attempts…Blocked 50 shots…Posted a 25-point/20-rebound game against Seton Hall and a 34-point/16-rebound effort in a win against No. 8 Syracuse. Murphy's 25-20 against Seton Hall was (and still is) the first 20-20 at the program since 1976.

Translation to Team Success: 11-5 regular season record tied for first place in the Big East Western Division…Opening game loss to Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament with a second-round loss to No. 3 seed Mississippi (Murphy struggled mightily)…Team finished 20-10, its best mark since 21-9 in 1988-89.

In Summation: 7th pick of the 2001 NBA Draft as a true junior and clearly the most talented player of the Brey era with the possible exception of Jerian Grant. Played 12 seasons in the NBA.

#2 LUKE HARANGODY -- SOPHOMORE 2008

Accolades: Second-team A.P. All-America selection and first-team All Big East. Named Big East Player of the Year despite being nowhere to be found among pre-season prognostications.

By the Numbers: Averaged 23.3 points and 11.3 boards in Big East games, hitting nearly 50 percent of his 311 field goal attempts…Posted 10 or more rebounds in 19 contests over the course of the season and scored at least 20 in 13 of 18 league games; 30 in three with a 40-point effort at Louisville -- the only 40-point game for an Irish player in conference history.

Translation to Team Success: 25-8 (regular season was a stunning 24-6) with a 14-4 conference mark. The 15th-ranked Irish though lost their first Big East Tournament game, 89-79 to No. 24 Marquette and after beating George Mason, were smothered in the second round of the NCAA's by #4 seed Washington State. (A game in which Harangody collected 22 rebounds but struggled for 40 minutes offensively.)

In Summation: A throwback and force of nature as a sophomore, Harangody was a scoring machine from the low-block and the nation's best defensive rebounder. One of the most improved basketball players from the end of his senior season in high school to the conclusion of his sophomore year in recorded history.

#1 JERIAN GRANT -- FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR 2015

Accolades: Unanimous first-team All-ACC selection and a likely first-team A.P. All-American (he's been so honored by USA TODAY Sports), Grant finished second to Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor for the league's player of the year honors. He is a finalist for the Naismith Award, the John R. Wooden Award, the A.P. College Player of the Year, and Oscar Robertson Trophy as well as a finalist for the Jerry West award, presented to the nation's top guard.

By the Numbers: Hit a remarkable 59.6 percent of his two-point field goal attempts as the team's chief point guard, scoring 16.3 points per conference game while leading the ACC in assists per game (7.0 in conference action). According to a metric by sports-reference.com, Grant tied for first nationally with Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky in offensive Win Shares (5.2), meaning he was statistically responsible for five more wins than the Irish otherwise would have achieved.

Translation to Team Success: Notre Dame morphed from one of the ACC's three-worst teams in 2014 to one of its three-best and one of the 10 best teams in the nation thanks largely to Grant's return from academic suspension. Notre Dame's 26-5 record is its best regular season effort since the 1974 Irish finished the regular season 24-2.

In Summation: Controlled every aspect of every crucial possession, either as a scorer or distributor, for a 26-5 squad. Unlike the ill-fated tournament fortunes of those listed just above, the best appears yet to come for Grant -- March will be his true measuring stick as the best of the 15-season Brey era to date.


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