Slaying giants, chasing championships

Mike Brey has had his way with Mike Krzyzewski (four of five), Roy Williams (three in a row) and Rick Pitino (two in a row) while struggling against Jim Boeheim (6-16).

One week after the Notre Dame student body rushed the court in celebration of an 80-76 victory over No. 2 North Carolina, it was a whole lot more tame at Purcell Pavilion as the Irish knocked off No. 13 Louisville, 71-66.

Just business as usual for Irish head coach Mike Brey.

Brey has made defeating college basketball’s/the ACC’s elite – and their Hall-of-Fame caliber coaches – a regular occurrence.

In Brey’s last nine games against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams, and Louisville’s Rick Pitino, the Irish have come away with victories eight times.

Notre Dame has defeated:
• Duke at home (twice), at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, and at the Greensboro (N.C.) Coliseum in the ACC tournament.
• North Carolina at home, at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, and in Greensboro to claim the ACC championship.
• Louisville at home and at the Yum Center in Louisville.

Throw in a non-conference victory over Michigan State and its Hall-of-Fame level coach, Tom Izzo, in December of 2014, and Brey has been on the winning end nine of the last 10 times against four coaches who have combined for 3,061 college basketball victories.

The toughest of the giants for Brey to slay has been Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, who would have 983 victories had it not been for having to vacate 108 wins due to NCAA rule violations.

Boeheim has won 16 off 22 head-to-head battles with Brey, including four in a row and seven of the last eight. Brey also is 0-5 against Virginia head coach Tony Bennett with four of those losses in ACC competition the last three seasons by an average of 13.2 points per game.

But Brey and the Irish clearly have left a strong impression in three short years in the ACC, particularly with last year’s ACC championship in Greensboro where they knocked off Duke and North Carolina on consecutive nights in front of highly-partisan Tobacco Road crowds.

Now, with five games remaining in the 2015-16 regular season, Brey believes the Irish can add a notch to their belts.

“Now you’re getting into that double-bye territory, and you have a strong record for that,” said Brey following the victory over Louisville. “But why not talk about a regular-season championship?”

North Carolina leads the ACC with a 10-2 mark, followed by Miami at 9-3, and then the Irish, who are tied for third with Virginia at 9-4.

The schedule down the stretch strongly favors Notre Dame, which travels to Georgia Tech (3-9), Wake Forest (1-12) and Florida State (6-7) before concluding the season at home against Miami (9-3) and North Carolina State (3-9).

The combined ACC record of the five remaining opponents: 22-40 with just one – Miami – sporting a winning mark.

Notre Dame holds the tiebreaker against the Tar Heels, so if the Irish can gain one-and-a-half games on them, they’d finish ahead of North Carolina, which concludes with a home-and-home against Duke (8-4), home games against Miami (9-3) and Syracuse (8-5), and road trips to Virginia (9-4) and North Carolina State (3-9).  

Miami, which theoretically has a game-and-a-half lead over the Irish by virtue of its 79-70 victory over Notre Dame on Feb. 3, has a home-and-home with Virginia Tech (5-7), the trip to Notre Dame (9-4), another trip to North Carolina (10-2), and a home tilt against Louisville (8-4).

Virginia also holds a tiebreaker over Notre Dame, but has challenging trips to Miami (9-3) and Clemson (8-5) with home games against Louisville (8-4), North Carolina (10-2) and North Carolina State (3-9).

“Last year’s team chased the regular-season title until about the last week or so,” Brey said. “Why not chase that? The top of the league plays itself a lot, so the regular-season championship is something for us to talk about.”


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