Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes.Com™
January 13, 2002
Brey On Top of Game
In Irish Title Defense
By Alan Tieuli
The IrishEyes.Com News Service
SYRACUSE (IE) – When Notre Dame gathered to practice early Sunday evening at the Carrier Dome, the players were likely to listen to most every word head coach Mike Brey said.
For the second consecutive year in Big East play, Brey is in a zone, making the right calls on personnel and strategy to keep Notre Dame near the top of the West Division standings.
Need to give slumping Matt Carroll a lift? Ask him to pound the defensive backboard. Invigorated by this extra responsibility Saturday in Pittsburgh, Carroll not only shared the team lead in rebounds with nine but also broke out of his shooting woes by drilling six-of-nine against the country's best defensive team.
Looking to slow down Panther Brandin Knight, early on the best point guard in the Big East? How about a box-and-one, executed with clinical precision by Carroll and Chris Thomas?
A 15-point halftime deficit at West Virginia? Trot out the standard five-alarm nutty in the locker-room, complete with hurled objects and verbal challenges.
Notre Dame is 2-0 on its current three-game road trip in large part because of the acumen of Brey. He's been the one consistent member of the Irish travelling party.
How else can one explain the Irish snapping Pittsburgh's 10-game winning streak when its two best players – Ryan Humphrey and Thomas – shoot a combined seven-for-24?
The combination of players Brey had on the floor at the end of the West Virginia game was mind-boggling – Thomas, Humphrey, Torrian Jones, Jordan Cornette and Jere Macura.. And the Irish scored seven of the last nine points, Jones and Macura getting five of them, Cornette the big steal to set up the winning points.
"Coach Brey is always telling us, ‘Don't think just go out and play'," said Carroll. "(Sometimes) it's ugly. But it works."
Notre Dame is not the tallest, fastest or most athletic team in its conference. At times the last two seasons the Irish looked so slow you wondered if they could win the America East title, never mind the Big East. Why, then, have the Irish prevailed in 13 of their 19 conference regular season games the last two seasons? Why will it not be a surprise if they upset Syracuse Monday night to complete a three-game sweep on the road?
Because Brey and his coaching staff – Sean Kearney, Anthony Solomon and Lewis Preston – give the team a chance to win every time out on the floor.
"I know coach has prepared me," said Thomas. "I don't see myself as a freshman any more because of the level of coaching I've received."
Brey and his staff simply keeping the same office mailing address for this season helped immeasurably. Players like Graves have thrived with the continuity in staff.
"It does mean a lot," Graves told IrishEyes. "You need to believe in the staff, in the people who lead you. When things get tough, he has to know what you are like, what you can do."
That paid off Saturday when Graves – dismal for the game's first 38 minutes – nearly single-handedly won the game with a pair of three-pointers. "A lot of coaches," said Graves, "would have sat me down."
Notre Dame lost a two-time All-American and Big East Player of the Year, Troy Murphy, and is two games better at this point than it was last season.
A freshman has come in and assumed the "go-to" role on a team with three starting seniors and a junior, and there hasn't been a chemistry ripple.
And, oh, off the court, the program is clean, the incoming recruiting class is outstanding, the current players are bright (3.0 in the classroom) and the Joyce Center was sold out for Colgate.
Ben Howland has earned a lot of praise for the great start his Pittsburgh team has achieved, but IrishEyes gives Brey the nod as Big East Coach of the Year at this early stage.
THE NOTEBOOK: There's no handbook to coaching. Miami coach Perry Clark's team finally touched down in Coral Gables on Sunday, 12 days after arriving in Washington, D.C. for the start of a four-game road trip to Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's and Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes went 2-2 and the assistant coaches and media logged plenty of Marriott points. Brey took another tack, jetting his team home Thursday morning following the West Virginia game even though the Pittsburgh contest was less than 72 hours away and the two campuses are only approximately 75 miles apart. "It would have been just too long a trip," said Brey. "Every little bit of rest at home helps." How can one question Brey, when the coach has compiled a 7-3 Big East road record in his two seasons on the job…….The Irish will charter home from Syracuse following the game in order to be in class on Tuesday. Athletic Director Kevin White has approved a generous number of charter flights for the Irish this season, something that pleases Brey greatly. "Kevin understands it is something we need to do to stay at the highly competitive level we are at."…….The schedule finally turns positive for Notre Dame. Beginning next weekend, seven of 10 games for the Irish are at the Joyce Center…….Syracuse is unbeaten with Jim Boeheim on the bench. The Orangemen lost to North Carolina State and Georgia Tech when Boeheim was out for surgery and his long-time assistant, Bernie Fine, called the shots. Brey called Boeheim the week before last to send along best wishes on a speedy recovery…..The Irish have lost in their last three visits to the Carrier Dome: 71-65 in 1999, 80-57 in 2000, 79-70 last season. In the latter, Brey used Murphy up top as a distributor and jump shooter. It's the role you see him playing now, in limited minutes and rather unhappily, with Golden State.
(Alan Tieuli is the Managing Editor of IrishEyes and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)