Brey Gets the Point

All of the Big East Conference's storied programs -- Connecticut, St. John's, Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova -- are looking up at Notre Dame in the Mike Brey era. The Irish head coach was listening closely three years ago when the conference said it was going to crack down on rough play. The Irish are winning, and winning with style points, writes IrishEyes Managing Editor Alan Tieuli.

Copyright by Global Electronics Telecommunications, publishers of IrishEyes™

February 2, 2003

Brey Gets the Point;
Irish Collect the W's

By Alan Tieuli
 IrishEyes Magazine

Mike Brey has changed the face of Notre Dame basketball.  Will he also be responsible for changing the rough and tumble image of the Big East Conference?

Surely, coaches from Coral Gables to Chestnut Hill are noting Brey's continued success in South Bend.  After Saturday's pulsating, 93-92, double overtime victory over Georgetown, Notre Dame is 6-1 and alone in first-place in the Big East's West Division.  The Irish are 27-12 in conference play under Brey and have won two more Big East games that any other team in the three seasons since he took over.

Connecticut – the signature program of the Big East in the 90's under Jim Calhoun – and the Ben Howland-revitalized Pittsburgh Panthers are both 25-13 since the start of the 2000-01 season.  Notre Dame, under Brey, has three more wins than Syracuse, six more victories than Georgetown and St. John's.

The schools that founded this conference are, at this moment, looking up at Notre Dame.  And it's because Brey chose to lead the way as the Big East made a conscious effort to  put its bad boy days in the rearview mirror.

Before he coached his first game at Notre Dame, Brey sat in on a conference call with circuit officials.  He learned here that the conference was going to make a "point of emphasis" on cracking down on rough play.  This was exactly what the former Delaware head man wanted to hear.

"Basketball should look a little more open and a little bit less of a wrestling match," Brey said this week.  "If teams are going to stay in line with what they told us, then you should look a little more skilled, a little more spread out, less bump and run.

"I think," Brey concluded, "you'll see it moving a little bit more to the open style of play, like we play."

Brey has not been shy about defending his team's fundamentals at every turn.  After the Irish were outrebounded in their first five conference games (four of them victories), he made it plainly known that he considered rebounding margin an overrated statistic.   When Seton Hall's Louis Orr complained about a foul shot discrepancy in the Jan. 12 Irish-Pirate contest, Brey firmly said, "We spread you out a little bit more.  The floor is so open, the guys in the stripes can see better when you grab (pause) and hold (pause) and tackle."

"The guys in the stripes" indeed are getting a better glance at the transgressions by ND opposition.  The Irish lead the Big East in made free throws, and are near the bottom in number of personal fouls and opposition free throw attempts.  "We've learned," Brey said, "just what a weapon a free throw is."

Last week, IrishEyes asked Brey if Georgetown's physical style of play was becoming a bit passé in the Big East.

"I know we were the league with six personal fouls at one time," Brey said. "But the point of emphasis should be getting the kids out of the weight room some and more into skill development.  One thing I'm always concerned about is that the officials stay consistent with the point of emphasis.  It just can't get (back) to where it's not basketball anymore."

There will be times where Notre Dame is overpowered on the backboard.  There will be times when a Boston College's Craig Smith or a Georgetown's Mike Sweetney will light up the scoreboard inside.   There will be nights where the Irish perimeter game is not productive. 

But two and one-half Big East seasons under Brey indicate that the head coach was correct in taking heed of the "point of emphasis."  Now, will the rest of the conference?


IRISHEYES NOTEBOOK:  One warning sign for the Irish.  The team's six consecutive victories in the Big East have come against squads with a collective conference record of 16-27.  The Irish have not beaten a team Top Stories