GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA – MARCH 09: Head coach Mike Brey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish reacts … [+]
Dozens of men’s basketball programs will gather for Selection Sunday, many of them with a remote camera on hand to document their reactions to the official unveiling of the NCAA Tournament bracket.
Notre Dame will be among them.
No, that’s not a typo.
Mike Brey’s 21st edition finished a highly disappointing season with an 11-15 record after a 101-59 beatdown by North Carolina at the ACC Tournament. The Fighting Irish had to rally late just to achieve that final margin after letting an 11-point second-half deficit balloon to a whopping 50 points.
It might have been the most embarrassing 15 minutes of game action in program history. Certainly it was a low point in Brey’s long coaching career, especially after losing by just one point to the Tar Heels in Chapel HIll in early January.
And yet, rather than banish his underachieving group from his sight, the ever-genial coach plans to hold a team get-together at his home.
“I want to see if that can be a reference point for us a year from now,” Brey said after the season-ending loss, “if we’re good enough to earn a bid.”
This has been a challenging year across the board for Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching disciples scattered across the college game, Brey among them. A quick glance at the NCAA’s NET Rankings as of Saturday morning found three former Duke assistants bunched well outside of the projected Field of 68.
CLEMSON, SC – DECEMBER 22: Paul Atkinson (20) forward of Yale during a college basketball game … [+]
The Irish were ranked 91st, sandwiched between Chris Collins’ Northwestern NWE +2.8% and Steve Wojciechowski’s Marquette programs. Those three private universities in the Midwest combined to lose 44 times in this Covid-marred season, including a combined 10-31 mark against Quad 1 competition.
In Notre Dame’s case there is reason for mild optimism next season, when it will have five experienced returnees, including co-captains Prentiss Hubb and Cormac Ryan, to pair with Yale grad transfer Paul Atkinson, the former Ivy League Player of the Year. At 6-foot-10, Atkinson will replace Juwan Durham and provide a physical presence alongside 6-10 senior Nate Laszewski.
Add in holdovers Dane Goodwin and Trey Wertz and a pair of hometown signees in J.R. Konieczny and Blake Wesley, and it’s not surprising that Brey is eager to lay down the gauntlet for 2021-22.
SOUTH BEND, IN – NOVEMBER 08: Head coach Mike Brey of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish is seen during … [+]
“We’ll probably be picked a little higher next year, and then it’s a dogfight to go back (to the NCAA Tournament),” Brey said. “I told them, ‘A year from this Selection Sunday, our goal should be to see our name flash up.’ That’s the crossroads we’re at, absolutely.”
A home upset of No. 11 Florida State to end the regular season was Notre Dame’s first win over a ranked opponent in 29 tries, dating to November 2017 and a win over No. 6 Wichita State in Hawaii. Now it’s about ending an NCAA Tournament absence that dates to the previous spring.
“The line is drawn in the sand, and we’ve got to get back,” Brey said. “We threw the whole group to the wolves (this year). The challenge is how do we react and how do we grow from it. A year from Sunday, we need to show up in that bracket — plain and simple.”
I have worked in mainstream media as a sports journalist for over three decades with stops at newspapers in Durham, Augusta, Fort Lauderdale, St, Paul and Indianapolis.