Blue and Gold Illustrated

BGI April 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 APRIL 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED J an. 1, 2018, remains a New Year's Day that Notre Dame head bas- ketball coach Mike Brey will for- ever remember — and one he'd pre- fer to forget. That's the date Brey's program dropped out of cloud nine and into a snake-bit like tailspin it's still trying to stabilize about 15 months later. As a refresher, Jan. 1, 2018, is the day that Brey discovered and shared with his team that a broken left foot would keep Irish All-American for- ward and ACC Player of the Year candidate Bonzie Colson on the bench for at least eight weeks and maybe more. "Next man up," was the mantra Brey used to rally the troops. But how do you replace 20-plus points and 10-plus rebounds each game, not to mention Colson's impassioned leadership contributions that no stat sheet could ever measure? With an 11-3 record and a place solidly in the top 25 to start the new year, the Irish looked poised to reach their fourth straight NCAA Tourna- ment, while Brey was deservedly celebrated as one of the hottest com- modities in coaching because of his easy, relatable and successful style. Brey even proudly called himself "the loosest coach in America." It was easy to feel that way thanks to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances in '15 and '16, two wins in two nights over ACC powers Duke and North Carolina in '15 for an improbable ACC Tournament title. At the time of Colson's injury, Brey was just one win shy of No. 394 at Notre Dame, a mark that would leave him as the men's basketball coach with the most wins in program history. Brey and his Irish were also fresh off a first-ever championship at the prestigious Maui Invitational in No- vember 2017. The new and improved (and long-overdue) practice facili- ties were finally becoming a reality. The five-man recruiting class for 2018 ranked in the top 15 nationally and was considered the best during Brey's 19 years at the school. Momentum was so high, the book deal for Mike Brey, Keeping It Loose was already inked. Then the calendar, Colson's left foot and the program's fortunes all turned simultaneously. Shortly after Colson's injury, senior star point guard Matt Farrell shred- ded his ankle and was in and out of the lineup the final few weeks of last season and never at full-go. Then, freshman standout D.J. Harvey suf- fered a fluke knee injury and was also lost for the year. "I don't think we've ever had it like this," Brey said when Notre Dame was left without its two best players and an ascending freshman star. A team that went 94-31 from the start of the 2014-15 season to the day Colson injured his foot in late De- cember 2017, eventually missed the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and went on to lose 30 of its next 53 games from the time of Colson's injury to the start of the 2019 ACC Tournament. That's 23-30 during that 15-month span. Notre Dame finished the 2018-19 regular season 13-18, losing its final seven games and 15 of the last 18. The Irish were just 2-7 at Purcell Pa- vilion in league play — the fewest number of home wins as a confer- ence member of either the ACC or the Big East — and the eight total losses at home during this regular season were the most since 1992-93. "We're just a little young and a lit- tle thin to get over the hump," Brey explained. "You can't manufacture confidence. You have to win a little bit. We have not." Naturally, in the "what have you done for me lately" world of college athletics, the Internet critics were quick to take to their keyboards to castigate Brey. Key injuries — espe- cially to another vital senior leader in Rex Pflueger — and a youth move- ment were at the root of the strug- gles, but often get ignored. "We all understand it's a young team but nobody has improved, some have regressed and none of them can shoot,"one angry poster wrote. "The blame lies with one man, Mike Brey." Regardless of what his critics say, Brey will be back next season for his 20th at Notre Dame, and likely as long as he desires, because his body of work on and off the court has built up too much good will. That said, facing the prospect in 2020 of missing the NCAA Tourna- ment for the third straight season — a drought that hasn't happened in South Bend since 2004-06 — could challenge the patience of America's loosest coach much more than ever in his tenure. ✦ Tough Year Takes A Toll, Even On 'Loosest' Coach UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at Mike Brey's program went 94‑31 from the start of the 2014‑15 season to the day All‑American forward Bonzie Colson injured his foot in late December 2017. Since then, the Irish had gone into a 23‑30 tail‑ spin prior to the start of this year's ACC Tournament. PHOTO BY COREY BODDEN

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