Yahoo.com - When Notre Dame upset top-ranked Syracuse earlier this month, coach Mike Brey admits he still wasn't certain the Irish had enough firepower to overcome the season-ending injury star Tim Abromaitis suffered in late November. Only after Notre Dame followed that performance up by winning at then-surging Seton Hall was Brey truly impressed. "I told our guys before that game, 'A normal team would lose on Wednesday and everyone would give you a free pass,'" Brey said. "I said, 'If you're starting to show signs of maybe being special, that's one you get. Because you're not supposed to get that one.' I was really proud of them afterward. They really delivered there." Notre Dame continued to make its coach proud on Sunday, winning 50-48 at Connecticut to improve to 6-3 in the Big East. That's quite an accomplishment for a team left for dead entering conference play after suffering non-league losses to Georgia, Maryland and Indiana among others. Thanks to a stingy defense, a slow-paced but efficient offense and the development of first-time starters Eric Atkins, Jerian Grant and Jack Cooley, Notre Dame has emerged as the Big East's most pleasant surprise and a legitmate NCAA tournament hopeful. I spoke with Brey on Monday about how he explains his team's improvement, what role Abromaitis has played in the surge and whether he thinks this is his best coaching job. Considering how the team struggled after Abromaitis got hurt, are even you a little surprised to be 6-3 in the Big East? MB: If you would have told me we'd eventually be 6-3 in the league in the locker room after the Gonzaga game (a 73-53 loss), I'd have fallen off the stool into the shower, believe me. I really got on the guys that day about their mental and physical toughness and told them, 'If Ben Hansbrough was in this locker room, he'd strangle all of you.' But it's what's so neat about our sport. It's a long season and teams have a chance to get better. When did you start to see signs of improvement from this group? MB: For us, once we got to exam week in mid-December, we had obviously digested we don't have Abro. We also had a lot of other guys miss games for sickness, illness, or they were nicked up, but by then we finally had a nucleus that could practice together, play together and get reps. Even though we didn't play great against Indiana in the game coming off exams, we looked more like we'd been together a little bit. I think it's a great example of a group getting to play together and younger guys getting repititons, you get better. And then when you can get a few wins against Pittsburgh and Louisville, we started feeling like we had a shot. Your recent surge reminds me a bit of how well your team played two years ago after it lost Luke Harangody to injury. Do you see similarities there too? MB: This current group could really relate to that since many of them were on the team. So I used that one right away two days after Abromaitis. I told them, 'We are so far off the radar because we've had our butts kicked and we don't have Abro. We are done in everybody's mind.' I said, 'That's a great climate to develop in because we have nothing to lose.' I want them to continue to play that way even though we've put some things in the bank right now. You guys have won by slowing down the tempo, scoring at the end of the shot clock and relying on your defense. Would you have done that no matter what this season, or did your plans change when Abromaitis went down? MB: We were going to play quicker. We did last year, obviously, except at Pittsburgh when we used the "burn" the whole game. Last year's team could score and we just attacked all the time. We felt the same way with Abro, but like when 'Gody went down, which is when we first started using "burning" as our offensive philosophy, we thought for us to survive, we really have to control the tempo, not have as many possessions and become a good half-court team. What's really helped us is like two years ago when we had Ben (Hansbrough) and Tory Jackson who could come off a ball screen and make a play at the end of the shot clock, we have (Eric) Atkins and (Jerian) Grant who can do the same thing. Did having a pair of guards who can create off the dribble like that make you more confident you could succeed slowing down the tempo? MB: Yes. We haven't had a pair of guards like this in the history of our program. The speed and quickness and ability to defend and get their hands on the ball. I was so excited when we got them. I didn't know we'd be turning the keys of the car over to them this soon. With Abro down, we turned it over to them at times before Christmas, but I did feel like two years ago we had two guys who could make plays at the end of the clock. So I felt confident we could run that clock down and we've gotten very confident in making plays with single digits on the clock. Our guys really believe in it and they've gotten very good at it. It seems like the development of Eric Atkins and Jack Cooley has been a huge key to your success this season. Did you expect them to improve like this? MB: I really expected them to step forward because they came off the bench on a great team last year. They were a big part of 27 wins. I think Eric has found how to score and run the team. He's really got a feel for the balance of that. That was a work in progress in November and December. Jack was a role guy off the bench and did a great job the last two years, but I thought we could get more out of him starting. He's very underrated because he doesn't look smooth when he moves. His feet and hands around the basket are excellent and I don't think there's another player in the country who can put a chest on another physical post player the way he does. He has gotten very confident. At times he can't believe what he's doing, and I want him never to come down to earth. Has Tim been able to take a leadership role with this team even while he's not playing? MB: Very much a leadership role. He has been big brother to a lot of young guys. He knows how to talk to a Pat Connaughton and a Alex Dragicevich who are playing his position. He knows when to grab Eric Atkins. There's things I don't even know he's done. And I check in with him every day in practice. He comes in from his rehab while the guys are getting loose and warming up, and I'll sit down with him and get a state of the union. We had a tough practice the other day and I came up to him and said, 'Anybody quit?' He was like, 'Nope, coach, they're all good.' So I said, 'OK, keep me posted.' So he's been great. I know it's tough on him, but he never shows any woe-is-me. He's just enjoying the run as best he can. Where is Tim in his process of deciding whether to apply for a sixth year at Notre Dame next season? MB: I think in the next couple weeks, we need to talk about that. We put the paperwork in for Scott Martin to apply for a sixth year back in November, and that's running its course. We hope to have an answer before the end of the season. Tim's is a separate case. What I told him was, 'You need to get through your surgery, get into your rehab and let the smoke clear a little bit.' If he wants to come back, we certainly want to put in the paperwork for that and see how that goes. But I think it has to be his decision. He's been here five years and he has two degrees. Maybe we put him in law school. I know every coach has a different philosophy on this. Do you allow yourself to try to figure out how many wins you'll need to feel secure about making the NCAA tournament? MB: I do. I've been in this league long enough that I try to figure out what would 9-9 do if it's the right 9-9? Right now, we've got a lot of right ones in that left column. I think 9-9 would certainly have us in the discussion, especially if you look at the strength of our repeat opponents. We have Connecticut twice, West Virginia twice and Rutgers twice. But my feeling is if we win 10 league games, I think we're a very strong candidate. It's probably hard to self-evaluate, but do you think this is one of your better coaching jobs since coming to Notre Dame? MB: I'm having a lot of fun. One of the things I mentioned to our team when we came back from Louisville was we have the assistant coaches in the country. I really believe the rhythm that our staff has been in the last two seasons, I am so pleased with. We really have great teachers and this is a team that needs teaching. We said that especially when Abro went down. It's what I like to do, it's how I've been trained. So I'm enjoying the journey. I'm not fighting for my job. I'm just enjoying the challenge and journey with this group, and that probably helps me be a more confident teacher. Better be careful, or your going to lose an assistant coach talking like that. MB: All three of them are ready to be head coaches, and I wouldn't be shocked if I lose one or two to a head coaching job this spring. I'm already thinking, 'How do I replace them?'
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ESPN.com - Mike Brey is putting together the best coaching job of his career, and that's saying quite a lot for a guy who's won three Big East Coach of the Year awards in the past five years. Is No. 4 on the way? The Irish were gutted by graduation losses, a surprising early defection to the NBA and then a season-ending injury to their best player, Tim Abromaitis. There were some humbling defeats early in the season to Missouri, Georgia and Gonzaga. But the season changed Jan. 7 at Louisville. Notre Dame stunned the Big East with a double-overtime win over the then-No. 10 Cardinals. That was followed up by an 11-point win over South Florida. The Irish fell back to the pack with consecutive losses to UConn and Rutgers, but they had five days to prepare for top-ranked Syracuse and Notre Dame shocked the Fab Melo-less Orange with a nine-point win. And then came this past week. Notre Dame swept a road swing through Seton Hall and Connecticut by clamping down on defense. Neither the Pirates nor the Huskies scored 50 points as the Irish beat the Pirates 55-42 (the Hall's lowest point total since 2005) and the Huskies 50-48. Notre Dame wasn't tearing it up offensively either, but controlling tempo and the clock worked. Nine games into the Big East season, the Irish are tied for third with Georgetown and surprising South Florida. The 6-3 record can turn quickly with a game against Marquette and a pair of matchups with West Virginia to come. But the schedule is certainly laid out for Notre Dame to make a run at an NCAA bid. If that happens, you can book Brey for Big East coach of the year honors.
The Salem News - Notre Dame senior guard Scott Martin surveyed the somewhat chaotic but deliriously happy postgame scene at the XL Center here yesterday and just shook his head. Hundreds of people from the North Shore and his hometown of Arlington had come out to see former St. John's Prep great Pat Connaughton play against the University of Connecticut and now, after a stunning 50-48 upset over the No. 19 Huskies, it seemed that everyone wanted a piece of him. Martin was thrilled for his freshman teammate and friend. "Yeah, just look at this," Martin said. "I don't even KNOW as many people as (Connaughton) is seeing today. And they all came to see him play this game? This is something else." Connaughton has never been one to call attention to himself in an artificial kind of way. He lets his play on the court speak on his behalf, and lately the volume has been turned up. Anyone who said that Connaughton would never be able to play against the so-called big boys at the highest level of college basketball, particularly as a freshman, should've seen this game. Connaughton nailed a pair of 3-pointers and finished with eight points and five rebounds in 28 minutes. He hit two critical free throws with 51.9 seconds remaining, making it a two-possession game in favor of the Fighting Irish, 47-42. Overall, his impact was much larger than anything that showed up on the stat sheet. From the opposition's standpoint, Connaughton is an aggravating player. Why is it that, at 6-foot-5, he rebounds better than guys who are bigger and stronger? He plays intelligently, too, clearing himself for three-point opportunities or making backdoor cuts when the defense falls asleep. And hard-nosed defense has become one of his staples. UConn coach Jim Calhoun displayed his respect for Connaughton yesterday by often putting sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb on him. Lamb is merely one of the most gifted and athletic players in the country. "To tell you the truth, I didn't think about (Lamb)," Connaughton said. "You just go out and play the game. He (Lamb) was just the guy on the other team."
SI.com - Monty Williams walks where no NBA coach has walked before. He leads a New Orleans team that is owned by the league and shaped by the commissioner. He guides a club that began training camp with only five players under contract and today boasts nine new faces. He coaches a squad that endured seven days of near trades, a vetoed deal and collapsed proposals before All-Star point guard Chris Paul was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers. In exchange, Williams received a new team: Extreme Makeover, Hornets Edition. With the departure of Paul and leading scorer David West to Indiana, the franchise lacks star power. With the arrival of new bodies and spare parts, the Hornets have gained lottery power. The Paul trade allowed the team to clear cap space, secure an unconditional first-round pick in June, add young shooting guard Eric Gordon and build for the future. But Williams doesn't intend to wait. "We don't feel like we are starting over," he said after Gordon, Chris Kaman and Al-Farouq Aminu arrived from the Clippers. "We plan on winning and we plan on winning big." If the Hornets win big with their current roster, Williams will be in Coach of the Year contention. New Orleans has lost 11 of its first 14 games, hobbling. Gordon has missed 12 games with a bruised knee; Trevor Ariza missed eight with a strained groin before returning Wednesday against Memphis. He led the Hornets with 18 points, but New Orleans lost its fifth straight. Through Wednesday, the Hornets rank 28th in three-point shooting (27.5 percent) and 28th in scoring (86.7 points per game). Williams faces challenges beyond shooting and scoring. There's no playbook for a team without a human owner. There's no manual for moving forward after a trade saga like Paul's. "I've never seen anything like this," Williams said.
ESPN.com - The day after his team handed previous-No. 1 Syracuse its first loss, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey wanted just one thing: a local watering hole, some good friends and a few hours of football. There is little time to enjoy the good times in college basketball, especially if you are a team like the Fighting Irish -- good, but not great, talented but raw. The sweet taste of victory has the staying power of a court-storming, over and cleared out almost as quickly as it started. But Brey was going to give himself and his team a 24-hour respite from the hamster wheel, a Sunday to celebrate a win. The victory elevated the Irish to 4-3 in the Big East, 12-8 overall, a respectable record for most teams, an extraordinary one under the circumstances for Notre Dame. The Irish lost senior leader Tim Abromaitis in November. Considered middle-of-the-pack to begin with, Abromaitis' injury took Notre Dame off the radar. But Brey has made a career out of surprising people. He memorably led the Irish through a tortoise-paced run without Luke Harangody and has quietly made Notre Dame into a consistent winner. ESPN.com caught up with Brey on the one day he allotted himself a little euphoria and a temporary escape before digging in his heels again for a Wednesday date with Seton Hall. Dana O'Neil: When Tim Abromaitis tore his ACL, what did you tell your team? Mike Brey: I used Luke [Harangody] going down as an example. I hit that really hard in our first meeting and that first week. We were 6-8 when Luke got hurt. Of course, while I'm selling it to them, I have my fingers crossed behind my back. But I felt like, if we could just inch along and be at our best in New York City [for the Big East Tournament], we'd be OK. That was really the only way for me and my staff to keep our sanity. It's different than last year. There's more teaching, being positive and giving confidence. The second day after Abro got hurt, we were standing at halfcourt and practice wasn't very good and for that one moment, I think I might have said, "Oh boy, we're not that good." And like a good assistant, Martin Ingelsby said, "You know what? This is going to be a great challenge for us. Let's have some fun with it." And I thought, "You know what? You're right. I'm good.'' Could you have survived this maybe 15 years ago? At an earlier point in your career? MB: That would have been ... oh God, I would have been all over the board. I think I've learned to be older and wiser. Then I would have been much more anxious, not sleeping so good. But I've learned to pace myself. But at this point in my career, I'm having fun with it. I'm not trying to fight for my job. I'm enjoying and teaching and knowing, that, OK, we took some punches and we'll take some more in the future, but we're playing with house money. When Tim went down, we had nothing to lose. We were so far off the board, no one expected anything out of us. And now that you're back on the board, by beating Syracuse, how do you get your team to refocus for Seton Hall? MB: When you get one like we did, you get where 9-9 [in the league] is in range and you think, hey we're being talked about. If you told me after we lost to Gonzaga in the locker room, that we'd be 4-3 and beat Syracuse, I would have fallen off my chair. I told them normal teams are supposed to lose on Wednesday. They just are. If you're normal, an average Joe, you take that bullet because you're not supposed to get that one. So that's the thing? Are we just normal? If we can bounce back and get this one on the road, that's showing signs of being something special. Have you ever seen the Big East so wildly unpredictable? MB: It's more turned upside down than ever. We're not that top-rated league, but everybody is still watching. The drama that comes out of our league, whether on the court or off, that's why people watch. When the league started last year, we had nine teams that had the look [of an NCAA Tournament team]. This year, we've got maybe four or five in October. So if you're a team that doesn't have the look then, you feel as if there are spots to get. Last year, if you weren't one of the nine, you're thinking on Jan. 5, "Geez, I hope we can get to the NIT." Why is the league so unstable? MB: I think that, other than Syracuse, the margin for everyone is really thin. It's really fragile. We've got new faces playing key roles and it's about handling success or handling not playing well. Guys don't know how to do that. I think that's why we see the roller coaster. But it's great for the league. Look at our repeat opponents. We did the straw poll in June. No one knew Andre Drummond was going to show up at Connecticut. We repeat with them. We repeat with Rutgers and West Virginia. If I told you in July that West Virginia would be tougher than Pitt, you would have said, "Shut up, Mike." If I would have told you Rutgers would have been tougher than Villanova, you would have said, "Shut up, Mike." That's why it's such a roller coaster. The straw poll, what's expected, is upside down.
From the moment I walked into the student section of the Joyce Center last Saturday night, I knew there was a chance I'd see history. There was an electric feeling in the air as the video screen showed clips of previous No. 1 teams that had fallen to the Fighting Irish. Once the game actually tipped off and the Irish quickly jumped out to an early 11-2 lead, the atmosphere became even more intense. Something magical was in the air. Saturday's game was a showcase for the perseverance and resiliency of this Notre Dame team. Many declared the Irish season over when tri-captain and starting forward Tim Abromaitis was lost for the season to an ACL injury. But the team kept fighting back, and refused to admit defeat in the face of immense obstacles. New faces like Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton emerged as key contributors, while captains Eric Atkins and Scott Martin kept the team focused on their mission. The result has been a team that refuses to give in to any opponent. This team is not defined by a single superstar, but by a group of players who understand each other and care more about winning than their individual numbers. On any given night, any one of several players is capable of rising to the challenge of leading his team to victory. Saturday night, forward Jack Cooley did just that. His 17 points and 10 rebounds were crucial against a tough Syracuse team, and he came up big in important moments. His powerful slam dunk in transition with just over five minutes left to play in the game was the signature moment in a signature win. Getting to witness such an incredible game and such an amazing effort from the Irish players was something I will never forget. When I ran with the rest of the students to storm the court, I got caught up with everyone else in the emotion of the moment. I couldn't think about how impressive of a win this was, how incredible Notre Dame's dominance when playing at home in Purcell Pavilion has been, or how this win would help our chances of making the NCAA tournament. All I could do was revel in the moment. And I know that those minutes we spent on the court, chanting "We are ND" and singing the Alma Mater together as one student body, will stay with me forever. They say Notre Dame is a place where legends live. On Saturday night, another legend was born. - Tom McGuire ('14)
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