A look at the season ahead for Coach Mike Brey and the men’s basketball team
As the leaves begin to fall off the trees and the temperature drops, not only does it signal that winter is coming but also that basketball season is beginning on Notre Dame’s campus. The Notre Dame men’s basketball team, looking to recover from a losing 2013-14 campaign, is off to a strong start this year. The squad has opened the season with a 6-1 record, going 5-0 at home in the Purcell Pavillion. The only loss suffered as of this printing was a one-point heartbreaker against Providence, currently sitting just off the cusp of entering the AP Top 25.
The team is led by Coach Mike Brey, now entering his 15th year as Notre Dame’s head basketball coach. Brey has been very successful with the Fighting Irish, taking the team to the NCAA or NIT tournament every year from 2001 to 2013, although he only broke into the NCAA Sweet Sixteen once back in 2004. In spite of the lack of deep runs into the NCAA Tournament, he still holds the faith of many Notre Dame students—the September 28 issue of the Rover reported that he held a 33 percent approval rating, with 2 percent of respondents saying they were on the fence or unsure.
“He’s pretty effective as our head coach,” says senior Keldan Mulvey. “I think he has a great handle on leading the team through its highs and lows, and I think he’ll do a great job taking the team far this year.”
A successful year for the Notre Dame squad will certainly help push many of those students over the fence, and he has a team poised to make a big run in March. The offense in particular has been off to a running start this season as the Fighting Irish are ranked number one in the country in field goal percentage (.580), twelfth in points per game (86.3), and fifteenth in assists per game (17.9). While these numbers are subject to change, continuing this trend puts Notre Dame in the thick of any postseason conversation.
The Irish are captained by senior Pat Connaughton, a 6’5” senior guard/forward who also pitched with Notre Dame’s varsity baseball team before being drafted to the Baltimore Orioles in the 2014 MLB draft (the Orioles agreed to permit Connaughton to play his senior year of basketball with the Irish). Connaughton has been posting 13.7 points per game so far this season, and he leads the team in rebounds per game at 7.7. Connaughton pulled in 7.1 rebounds per game in the 2013-14 campaign and will certainly continue to be a big presence under the net for the Irish.
Returning for the Fighting Irish is senior 6’5” guard Jerian Grant, who left the university during the last season for academic issues and was subsequently readmitted. Grant led the team in points per game during the 2012-13 season. Furthermore, he was on the court an average of 36.3 minutes per game, showing not only leadership but also an ability to steer clear of foul trouble, traits that will prove invaluable in as the Irish schedule begins to move towards competitive ACC play.
The ACC portion of Notre Dame’s schedule is set to be anything but easy—perennial powerhouses like UNC, Duke, Syracuse, and Louisville await the Irish in the coming weeks.
“We’ll be okay in the ACC, with Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton to lead the team,” predicted senior Jack Burkart. “We’ll definitely beat a lot of teams, but we might struggle against higher tier opponents.”
“We’ll definitely have some really good upsets,” senior Ingrid Adams told the Rover, “but sometimes we’re not consistent and can lose easier games.”
With several easier games ahead, the Notre Dame team will have a chance to prepare itself for the big games later in the season. One big game to watch for the Irish this season is the January 5 matchup against North Carolina. This high visibility matchup is going to showcase the Notre Dame basketball team, and a big win can take the momentum of the Notre Dame squad straight through to the NCAA tournament.
Also important to watch are the matchups against Duke on January 28 and a rematch just a few days later on February 7. A high-octane matchup against two potentially explosive teams will undoubtedly clarify to fans and analysts what kind of team Notre Dame is. Notre Dame must win the smaller games to be prepared for the big ones, and success in the marquee games of the season can give the Irish the confidence to drive deep into the postseason.
Overall, the Notre Dame men’s basketball team is poised to bounce right back from an anomalous 2013-14 season. With the leadership and talent in place both on and off the court, watch for the team to make a big splash in the world of college basketball.
Kyle Mulholland is a senior Computer Science and Economics dual degree living off-campus. He would like to advise everyone to bundle in a jacket and scarf to prepare for the quick approaching winter. Contact him at email@example.com.