Coaches Mike Brey and Muffet McGraw continue onslaught of winning basketball
Muffet McGraw is no stranger to success. The three-time National Coach of the Year has amassed 682 wins during her time at Notre Dame. She sets the standard at a towering height for winning in her program.
As McGraw’s Irish have captured three straight conference titles and traveled to the Final Four the past four seasons, there is no doubt her crew can run the table again this year—especially after bringing in some of the most sought after recruits in the nation, including the likes of Brianna Turner and Kathryn Westbeld.
This season has been no exception for the No. 6 Lady Irish (19-2 overall, 6-1 ACC), who are coming off of a punishing 74-36 victory over the Clemson Tigers (9-11, 1-6). McGraw’s résumé this season contains only two blemishes: Her squad dropped the big showdown against Geno Auriemma’s No. 3 UConn Huskies 76-58 back on December 6, and had an uncharacteristic hiccup on the road January 8 versus Miami (15-5, 5-2), when the Hurricanes prevailed 78-63, snapping Notre Dame’s NCAA-record 30 game road win streak.
“You never like to lose, but we’re just so darn young sometimes that we needed maybe a kick in the pants to kind of say we need to come out ready,” McGraw said after the game.
Those losses aside, McGraw and her girls have wins over 6 teams ranked in the top 25 nationally and currently sit atop the ACC standings. Perhaps a kick in the pants after the Miami loss jump-started this group. The Irish finished off a grueling portion of the schedule, playing four games in 10 days, two of them against then-No. 12 North Carolina and No. 5 Tennessee.
“When you look at the schedule, you just think, why did I do that? Once you get past it, it is nice to have a little breather,” said McGraw after the game. She plans on resting the team for the next two days.
McGraw lost seniors Natalie Achonwa, Kayla McBride, and Ariel Braker from last year’s team to graduation, leaving only three seniors to lead this year’s young Lady Irish team. Despite that, the Irish are still putting up dominant numbers.
Junior guard Jewell Loyd is pacing the squad with 21.2 points per game, while freshman Brianna Turner is averaging 15.7 points per game and grabbing 7.3 rebounds a contest. The 6’3 young-blood from Pearland, Texas is providing a nice boost for McGraw down low.
The Lady Irish will end the month going up against Virginia Tech on January 29. The Hokies (10-10, 1-6) last hosted the Fighting Irish in Blacksburg during the 2003 season. McGraw will have her work cut out for her in the month of February, with matchups against No. 15 Duke (14-6, 5-2) and No. 4 Louisville (18-2, 6-1).
Down the hall inside Purcell Pavilion, Irish Men’s Basketball coach Mike Brey has paved his own road of achievement at Notre Dame.
In 15 seasons with the Fighting Irish, Brey has compiled 319 wins and was named National Coach of the Year in 2011 and 2012. At a university overwhelmed by attention to the football program, Brey is a coach known for utilizing the phrase, “less is more”.
With the exception of five-star players like Demetrius Jackson and Jerian Grant, Brey consistently brings in three- and four-star recruits. Notre Dame rarely brings in top players, possibly due to lack of tournament exposure or its rigorous academic standards.
These young men hardly perform like three-star players, however. In fact, this year’s team is playing like conference title contenders.
Brey now finds himself in unfamiliar territory, but these uncharted waters are welcomed by coaches, fans, and players with open arms.
The Fighting Irish (19-2, 7-1) are off to their best start since the 1973-74 team started off 19-1. Even more remarkably, the Irish are 4-0 in conference play for the first time in school history.
Plenty of teams can defend their home court and emerge victorious, but to go on the road in any conference in harsh environments is a challenging task. Notre Dame has come out on top in every game.
Perhaps being one of the most efficient and productive offenses in the nation has something to do with success on the road.
The Fighting Irish rank first in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.74), second in field goal percentage (52 percent), fourth in turnovers per game (9.0), and tenth in scoring offense (81.0 ppg). The combination of senior guards Jerian Grant, now on the Wooden Award Midseason Watch List, and Pat Connaughton, a fourth round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles, form a lethal attack for Notre Dame.
Grant is averaging 17.1 points per game and is shooting an outrageous .51 percent from field goal range, while Connaughton is shooting .453 percent from beyond the arc. It is overwhelmingly evident that Grant was the missing piece in this group last year when he was suspended for the spring semester due to an academic matter.
What remains unchanged is the group’s resilience in each and every contest—victories against Michigan State, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Miami, and most recently a victory over North Carolina State in an overtime game that saw the Irish trail by as many as 18 points.
Both the Notre Dame Men’s and Women’s teams are ranked in the top 10 nationally, the only school in the nation to accomplish such a feat this year.
Muffet McGraw and Mike Brey have made winning a tradition at Notre Dame. McGraw has already made it to the game’s biggest stage, while Brey continues to search for NCAA tournament success. Both of these teams might find themselves going far in the Big Dance if they can keep clicking on all cylinders.
Jonathan Mehall is a senior at Holy Cross College majoring in communication with a minor in sports management. Contact Jonathan at email@example.com.