Generally speaking, when coaches get older they win less. We can only think of two examples of this, maybe three, at least in basketball: John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and, to a lesser extent, Dean Smith.
Wooden had spectacular, unprecedented success in the last 12 years of his career. Krzyzewski has changed and evolved because he’s never stopped learning, which has kept him at the very top of the game to his mid-70s. And Smith? Among other things, Smith was motivated by his immense competitive desire to keep up with Krzyzewski, who clearly surpassed him by 1991-92, having gone to five straight Final Fours and winning two national championships.
Typically though, coaches get stale as they get older and more predictable and that could be happening with Brey.
He probably peaked in 2014-15 when his Irish came within a shot of upsetting undefeated Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament.
Over the last four years though the Irish have declined. In 2017-18, Notre Dame went 21-15, in 2017-18, 14-19, in 2018-19, 20-12 in 2019-20 and 11-15 last season.
As we generally say, everyone gets a pass on last season but the trend line is pretty clear. The question now is can Brey pull out of it? Well, maybe.
Last season we pointed out a major problem for Brey’s system: he relies on seasoning players and having them step up when it’s their time. Yet the pipeline was getting low and he didn’t appear to have enough talent to make it work anymore.
Well the NCAA tossed him a miraculous lifeline with the bonus season. Just look at the roster and you’ll see people listed like this: senior with junior eligibility, senior with sophomore eligibility.
There are ten players like that and seven of them are seniors (three are sophomore/freshmen).
It’s possible, although not inevitable, that Brey could keep several of those guys around for a good while and really season his future teams.
And even if not, he may have enough depth to make it a good year.
Let’s look at how the comings and goings break down
- Juwan Durham
- Nikola Djogo
Durham is a significant loss since he could back up Brey’s rather porous defense. Djogo is probably replaceable. He’ll finish up at Northeastern.
- Prentiss Hubb - 6-3 senior/junior
- Nate Laszewski - 6-10 senior/junior
- Dane Goodwin - 6-6 senior/junior
- Cormac Ryan - 6-5 senior/junior
- Elijah Morgan - 6-1 senior/sophomore
- Trey Wertz 6-5 senior/junior
- Robby Carmody 6-4 senior/sophomore
- Tony Sanders 6-7 sophomore/freshman
- Elijah Taylor 6-8 sophomore/freshman
- Matt Zona - 6-9 sophomore/freshman
By modern standards this is nearly unheard of. Nobody has roster stability like this and as we know, Brey likes to bring guys along slowly.
And some of these guys are pretty good and they played a lot too: the top five in mpg are back.
Hubb got 36.9, Goodwin got 33.3, Laszewski 31.3, Ryan 29.4 and Wertz 26.4
Hubb is a solid point guard. Laszewski is a big who has range. There’s some overlap with Goodwin, Ryan, Wertz and possibly Carmody, but they can all shoot which should make Brey’s offense hum. He’s a master at ball movement and getting clean threes.
After those guys were Durham and Djogo and then experience thins out. But here’s a name we haven’t seen in a while: Robby Carmody.
Carmody has had endless problems with his shoulders and knees and only played sixteen games in the last three years, sitting out last year altogether.
If he’s healthy he could be really useful for Brey. Then again, he may be one of those guys who just can’t stay healthy. It’d be nice to see him bounce back.
Sanders, Taylor and Zona are on deck and we’ll see if the system brings them along. If not, they have more time now.
Back to all those three point shooters in a minute but first...
Paul Atkinson - 6-10 senior/Yale
Atkinson won’t be the shot blocker Durham was but he’s a solid low-post player and watch those three point shooters get him easy baskets. It’s quite a step up but he may be able to pull it off.
- Blake Wesley 6-5
- J.R. Konieczny - 6-6.5
How often do coaches get freshmen classes within biking distance, if not walking distance? Both of Brey’s freshmen are local guys and while it may take a while for Konieczy to develop, Wesley should be good early although at 6-5 and 170 he’s going to need to bulk up.
As we’ve said, Brey is a brilliant offensive mind.
Notre Dame’s defense has been a problem which is probably why Brey has brought assistant Anthony Solomon back.
It’s actually his third time through South Bend: he was an assistant there from 2000-2003 and again from 2008-20016. It may be a coincidence that the Irish fell off after he left but maybe not. He has a reputation as an outstanding defensive coach and Brey may be bringing him back out of necessity and, perhaps, as a fixer.
If he can do that, then Notre Dame could have a pretty good year.