Notre Dame's Mike Brey Discusses Expanded ACC Schedule, Facilities
This is Part III of our five-part series on Notre Dame men's basketball after a one-on-one discussion with Mike Brey last week.
Entering his 20th season at Notre Dame, head coach Mike Brey had it reaffirmed to him this spring to be careful what you wish for — because you might get it.
In a league meeting of the Atlantic Conference coaches a couple of years ago, a discussion on how to better market the college basketball season was bandied about, mainly because of some sagging rankings. Plus, the season was now starting in early November, or right when college football was getting most exciting with playoff rankings and late-season rivalry games.
In the meeting, Brey came up with the idea to have an “opening night” in the ACC to help create a buzz, much like Opening Day in baseball and in other sports.
“We kind of scatter-shot it around,” Brey recalled. “I just said, ‘Why doesn’t the best league in America have something right out of the gate the first couple of nights?’ Mike (Krzyzewski) said, ‘Great idea — see, you did learn something from me after all that time you worked for us (at Duke from 1987-94).’ ”
That brain child of Brey’s, combined with the new ACC Network that will launch this August 22, now has the ACC members opening the new season with league games. The exclusive early-season basketball broadcasts on the new network include: Louisville at Miami and Georgia Tech at NC State (November 5); Notre Dame at North Carolina and Virginia at Syracuse (November 6).
Three additional conference games will be aired on ESPN2 or ESPNU: Virginia Tech at Clemson (November 5), Wake Forest at Boston College (November 6), and Florida State at Pitt (November 6). Duke is set to compete in the State Farm Champions Classic (November 5), which will be aired on ESPN.
Following last year’s 14-19 implosion, including 3-15 in the ACC, Brey and Co., might have preferred wading easily into the new season. Instead, the Fighting Irish were tossed into the deep end of the pool.
“Now that I look at who we got I say, ‘Oh, (crap)’ ” he laughed.
Notre Dame will play a second league game on Dec. 7 at home, with the opponent still to be decided. The ACC is expanding from an 18-game regular season conference schedule to 20 this season. The Big Ten was the first conference to do that last season and its teams received eight NCAA Tournament bids, in part because of how it aided RPI rankings. Conversely, a couple of ACC teams such as North Carolina State and Clemson that were “on the bubble,” were left out but might have been able to sneak in with a stronger RPI that would have included two more league contests.
Playing 20 league games necessitated not cramming them all in after the New Year, which is why there are now two early league games, the first to open the season in November and a second in December.
“Some of the old guard were fighting it,” said Brey of expanding to 20 league game. “But because of the ACC Network coming on, we had to have more inventory. I kind of liked it because it happened in the Big Ten and worked out well.”
Plus, when Notre Dame was in the Big East (prior to 2013), that conference was the first to go from 16 to 18 games in 2008-09, with Notre Dame finishing third that season at 14-4. Two years later, a record 11 Big East teams among its 16 received a bid to the NCAA Tournament, including the No. 2-seeded Fighting Irish. UConn, which finished only 9-9 in the conference and 0-2 versus Notre Dame, went on to win the national title, a testament to just how competitive the league was.
Despite having to start the campaign at North Carolina, Brey believes the 20-game league schedule will be a boon to the conference and college basketball in general.
“Last year college basketball up-ticked because Zion (Williamson) was playing, but it’s been on a down tick,” Brey said. “We have to do anything we can to kind of move the needle.”
Prior to Christmas this year, Notre Dame will have played at North Carolina, (Nov. 6), at Maryland (Dec. 4) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, a second ACC foe to be determined at home (Dec. 7), UCLA at home (Dec. 14) and Indiana in the Crossroads Classic at Indianapolis (date to be determined).
The 20-game ACC schedule overall is broken down as follows:
Repeat Opponents: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Florida State, North Carolina, Syracuse, Wake Forest.
Home Only: Louisville, Miami, Pitt, Virginia Tech.
Away Only: Clemson, Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia.
Practice Facility Musings
Brey still finds himself sometimes in disbelief while settling into the sparkling new Rolfs Athletics Hall for the Notre Dame basketball programs.
“When we were in the Big East, it was not a big deal to not have a great practice facility because Seton Hall, Rutgers, Providence, St. John’s DePaul, Georgetown, Villanova didn’t have much … it was fine,” Brey said. “But once we jumped into the ACC (in 2013), they all have the ammo. As good as the Big East was — and we were there when it was at its best — this is another level. The Big East also went more in cycles where sometimes Georgetown, Villanova, UConn, Pitt were not as strong, so you could sneak in a year or two.
“In the ACC, Virginia, Duke and North Carolina are not going anywhere, so you’re chasing four through nine regularly to try to get a bid.”
The Irish head coach also made it clear that the team will still practice regularly on its home court arena, especially prior to home games, to gain a sense of comfort with the floor, rims and overall atmosphere that helps create a home-court advantage.
Still, Brey recalls with some humor now how frustrated he used to be in not finding court time during the summer or on other occasions for the players.
“One time we investigated using the gym at St. Mary’s, and we called over there,” he said of the all-women’s college across from the Notre Dame campus. “We would lift in the ice arena — and then one time I’m watching four of our guys driving on the back of Ben Hansbrough’s truck to get there. That’s the only time I got really pissed and brought it up to [director of athletics] Jack [Swarbrick]. Jack said, ‘Let’s get shuttle buses,’ — and I was like, ‘Now we’re really looking ridiculous!’ ”