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  • 5.2 Seconds

    by Kevin O'Neill

    Everything you need to know about Notre Dame’s 76-58 loss to Iowa State in its NCAA Tournament opener can be summarized in the final 5.2 Seconds of the first half.

    The Irish played a terrible first half thanks primarily to 14 turnovers that began with their first possession. Nevertheless, Jack Cooley grabbed an offensive rebound and put it into the basket to cut ISU’s lead to 10 and, presumably, send his team to the locker room feeling like it was in the game.

    But no.

    The ball wasn’t through the net before Cyclones Head Coach Fred Hoiberg called timeout to stop the clock and give his team one last chance to score. When the game resumed, Will Clyburn took the inbounds pass in the backcourt, dribbled the length of the court, and laid the ball into the basket ahead of the buzzer to send ISU to the locker room on a high note.

    Notre Dame didn’t force the ball to the sideline, didn’t step forward to stop the ball, and didn’t contest the shot.

    One team was in the moment – ready to call timeout immediately to get one last chance to score and ready to attack the basket. The other team was unprepared and confused about what to do. That was the entire game in a nutshell. That has been Notre Dame’s NCAA Tournament performance since 2003 in a nutshell.

    Systematic Failure

    Winthrop, Washington State, Florida State, Iowa State… That’s four first weekend blowout losses in the last six trips to the NCAA Tournament, three to lower seeds. The other two tournaments featured close first weekend losses to lower seeds, Old Dominion and Xavier, with ND contributing generously to its own demise.

    This is not a record that can be explained by bad match-ups, bad luck, or bad officiating. This is systematic failure.

    Mike Brey acknowledged the failure after Friday’s game. “I really would think it’s the next step for our program,” he said. “We’ve been so consistent in the regular season, and we haven’t been able to do much here. That’s what keeps me up at night and keeps me trying to figure out how we can be better at it.”

    It sounds like Brey hasn’t been getting much sleep over the last ten years and won’t be sleeping much any time soon.


    It’s baffling that a team can perform so well year in and year out in a conference considered among the best, often the best, in college basketball only to be outclassed by teams from less renowned conferences in the NCAA tournament. I have three possible reasons:

    1. The team is tight.
    2. The team is poorly prepared.
    3. The team is both tight and poorly prepared.

    I tend to believe #3 because a team that is not prepared is likely to be tight. If it isn’t tight going into the game, it will be as soon as it realizes that it doesn’t have answers for what its opponent is doing.

    Preparation for the NCAA Tournament is different from preparation for conference games. Notre Dame plays the same coaches and therefore the same styles of play year after year. It sees mostly the same players on each team from one year to the next. Game plans are not created. They are revised.

    Come the NCAA Tournament, opponents’ tactics, tendencies, and players are new. Game plans must be prepared from scratch, and they must be prepared on short notice. Given the results, given how poorly the team has played in tournament after tournament, it is awfully hard to believe that Mike Brey and his staff possess competency in this critical aspect of college basketball coaching.

    Confidence is a result of preparation. Players who expect everything they see and know what to do about it will play with confidence. Players who believe their teammates are as prepared as they are will trust each other to be in position and carry out their assignments, thus allowing them to execute without hesitation. It has been a long time since Notre Dame has been prepared for an NCAA Tournament game. It has been a long time since Notre Dame basketball players acted like they felt prepared for an NCAA Tournament game.

    If Mike Brey wants to succeed in the NCAA tournament and get some sleep at night, he better hire some assistants who excel at scouting, breaking down game film, and preparing game plans. I appreciate loyalty, but Brey will cost himself a job if he doesn’t make significant changes; and he will deserve it. He is just as responsible to the guys on the team as he is to his staff, and he has been doing disservice to the guys on the team by failing to prepare them for the tournament.

    Hire one or more assistants from teams that succeed in the postseason. Do it now, Coach Brey, or your successor will.

    43 Responses to “5.2 Seconds”

    1. John fox says:

      Burn the shamrock shake and go back to the traditional uniforms and play basic bb and learn how to run !

    2. Would you accept #3 and a possible 4th? Sheer, raw foot speed and fast hands, i.e. if Notre Dame & Iowa State played a pickup game without any refs or coaching staff on a public park court, who would win?

      Brey’s system works during the regular season as you mention because Brey and the players can out-think the other teams and therefore can neutralize their athleticism. I wonder if there just isn’t enough time from selection Sunday until the opening game to do this. Coming full circle to agree with you, it appears to me that without a great game plan, or the time frame necessary to install it, the quickest team will usually prevail in a one-game playoff.

      • I think JJC is on to something. What I have seen in the tournament with ND is a team unable to cope with the explosiveness and speed of its opponents. ND can cope with this during the long grind of the regular season by staying fundamentally sound and focused and picking off wins against teams that, although athletically superior, fail to play at their best consistently. But when everything is on the line in the tournament the teams with better athletes get it together to play their best and end up beating teams like ND.

        I think the answer to this needs to be a change in recruiting priorities. Brey has been recruiting fundamentally sound players, team players, smart kids who fit in at ND. But if we want to make it to the next level we need to recruit players who are great athletes with big upside. Recruit good athletes and teach them how to play good basketball — instead of good basketball players who are limited athletically. You can’t teach athleticism.

        • I think the “better athletes’ Is a big fat excuse. The example given in the article is the perfect example. ISU didn’t score a layup in 5.2 seconds because they have better athletes. Every year at NCAA time, ND seems to gets a “bad match up?”

          The article is smack on. When ND gets into tournament time, it needs to have a plan and it doesn’t. It just plays like it has all season with no adaptation at all to the team it is playing, no taking advantage of it’s own strengths and exposing the other team’s holes.

          This isn’t case of one year, it is a case of every year. Brey needs to take a different approach since the one he is using doesn’t work.

          • I don’t think it’s an excuse, since I said it’s something Brey needs to solve through recruiting. I certainly agree the last play of the half was awful and had little to do with getting beat by better athletes. But even in the second half when ND cleaned up its turnover issues and started playing more like itself, they got beat soundly (and ISU’s lead just got bigger). There’s more than just deficient coaching going on here, especially since it’s something a smart guy like Brey has never been able to solve over the course of his coaching tenure. The problem is most NCAA tournament teams present a “bad match up” for ND — because they don’t have the level of athleticism they need to have.

            • The lead didn’t get bigger in the 2nd half because ISU had better athletes. The lead got bigger because the same problem in the 1st half was the same problem in the 2nd half – inadequate preparation.
              If this were a case of this happening one year, you can accept the notion that ISU had better athletes. But it happens every year. So, according to your theory, ever year ND loses because they have ‘worse’ athletes yet other teams, like Wisconsin as one obvious example, seem to win games against teams with better athletes. I wonder what Bo Ryan would do with ND’s worse “athletes.”
              ND simply doesn’t seem to be prepared to play it’s game, to take advantage of it’s strengths, to take advantage of the opponent’s weakness, time and time after time.
              While a team will always be better if it has good players, ND isn’t going to get better unless Brey adapts his coaching so his teams come out prepared to to play the opponent at hand – a fact clearly documented by the consistent “one and done” history.
              Sorry, it isn’t about better athletes. It isn’t about better facilities. An improvement in either isn’t going to change the results one iota if you don’t change the approach.
              The article is spot on.

    3. Brey has until 2022 to find an answer…..another ND coach who was given a 10-year contract extension. The University is still paying off Wise after Kevin White made the same blunder. Yes, my fellow alums, our hard-earned donation money goes to pay for these kinds of mistakes. The alums should start demanding accountability. It is sad to think that the athletic department accepts these types of performances year after year from Brey and yet awards him with 10 years of security and ever-increasing compensation. Why?

      • A contract extension gives a coach a raise and, usually, improved buyout terms if he’s dismissed. It gives no more job security over the term of the contract than the employer’s ability to pay the buyout. Don’t get overly concerned about 10 years.

      • And to add to Kevin’s response. Contract extensions also say to recruits, that the coach will be here for all 4 years when he signs his Letter of Intent. That may not matter some places with one-and-dones, but at Notre Dame, a coach with less than 4 years in the bank on his contract will cause recruits to question whether to sign there.

        And as for the original post, I believe that Mike Brey is the right man for the job, but I did have the exact same thought after the game, that he needs assistants that can analyze the way to beat the Winthrops, WSUs, and Iowa States come Tourney time, because it is definitely not MB’s forte.

    4. Very, very well stated and written, Kevin. I hope this is read by the people that matter.

    5. So disheartening…year after year. So embarrassing, year after year. Completely unprepared and non-competitive. No identity on offense. No movement. So easy to guard. No intensity or desire. They look sloppy, just like their coach. It’s embarrassing.

    6. Tom Martin says:

      Brey changed the character of the team when he started subbing Sherman and two freshmen around the the mid-point of the first half. This interrupted their tempo and offensive scoring. When we beat Louisville it seemed to change Brey. After the 5 overtime win he was a lousy coach. You don’t put three tall guys, the heart of the offense on the bench just so you can give playing time for subs. Adkins and Grant are offensive disasters. I am sick of seeing Grant drive among the trees and get stuffed and shoot around 30%. Either Brey changes and learns from this or I want him to be history.
      Tom Martin, UND 1957

      • I have to agree. Biedscheid and Auguste were brutal. Atkins didn’t have a good game either but I can’t stand watching Grant. Save the final minute of the Louisville win he has been awful. He can’t finish any drives to the hoop whatsoever and only seems to be able to hit from outside when faced with a dwindling shot clock or a late game deficit which make his awful shot selection acceptable.I’m praying that our big time guard recruit for next year relegates him to the pine so I don’t have to watch that crap any more.

    7. Although I personally like Brey, I think we need a new approach w/ a new head coach. Brey has whiffed way too many times and must be replaced – Otherwise, we make a statement that we accept the mediocrity Brey embraces and represents:

      A good regular season coach who repeatedly gets an F in the post season.

    8. I have a different take on this game. I talked to my son who lives is Iowa and has seen the Cyclones play many times. This was the game of the year for them. They frankly are not that good, they just had a great game. I am not saying they our worse than ND, but they brought their A game. They were more athletic, and quicker than ND. Give Brey credit, he has been over achieving for several years with his teams. That’s why he keeps getting coach of the year in the BE. Sorry, he just doesn’t have the talent to compete against a more athletic team when they are on.
      Bill Sullivan ’58

      • But isn’t that part of his job as a coach to RECRUIT the more athletic players to ND? I’m so tired of hearing that argument. Duke, Michigan, Indiana (all good schools, right?) seem to get those kind of players. Even Stanford has been to a Final Four since ND has. Being BE coach of the year is not what I am looking for. I suspect it’s not good enough for a lot of other Irish fans either.

    9. Mike Brey is a good man…probably just the kind of person ND wants to be its basketball coach. But I think its unlikely that the Irish’s trend of bowing out in the first weekend of the NCAA tourney is going to end while Brey is the coach. Tightness and lack of preparation are factors, but the main reason the Irish lose to teams like Iowa State is their utter lack of athleticism, especially in the post. ND needs PLAYERS!!! I’m beginning to think, well, I have for a long time, that Brey is not the man who can bring that type of athlete to South Bend. And I’m tired of hearing about academic standards. Harvard, for goodness sakes, beat New Mexico. Do you think the Irish team that showed up in Dayton would have beaten New Mexico? Or Harvard, for that matter?

    10. Jim Pysniak says:

      I think we need a YOUNG coach…….An upstart coach with new ideas…….

    11. Watched the ball hawking that Pitino has installed at Louisville, copied to some extent by Marquette, last night. Dynamic up and down the court floor play. The Marquette/Butler game was a great game to watch. Different rotations, exciting basketball. After watching Notre Dame, Louisville, and Marquette play in the tourney I wonder how in the world the Irish beat the other two in regular season play. The clear answer is, as Kevin stated, #3. And, am not convinced that the Irish do not have very good athletes. It’s that great coaching taps into the potential possessed enabling the athlete to blossom. Brey, along with the system he’s introduced, has not been able to produce this result.

    12. Mike Coffey says:

      The more I think about it, the more this makes sense to me. The only difference between NCAA tournament games and the regular season games (in conference especially) are lack of familiarity with the opponent and a short turnaround time. It looks like there’s an inability to break down game film and put together a game plan quickly. That has to change.

      • Max Brady says:

        Brey & his staff found out on 3/17 who their opponent would be for a game on 3/22. Your short turnaround time argument doesn’t hold water.

        • Mike Coffey says:

          Yes. They didn’t get film until a day or two later. Three to four days to gameplan is much shorter than we usually see during the season, when all the opponents are known well in advance.

          In no way am I saying the inability to gameplan in a short timeframe is acceptable. I’m agreeing with Kevin that it’s a likely weakness and needs to be fixed.

    13. Might not believe it but Cooley is the problem—he’s a 6 or 7–no chance in the NBA–
      Notice how fast the other 4 are playing and he is “‘Tippy-Toeing ” up and down the floor !
      Need a board smasher to go anywhere today !!! I think Brey saw this, ergo all the time Cooley spent on the bench these last 10 or so games. Speed wins and he is just SLOW.

      • How does Jack Cooley’s speed explain all the losses in prior years? It’s a pattern that has existed far before Cooley stepped on campus.

    14. Every year Brey is guaranteed 15 wins – 10 from a weak non-conference schedule and another 5 playing the bottom feeders of the Big East so that of the remaining thirteen Big East conference games he can go 5-8, resulting in another 20 win season and above .500 win percentage in the Big East which gets him the NCAA invite. Once in the tournament he flames out, because he’s playing a real team that had to claw its way into the tournament and not a hand-picked non-conference patsy or a Rutgers/south florida/depaul/seton hall, etc. I’m not saying that every non-conference games has to be against top 10 teams, but maybe if he would actually play some real non-conference competition against teams that offer differenct match-ups he wouldln’t flame out every year in the tournament – or maybe we’d confirm that he’s really not that good of a coach and it’s time for him to move on.


    16. Captain Jack says:

      At some point Mr. Swarbrick has to decide if this is what he deems the ceiling for the mens basketball program. Coach Brey has returned them to a consistent team who regularly makes the tournament. During the late 80’s and 90’s we wished they could produce a team as consistent as this. Problem is that they have hit the proveribal wall. I think aside from maybe one win in a few of these NCAA Tournament games (see the Winthrop, Xavier, and possibly Old Dominion games) they have achieved basically what their talent says they should. They never seem to win the “toss up” opening weekend games but if they did they would clearly run into a much more talented second round opponent. Does anyone think if they did beat Iowa State they had any real chance to beat Ohio St? So its much more a talent issue then anything else. When the tourney games you can mark it down like clockwork every year Brey will say we are going in loose and wants his guys “to let it rip” but in reality his teams typically play the opposite—extremely timid and tight. He seems to truly act like he is happy to make the tourney and maybe thats because when he looks at his roster HE IS!!! It’s time for his recruiting efforts to jump up tremendously. They have established a winning program now but he still gets the same mediocre recruits. This has to change quick or the “one and done” Irish will be here to stay. Give him 3 more years to establish better recruits since we are making the move to the ACC but if the talent is the same 3 years from now I would cut bait regardless of if they make the tournament.

    17. Captain Jack says:

      In conclusion: if your unsure if its more an in game coaching or recruiting problem…You can actually make a very strong arguement that the class that is in their now is a downgrade over previous classes. Atkins is an avg ball handler with average shooting ability and only a moderate ability to penetrate. Grant, while much taller doesnt finish at the rim consistently enough and has a spotty jumpshot at best. Both are average defenders. Connoughton is a pretty good spot up shooter and an above average rebounder but a liability as a ball handler for his size and a bad defender. Cooley’s toughness was great a few years ago but he never developed one single post up move in 4 years. He is the slowest 6’7 player you will see down low and a below average defender. Whomever else you want to label as their 5th starter has sever limitations. Saying all that to say this—Its definitely a talent issue but since Coach Brey gets paid to coach and recruit so the problem still falls on him.

    18. ElkhartIrish says:

      Something is definitely wrong and Brey had better fix it or he will lose his job. Definite pattern in the last ten years. He has the talent.

    19. I’m also tired of hearing that we are at a recruiting disadvantage because “ND is a football school.” Lest we forget, one of the teams that has victimized us in the NCAA tourney in the recent past was Florida State, and I’m sure they hear the same type of negative recruiting tactics from other schools. That didn’t stop them from recruiting a more athletic team than we had, though.

      And being on the wrong end of an athleticism disparity, particularly against Florida State and Iowa State, leads me to think that these losses, sadly, were not flukes. I’m beginning to think that our regular-season success in recent years may have been misleading, perhaps, for two reasons. First, in the Big East as recently constituted, most teams had been guaranteed not to see a given opponent more than once per year. Second, we play an unconventional style of play by Big East standards. Those two factors lead us to be a difficult team to prepare for in the regular season. But in the first round of the NCAA tourney, with 4-5 days to prepare prior to the first game, and each game being essentially a one-game season — win or go home — it’s a different story.

      Sadly, as long as Brey is the coach, I don’t think anything will change. We’ll continue to win 20 or more games every season, record some nice regular-season upsets, then continue to exit early in the NCAA tourney every year.

    20. If Mike Brey could fix this, he already would have. It’s beyond his acumen. I see him at ND for 10 more years. ND wants a bball program to win enough, graduate all and no scandals. So it’s Mike Brey until he retires and they name a tree after him.

      You want good bball at ND, look to the McGraw.

    21. Absence of talent, unwillingness to defend, and complacency with 20+ wins and an NCAA birth. Who is responsible for all of the above? Is it the assistants or the head coach? Let’s face it, Brey is content to recruit “good kids” who are no better than average or below average college players but who will stay in school 4-5 years to graduate and over that time develop enough basketball IQ to win REGULAR SEASON games (which no one places much value in anyway.) But when it comes to tournament time, either Big East (NEVER in the finals) or NCAA (once and done), the Irish don’t have enough talent, particularly at the 4-5 position, and don’t DEFEND, either because of lack of athleticism or simply a lack of coaching. What happened at the end of the first half against ISU was a disgrace. I would not have allowed anyone that was on the court during those last 5 seconds to start the second half. Absolutely disgraceful. So not only do they not have enough talent, but they don’t play HARD. They’re a soft team. And that’s all about coaching. Brey is too complacent and his team is complacent. And unless ND wants to be mired in mediocrity FOREVER, we need to fire Brey and start with someone who can coach, motivate and recruit. I’d offer Brad Stevens whatever it takes to make the instate move to South Bend. And I’d tell him to feel free to recruit in Europe, Australia, Alaska and anywhere else he can find great players to come to Notre Dame, particularly 4’s and 5’s that can play. It’s time for a change. Since when is Notre Dame satisfied with average performance?

    22. It will be interesting to see how Brey and the Irish adapt to ACC play. Bill’s argument, above, about the number of conference and non-conference wins holds true in the ACC as well. Outside the top 2-3, it is a very mediocre league in which the NCAA committee does not give invitiations like they do the Big East. Finish 5th or 6th in the ACC and you’re not going to the Big Dance. This will be a wake up call to Irish fans. ND does not get invited this year, let alone a 7th seed, with the same record if it had played in the ACC.

    23. Oh, the whining and bitching, especially about Mike Brey! Sure, I’d like ND to go farther in the tournament, but let’s be honest: if the Irish had reached the elite eight or final four every year during the last, then these same cranks would be calling for his head for not winning it all. So, would winning a few more post-season games be enough to make you guys happy, or would your hopes be even more dashed? My guess is what everyone really wants is a reasonable chance of getting to the final four and winning a championship? If so, that is one huge task.

      If you want to propose an improvement for the Irish, then you have to know what you are dealing with, and too many here seem to think it’s a relative easy solution to find a new coach, recruit better players, and have them play better in the post-season. Come on! Look how hard it was in football, where ND has a comparative advantage and history. Basketball is an even tougher terrain, because the tournament (based on media and gamblers greed) has come to mean so much to everyone.

      As some people here have suggested, athletic talent is paramount in the tournament, first because all the other teams are of fairly high quality; second, because teams don’t have enough time or information to make plans work well; and third, because, in the crunch, hard work may not be enough if you don’t have an extra gear, at least for some key players.

      Notre Dame’s talent deficit should be clear just from listening to how so many of the announcers and commentaters regularly refer to the gap. It should be obvious from the accolades that Brey receives from fellow coaches. Why do people here assume they are so much smarter than the professionals?

      I tried to figure out a way to estimate teams’ relative athletic talent. Imperfect as it is, I chose two relatively simple calculations that have some intuitive logic: 1) how many players from a college are now members of the NBA; and 2) how valuable (in annual salary) does the NBA consider these assets. The data are from the ESPN website. Of course, this only measures really top players, but we know they are crucial in tournaments, and we can probably assume that second level players not quite making the NBA would be congruent in quality for top tier versus other tier teams.

      The results are not surprising, given my expectations, but they are astonishing anyway in how much they seem to say. The NBA has players originating from 111 colleges, a very large number, but the distributions are far from even. Sixty-nine of those schools have only one or two NBA members. Five have more than a dozen. The seventy produce a total of 94, while the top five alone produce 81. If we look at the values, the sixty-nine produce about 315.5 million in salary while the five produce 313.8 million, essentially the same. This is a massively skewed distribution.

      Is it relevant for NCAA tournament victory? Well surprise, surprise, but the top five are exactly the same five who have won the last five championships: Duke, Kentucky, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Kansas. If we expand the elite to the top nine rather than just five, then these nine have won 18 out of the last 22 championships (and they’ve also been the challenger in nine). These data should dispel any notions of parity or underdogs or “anyone can win” that infest media coverage to gin up excitement. Yes, with 65 games you will get upsets and surprises (that shouldn’t really be surprising), but to win the whole thing takes more than Cinderella wishes. It takes talent!

      Now where does ND fit on the talent scale? It’s quite dismal. ND has only two current NBA players, and they aren’t highly valued. Their combined value is under 650K, which is absolutely last among the 25 2-player group and puts it eighth last among all 111, just ahead of schools like Arkansas – LR, Blinn College, and Tennessee Tech and just behind Hofstra, Norfolk State, and San Bernardino.
      For direct comparison, look at some of ND’s current and future competitors:

      ND 2 $642,944
      Syracuse 4 $28,711,383
      Marquette 5 $29,408,786
      Connecticut 13 $76,047,203
      N Carolina 17 $41,793,582
      Duke 19 $80,994,780

      I don’t think the relevant question is why Mike Brey isn’t winning more games; it’s how does he manage to win any? He’s a damned miracle worker!

      If the goal is to make ND competitive with these other schools, and competitiveness requires more equalized talent, then how does ND do it? Look at the task at hand. Is it really practical to think that ND can recruit not just twenty Ben Hanbroughs, but all twenty averaging better than Ben, so that we’ll be even with Duke? Come on? And even if our goals are less lofty, what needs to change to get what we need. I don’t think it’s a change of coach.

      Think: how many NBA quality players will face ND academics and mediocre facilities in South Bend, have the qualifications to be accepted, and then choose ND over Duke or North Carolina, some other Catholic school in an urban area, or some small college where they can be a big fish with basketball as king? It’s Notre Dame – the school – that needs to make a full push and change if they want it, and I don’t think they do. Mike Brey is NOT the problem.

    24. Bill '86 says:

      One thing consistently poor yet immediately fixable is the lack of speed and hustle in the transition…ND should watch Izzo’s MSU team for a clinic on how it’s done.

    25. They’re saying exactly the same thing about Georgetown now. See this article in today’s Washington Post: How to fix Georgetown’s stunning string of March Madness disasters


      • Mike Coffey says:

        You do realize that the other sports you list all have different success factors than men’s basketball at ND, right?

        I’m not saying we can’t do better, because we can. But a blanket statement that “this olympic sport played by kids who fit ND’s current demographic has won it all, so why shouldn’t this other sport whose blue-chip athletes might need some convincing to play at ND?” doesn’t exactly work.

    27. Are JC’s a possibility? Can’t in football so why not?

      • Mike Coffey says:

        JC’s are allowed, but they need the proper math credits to transfer in. Most players at JC’s don’t take that kind of class.

    28. Joe Schaefer ND'59 says:

      Does anyone remember Danny Ainge running the court for BYU to win in the NCAA’s for BYU? How about Mike Giminski eating Bruce Flowers’ lunch in ’78? Can anyone explain how the ’78 team did not win it all? Point? Notre Dame has not had a good basketball coach since George Keogan and Moose Krause! Check it out.