Mike Brey’s success at Notre Dame has been built on success and loyalty

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Last March, for the second straight year, Notre Dame saw their NCAA tournament run come to an end in the Elite 8.

Three months later – again, for the second straight season – the Irish watch the two best players from that Elite 8 team matriculate to the NBA. In 2015, it was Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton. In 2016, it was Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste. The Fighting Irish are coming off of back-to-back Elite Eight appearances after not making it that far since 1979. Nobody expected either of those teams to get to the Elite 8, and no one is predicting that this year’s Notre Dame team can make a similar run, either.

“We’ve lost four NBA players in two years, which is a major drain on talent,” head coach Mike Brey said. Notre Dame doesn’t recruit the way Duke does or Kentucky does. The Irish don’t reload with a handful of McDonald’s All-American and projected lottery picks. They don’t plan rebuilding their roster on an annual basis, but here we are.

And Brey?

He believes that he has built a program that will have sustained success because of the experience and leadership built into the roster.

“What [we] always hang [our] hat on, is we’ve been able to stay old and experienced. And we’ll start, in our exhibition game, two seniors, three juniors,” Brey said to NBCSports.com. “The guys have been a part of great runs in March and big wins. So it’s a pretty confident group. They know who they are. They know what’s worked for them before. I’ve been impressed by our progress.”

The recent stretch of success started because of the veteran leadership of Grant and Connaughton – two seniors who willed the Irish to the Elite Eight in 2015 after a run to win the ACC conference tournament.

“We had fabulous leadership with Connaughton and Grant when we won the ACC championship. That was a breakthrough group,” Brey said. “I give so much credit in the leadership of making us believe that we could do more than we’ve done in the past.”

That strong leadership continued last season with Jackson and Auguste as the Fighting Irish made the Elite Eight even after finishing 11-7 in the ACC and only being a No. 6 seed.

Since Notre Dame has lost so many NBA-caliber talents, expectations are down for the Irish this season, but Brey is seeing positive signs from his new trio of veterans.

SOUTH BEND, IN - DECEMBER 21: V.J. Beachem #3 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish jumps through the air for a dunk against the Youngstown State Penguins at Purcell Pavilion on December 21, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Youngstown State 87-78. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
V.J. Beachem (Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s 2016-17 roster is headlined by V.J. Beachem, Bonzie Colson and Steve Vasturia, three upperclassmen who had to be patient and wait their turn before thriving. This season’s likely starting center, Martinas Geben, only played sparingly the last two seasons behind Auguste. New point guard Matt Farrell is a junior who only started four games last season. Brey expects his new starters to log big minutes and be a factor because of their last few years of development.

This is the typical path of a Notre Dame basketball player. Grant, Connaughton, Jackson and Auguste were all touted recruits coming out of high school but none of them were go-to guys in their first year, even though Jackson was a McDonald’s All-American.

“You feel you have good momentum and I have a good climate,” Brey said. “Beachem and Vasturia and Colson have done a good job of leading. They rotate into the spots.”

The leadership of the older Notre Dame players every season has also been the key to keeping the roster mostly in place. For a school that doesn’t recruit one-and-done types of freshmen and rarely gets McDonald’s All-Americans, Notre Dame’s back-to-back Elite Eight appearances came as a pleasant surprise. Brey sees the success as a byproduct of what the program has been building over the last decade.

“The Elite 8s probably put our recognition and respect at yet another level,” Brey said. “There’s no question these returning guys think about getting past a regional final and getting to a Final Four. I think it’s my job to remind them on a weekly basis that you can’t make a run again in March unless you get access to March.”

Brey is expecting this new roster to have plenty of stability since the team is only adding three new pieces to the equation, but he also realizes that this is a tougher ACC to get through this season.

Since Notre Dame played in the old Big East that used to put double-digit teams in the NCAA tournament before the program transitioned into the ACC, Brey knows a little bit of what to expect from such a deep conference.

“I think playing in the Big East — playing through the buzzsaw that it was with 10 tournament teams — that’s helped my mindset of dealing with what the ACC has become,” Brey said.

“Getting access to March will be harder than it was for the two previous teams to get access to March. I’ve tried to let them know that so our day-to-day preparation matches that.”

While Notre Dame’s roster is filled with veterans who want to take the next step and make a Final Four, the team’s new coaching staff has also brought new energy to the program.

Ryan Humphrey and Ryan Ayers were brought on as assistant coaches while Eric Atkins was hired to be the team’s video coordinator. All three played for Brey at Notre Dame but the three never played with each other in college.

“I’ve been waiting for an opening to bring my guys back that played for me. And that’s so powerful,” Brey said.

“They’ve got great energy, they can certainly sell Notre Dame and talk about what it’s like to play for me. They’ve kept me energized.”

Notre Dame’s new coaching staff is fairly unique. Four of the five guys on staff played for Brey at Notre Dame. The only one who didn’t is associate head coach Rod Balanis, who has been on the Notre Dame staff for all 16 years Brey has been the head coach.

And given that all of the new additions were college athletes, all of them can still hoop at a very high level. Humphrey ended a successful European pro career in 2013 and went into coaching. Ayers graduated in 2009 and spent time playing in the D League and in Europe before turning to coaching and Atkins also played professionally and graduated recently enough to still be in very good basketball shape.

There was an added value as well: They could play against, and beat, the team’s most experienced players. They could push them as hard as any player on the current Notre Dame roster.

“I was telling Martinas Geben, ‘[Ryan Humphrey] is the only big man coach that can pin your shot on the board,'” Brey said. “Ryan Ayers can demonstrate the footwork of what we need from the perimeter.”

Once the new members of the staff were settled in, the pickup wars started happening. Atkins, Ayers and Humphrey were soon playing Beachem, Colson and Vasturia in intense games that still cause dispute around the Notre Dame basketball offices.

“I don’t know the result, but there’s a lot of junk being talked between both groups. We may have to get that game going one day and let the rest of the team and staff watch it,” Brey said.

Brey was able to replace trusted, long-time assistants with former players who could re-hash old drills and routines that had worked for Notre Dame in the past. Some of the drills brought up by the new staff were forgotten by Brey, who enthusiastically put them back into the rotation.

But more than that, it was proof that Brey’s methods work. One high school coach that has had multiple players sign with Brey told NBCSports.com that he’s the most loyal college coach he’s dealt with. Brey going to give his guys the shot he promises them on the recruiting trail. Veterans are going to play over the freshmen until the freshmen earn their minutes.

That commitment to the Notre Dame family is why Brey has former players coming back to coach with him.

And it’s why he’s able to, as he puts it, “stay old.”

Notre Dame basketball players are willing to accept a role, a redshirt and limited minutes early in their career because they know it will pay off at the end of it.

That payoff?

Back-to-back Elite 8s.

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

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STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.


Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.


Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.

No. 12 Iowa State holds on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

AMES, Iowa – Jaren Holmes matched his season high with 23 points as No. 12 Iowa State held on to beat No. 5 Kansas State 80-76 on Tuesday night.

The Cyclones (15-4, 6-2 Big 12) moved into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with the Wildcats and Texas.

Gabe Kalscheur added 19 points for Iowa State. Osun Osunniyi finished with 16.

Markquis Nowell led Kansas State (17-3, 6-2) with 23 points.

A 3-pointer from Holmes gave Iowa State a 59-49 advantage with 8:12 remaining. Kansas State responded with a 10-1 run to trim the margin to 60-59.

Caleb Grill’s 3-pointer steadied the Cyclones and pushed the lead back to 63-59 with five minutes left.

Free throws by Osunniyi, Grill and Holmes sealed the victory in the final 24 seconds.

The first half featured eight lead changes and ended with Kansas State up 33-31.

A 3-pointer by Kalscheur ignited an early 9-0 run for the Cyclones and helped them build a 19-14 lead. Iowa State made just one of nine 3-point tries in the first 20 minutes.


Kansas State was trying to extend its best start to a season since 1961-62.

Iowa State improved to 11-0 at home. The Cyclones have not lost back-to-back games this season.


Kansas State hosts Florida on Saturday as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

Iowa State travels to Missouri on Saturday.

Georgetown snaps 29-game conference losing streak

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WASHINGTON – Primo Spears scored 21 points and Georgetown snapped a 29-game conference losing streak with an 81-76 victory over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Georgetown (6-15, 1-9) won its first Big East game since March 13, 2021, ending the longest skid in the history of the conference. The Hoyas also ended a 10-game losing streak this season.

Spears also contributed six assists for the Hoyas. Akok Akok scored 12 points and added six rebounds and four blocks and Brandon Murray recorded 12 points.

Umoja Gibson led the Blue Demons (9-12, 3-7) in scoring, finishing with 24 points, four assists and three steals. Javan Johnson added 13 points.

Spears scored nine points in the first half and Georgetown went into the break trailing 37-36. Georgetown used a 10-0 run in the second half to build a 12-point lead at 75-63 with 1:39 remaining.

Nance scores 21 as North Carolina survives Syracuse, 72-68

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Pete Nance scored 21 points, capped by a dunk with 19 seconds left that put North Carolina in front for good as the Tar Heels pulled out a hard-fought, 72-68 battle with Syracuse on Tuesday night.

Joe Girard hit from beyond the arc to put Syracuse up, 68-66 with 1:28 left, but after Nance hit the first of two free throws to get North Carolina within one, he missed the second free throw and in the scramble to gather in the rebound, the ball caromed toward the end line and Girard dove to save it. Instead, he flicked the ball right to Nance, who dunked for the lead.

Judah Mintz tried to drive the lane for a go-ahead layup but was called for an offensive foul that was upgraded to a flagrant foul. North Carolina took possession and Caleb Love converted three straight free throws to put the game away.

Armando Bacot scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds with four assists for North Carolina (15-6, 7-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Love finished with 15 points and five assists.

Girard hit 4 of 9 from beyond the arc and finished with 18 points to lead Syracuse (13-8, 6-4). Mintz scored 17 points and had three steals and Chris Bell hit 3 of 5 from deep and finished with 15 points.

North Carolina has a week off before playing host to Pitt on Feb. 1. Syracuse plays at Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Green Bay fires Will Ryan after 11th straight loss

Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay fired Will Ryan three days after the Phoenix suffered their 11th consecutive loss.

Ryan, the son of former Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, posted a 15-61 record in 2 1/2 seasons. Freddie Owens, who had been an assistant coach on Ryan’s staff, will be interim head coach for the rest of the season.

“UW-Green Bay is committed to continuing its legacy as an outstanding Division I athletics program in the future, and Phoenix men’s basketball needs to help lead the way as we work to elevate all of our programs and be a shining light for this region and beyond,” athletic director Josh Moon said in a news release announcing the move.

Moon thanked Ryan and his family for their contributions to the program and said that “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Stadium first reported Ryan’s firing.

Green Bay dropped to 2-19 overall and 1-9 in the Horizon League with a 72-38 home loss to Robert Morris.

Ryan was hired by Green Bay after going 14-13 in his lone season as the head coach at Division II program Wheeling (West Virginia). Green Bay went 8-17 in Ryan’s debut season and finished 5-25 last year.

Ryan had taken over for Linc Darner, who went 92-80 and posted a winning record in four of his five seasons.