Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey shakes hands with Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski before their teams' NCAA Tournament second-round game in 2002 in Greenville, S.C.

Irish In The ACC: Men's Basketball

July 8, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the month of July, and Fighting Irish Digital Media are featuring a multimedia series entitled “Irish in the ACC,” giving Notre Dame fans a sneak peek at some of what they can expect in the coming days, weeks and years as a member of the ACC through the eyes of each of the various Fighting Irish sports that will compete in the conference. Today, we take a look at the Notre Dame men’s basketball program and its transition into what will be the most powerful conference in the history of the sport.

by Bernadette Cafarelli, Assistant Athletics Director/Athletics Media Relations Director

Welcome home.

Those two simple words have greeted Notre Dame men’s basketball coach Mike Brey ever since it was announced last September that the Irish would be moving most of its sports programs to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Whether it has been talking to an ACC staff member or doing a simple radio interview with a station in the Mid-Atlantic or North Carolina regions, that has been the typical first introduction for the 14-year veteran of the Notre Dame sidelines.

Perhaps no person is better prepared to navigate the Irish basketball program into its new basketball conference home than Brey. A Rockville, Md., native, he grew up a Maryland Terrapin basketball fan and his first coaching job in the collegiate ranks was as an assistant coach at Duke for eight seasons.

From 1987-88, he helped Blue Devil head coach Mike Krzyzewski take his teams to six NCAA Final Fours and four national title games while winning back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992. The Blue Devils posted a sterling 216-65 record for a 76.8 winning percentage during his tenure at the school. Brey recruited and worked daily with four of the greatest players in that program’s history — Danny Ferry, Christian Laettner , Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill.

For eight years, Brey and his wife, Tish, called Durham, N.C., home. It’s where the couple’s two children, Kyle and Callie, were born. And it is where Brey began to craft his head-coaching skills, learning from a Hall of Fame coach, who took a chance on a young junior varsity coach at DeMatha High School with no collegiate coaching experience, and offered him a position on his coaching staff. Brey’s experience under college basketball’s all-time winningest coach helped shape him into the coach he is today and gain appreciation for the tradition-filled conference.

In some ways, Brey’s career has almost come full circle since last fall’s announcement. As Notre Dame alumni and fans get used to the idea of the Irish playing in the ACC, in many ways, it’s even harder for Brey to fathom as well. As he has pointed out on many occasions, never in his wildest dreams could he have imagined himself “coaching in the ACC at Notre Dame.”

But the move to what arguably now is the nation’s premier and deepest basketball conference surely will come with somewhat of a learning curve for him and his Irish team. Under Brey, Notre Dame enjoyed success in the BIG EAST Conference, with his teams compiling a 136-84 (.618) winning percentage in regular-season league play, a far cry from the first five seasons when the Irish won just over 33 percent of their contests.

From his ACC roots, Brey grew to become a “BIG EAST guy.” A three-time BIG EAST coach-of-the-year honoree, he came to appreciate the grueling competition and “wars” of the past 13 seasons, but still pinches himself when fully comprehending the fact that he ranks fourth on the BIG EAST all-time career wins list behind Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun and Georgetown’s John Thompson with 146 total wins (including both regular-season and tournament games).

But so much for memories, as Brey and Notre Dame begin writing a new chapter in the program’s 108-year history in 2013-14. The Irish certainly will see familiar foes, with Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining the ACC party this season and Louisville next year in 2014-15.

Among ACC members that comprised the league this past season, Notre Dame has played all but one team (Clemson) at least once. The most frequent opponents to dot the Irish schedules through the years have been Boston College (11-10 all-time, although the Notre Dame has yet to face the Eagles since their departure to the ACC), Duke (2-19 all-time), Maryland (10-9 all-time) and North Carolina (4-16 all-time).

In 18 seasons as a head coach, Brey owns a 32-41 record all-time (32-36 at Notre Dame and 0-5 at Delaware) against teams that will eventually comprise league membership. Longtime member Maryland will leave the league following the upcoming ’13-’14 school year and be replaced by Louisville.

Founded in 1953, the ACC celebrated it 60th men’s basketball tournament in March with Miami capturing the school first-ever crown as the Hurricanes defeated North Carolina, 87-77 in the title game. Four teams — Duke, Miami, North Carolina and North Carolina State — earned NCAA tournament berths. But with the addition of the Irish, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville, that number will likely increase to seven or more in subsequent seasons when the bids are awarded annually each March.

Basketball has been the lifeblood and hallmark of a conference steeped in tradition. The ACC is the winningest conference in NCAA Tournament history with 12 national titles and a 370-192 overall record (good for a 65.8 winning percentage). During the past 12 years (2001-12), the ACC tops all conferences with five national titles. Since 1981, the ACC’s 10 NCAA crowns are three more than any other conference. Four different ACC teams have won 12 national titles and the conference has had at least one team reach the NCAA Final Four in 19 of the past 27 years.

Among the top eight RPI conferences in ’12-’13, the ACC had the most wins (12) and the highest winning percentage (.500) against top 50 RPI non-conference opponents.

Duke, which lost in the regional final to eventual national champion Louisville, finished this past season ranked in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll for an ACC-record 113 consecutive weeks (the second-longest streak in NCAA history). The last time the Blue Devils were not ranked in the AP Top 10 was in the Nov. 19 poll of 2007.

The ACC will feature four Hall of Fame coaches — Krzyzewski, Boeheim, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Louisville’s Rick Pitino (who is slated for induction this fall). Kryzewski leads all active head coaches with 82 NCAA Tournament wins, while Williams is second with 62, Boeheim is third with 52 and Pitino is fourth with 48.

Since 1985, the ACC has the most NCAA Tournament wins (264), best NCAA winning percentage (.661), most Sweet 16 (73) and regional final appearances (39) and more trips to the Final Four (24) than any other conference in the country.

Daunting numbers to say the least, but ones that has Brey energized for the challenges that await him and his team during the upcoming season. Home dates against Duke and North Carolina will undoubtedly have Purcell Pavilion at the Joyce Center rocking. ACC foes heading to South Bend should take note as the Irish own a sterling 117-9 (.929) record at home since 2006-07, which ranks as the nation’s second-best home winning percentage behind only Kansas (.960).

Notre Dame’s ACC conference schedule will feature an 18-game conference slate among its 14 member schools. Along with home-and-away dates with “partner schools” Boston College and Georgia Tech, the Irish will play both North Carolina and Virginia twice during the season.

Notre Dame also will play host to Clemson, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, while making road swings to Florida State, Maryland, Miami, Syracuse and Wake Forest.

Once again, Brey has returning a veteran squad that will lead the Irish into what will certainly be a watershed year in the program’s history. With four returning starters from last year’s squad that finished 25-10, Brey also has the luxury of coaching a team that has the experience of playing in big games.

So, Mike Brey, welcome back to the ACC. Welcome home.

— ND —