A simple inbound play call so beautifully crystallizes the underappreciated genius of Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey.
OK, maybe to deem the play that freed up Martinas Geben for a look at the rim that resulted in two, game-winning free throws “simple” is an oversimplification. But Notre Dame took the floor out of a timeout with a design that had one of the most well-coached, disciplined teams in college basketball completely off-guard.
With attention rightfully on Bonzie Colson, Geben slipped toward the rim as Shockers parted from the lane like the Red Sea. Logic dictates a team gets the ball into the hands of its primary scoring weapon, or most accurate shooter if they’re not the same player.
Mike Brey drew up a play for neither — and it worked more effectively against a legitimate Final Four-caliber team than it would in a practice.
Geben’s free throws capped a 16-point comeback in the second half, earning Notre Dame its first Maui Invitational championship. That first could well be a prelude to another, Mike Brey’s first Final Four appearance.
The Fighting Irish have been close in recent years, reaching the Elite Eight in both 2015 and 2016. They went down to the wire with an undefeated Kentucky and a North Carolina team that came a Kris Jenkins buzzer beater away from winning the national championship.
As winners of the Maui Invitational, recent precedent suggests Notre Dame is bound for another Elite Eight appearance. Each of the tournament’s past four winners advanced at least that far in the ensuing NCAA Tournament.
Last year’s Maui champion, North Carolina, hoisted the hardware in Arizona come “One Shining Moment.” Could Mike Brey’s squad have similar make-up?
Wednesday’s win provides a solid cornerstone to build toward that goal. Wichita State looks the part of national title contender in its own right, dominating for the better part of the championship round without 2016-17 leading scorer and rebounder Markis McDuffie.
Wichita State will be a different team come March; but then, so will Notre Dame. Mike Brey’s teams have a knack for finishing seasons strong, last year going 10-3 from February on; knocking off Duke in the ACC Tournament in 2016 before going on a deep NCAA Tournament run; and winning the ACC Tournament in 2015.
Notre Dame’s propensity for improvement bodes well when the Irish are already off to an impressive start. In a similar vein, Brey-coached teams flourish on the offensive end, ranking no worse than No. 18 nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency over the past three seasons.
Coming into Wednesday’s game, the 2017-18 Irish ranked No. 3.
Brey’s teams move the ball effectively, avoid turnovers, and share the scoring wealth — even with a bonafide star, which this roster has in Bonzie Colson.
It’s Bonzie’s world, we’re just living in it…
The All-American senior & Wooden Award Candidate with 21pts & 9rebs.
— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) November 23, 2017
Notre Dame has the type of elite-level player in Colson often necessary to a Final Four, as well as a dangerous outside shooter in Mike Farrell. He’s shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point arc for the second time in as many seasons.
With execution and trust in a role player such as Geben to deliver in the final seconds against a Top 10 opponent, Mike Brey has the pieces to no longer be the best coach without a Final Four appearance to his name. After 2017-18, we may just refer to him as a great coach.