By: MIKE McCURRY NEW YORK—Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching tree is blooming this spring.Northwestern’s Chris Collins is on the precipice of taking the Wildcats dancing for the first time in program history. Steve Wojciechowski has Marquette in good position to snap their three-year NCAA Tournament drought. And Mike Brey, who will go head-to-head against Krzyzewski on Saturday when Notre Dame plays Duke in the ACC Tournament final (9:00, ESPN), continues to prove his status as one of college basketball’s greatest coaches, particularly in winner-take-all scenarios. Brey, an assistant under Coach K at Duke for eight seasons spanning 1987-1995—a run consisting of six Final Fours and back-to-back national championships—has had his mentor’s number, winning five of seven meetings against his former boss since Notre Dame joined the ACC for the start of the 2013-14 season. Should the Fighting Irish prevail on Saturday, it will make three straight years that they eliminated Duke in the ACC Tournament. Brey downplayed his personal success in the teacher-versus-pupil setting. “I think the matchups were good, and our guys have always been very excited to play the Duke program,” said Brey, fresh off a 77-73 win versus Florida State in Friday’s semifinal that improved him to 12-3 in postseason elimination games over the past three years. Senior V.J. Beachem concurred, implying that Notre Dame carries a little more fire in their belly when Duke is occupying the adjoining bench. “When you look at the different matchups in the past, I think we might take it a little more personal,” Beachem said. Duke took this year’s lone regular-season meeting against Notre Dame, an 84-74 victory in South Bend on January 30th. Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, and Luke Kennard combined for an efficient 56 points, six less than in Friday’s come-from-behind semifinal victory over archrival North Carolina. Brey, an execution maven in his own right, is well aware of Duke’s electric offense, which is ranked 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency. The only coach to advance to the Elite 8 in each of the past two seasons, Brey believes Notre Dame must put up at least 77 points in order to have a chance at winning a second ACC Tournament championship in three years.
“You’re not stopping them,” Brey said of Duke. “They’re a gifted offensive team. We’ve got to put numbers on the board.” Of course, part of Duke’s offensive firepower can be attributed to their abundance of prospective NBA players. According to Draft Express, the Blue Devils account for four of the top-40 projected selections in the 2017 NBA Draft in Tatum (4th overall), Kennard (20th), Harry Giles (25th), and Allen (39th), plus two first-rounders in the 2018 Draft in Frank Jackson (20th) and Marques Bolden (21st). Notre Dame, on the other hand, has just one guy forecasted to be picked in either of the two upcoming drafts: V.J. Beachem, pegged to go 48th this June. That discrepancy certainly factors into Duke being perceived as the consensus favorite to cut down the Barclays Center’s nets despite the Fighting Irish having won eight of their last nine games and Brey owning Krzyzewski of late. “Now, because we don’t have anybody on Chad Ford’s big board, is that why were overlooked?” Brey hypothesized, referring to ESPN’s NBA Insider. “I think so.” This isn’t the first time Brey has alluded to potential-laden yet unfledged youngsters stealing the spotlight from his veteran-oriented roster. Back in December, he subtly threw some shade at Krzyzewski and the media for aggrandizing Giles’ recovery from a left knee procedure in October.
Coach Brey had to borrow a '15 ACC title ring to make a point after the game.— Notre Dame MBB (@NDmbb) March 11, 2017
There is another one in reach tomorrow night. pic.twitter.com/JhMYdkNQs8
It’s funny how everything—and I do mean everything—comes full circle. Not only has Giles emerged as Duke’s X-factor, stemming from consecutive encouraging performances in his last two games, but there’s also Brey the protégé seeking to once again take out his confidant and professor in Coach K. Photo: USA Today Sports Follow Mike on Twitter Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter And like ZAGS on Facebook
Mike Brey off the top rope!!! pic.twitter.com/NjDwPnGony— Jim Weber (@JimMWeber) December 9, 2016