It is a program with a somewhat recent history of NCAA Tournament failures, with a coach who often was questioned by his fan base whether he was capable of leading his club to more than just an invitation to the Big Dance.

It is a script familiar to fans of coach Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes basketball program. This plot, however, also fit the program at Notre Dame in recent years.

As the Buffs prepare for their historic first meeting against the Fighting Irish Monday night in Brooklyn in the penultimate game of the Legends Classic (5 p.m. MST, ESPN2), coach Mike Brey's program offers a glimpse of the possibilities if Boyle and his staff can continue to persevere through NCAA Tournament heartbreak.

Not long ago Notre Dame endured the same sort of early-departure woes that recently have afflicted the Buffs in the NCAA Tournament. Yet the Irish have hit the floor this season on the heels of consecutive appearances in the Elite Eight, finally shedding that frustration to produce the best back-to-back postseason runs in the program's history.

"Mike Brey, I've got a lot of respect for him. He's done a great job there," Boyle said. "I'm sure he's had multiple opportunities to leave Notre Dame and go elsewhere, but he hasn't. He's stayed there and he's built something and they are very well respected nationally.

"Without a doubt, it's a program we can look to. My thing is you keep knocking on the door, just keep knocking on the door...you don't know when you're going to break through."


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Brey has become an institution in South Bend, Ind., taking over the Notre Dame program before the 2000-01 season and winning NCAA Tournament games in each of his first three seasons. That run culminated in a Sweet 16 berth in 2003.

Afterward, though, the Irish fell into the good-but-not-great category often ascribed to the Buffs. Between 2004 and 2014, Notre Dame made six NCAA Tournament appearances but advanced out of the first round just twice, often losing early as the higher seed. That changed the past two years, with current NBA guards Jerian Grant and Demetrius Jackson Jr. leading the program into the national quarterfinals in consecutive years — the best the program has done in the Big Dance since the Irish's lone Final Four berth in 1978.

It is a template that should instill faith in backers of the Buffaloes, even if three of the four NCAA Tournament appearances CU has made in the past five seasons have ended in the first round. CU's director of player development, Sean Kearney, spent a decade on Brey's staff and experienced that run of postseason frustration with the Irish. To him, the similarities between the programs are striking.

"They've had talented guys, but they don't have their pick in recruiting of every top guy," Kearney said. "They find guys that fit their program and fit they're system well, and they coach the hell out of them. Over the course of time you have to really recruit well, and our staff has done that and more. We're excited about the class that will come into us next fall.

"I think one of the things (Brey) has been able to do as well as anybody is, in his own phrase, 'How do we stay old and have a veteran group?' I think that really helps their culture."

While the ND football program certainly works from a different platform, the basketball program features similar profile to CU.

Typically top-20, one-and-done type talents don't migrate to Boulder or South Bend. Strong academics are required in recruit evaluations, as is strong character. Notre Dame often works in the background of the Atlantic Coast Conference behind traditional powers North Carolina and Duke, and CU does the same behind Arizona and UCLA in the Pac-12.

However, Notre Dame does have a national following that surely will represent well Monday at the Barclay's Center.

"Even in basketball, there's family coast to coast that revere that place. So it puts them in a little bit of a different category," Boyle said. "But the bottom line is yeah, they have to get that next-level guy just like we have to get that next-level guy. We're all trying to do the same thing."

Pat Rooney: rooneyp@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/prooney07