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Well we've had enough practice for about three weeks of games. Our guys are definitely improving, getting better and looking forward to the opening of March Madness. We're gonna leave tomorrow about 1 o'clock and head out West and enjoy Seattle.
On being shipped out West
We really did want to go West. We're excited about it. We went West to Portland the last time around and we had a great trip. We won't be going to Phoenix next, but hopefully, if we get lucky, we'll come home and then go to Syracuse.
Had you seen UC Irvine before the draw?
Well I didn't, but the video guys had. They were one of five or six teams we were looking at that could potentially be that type of a seed if we were a 4/5.
What are your impressions of Irvine?
Well they shoot it very well, obviously they can make the three, they have the tallest player in college basketball at 7'6 and he's terrific rim protector, they have a terrific power forward, and they're certainly a formidable opponent.
On 7'6 Mamadou Ndiaye
Well if he gets close to the basket, he's gonna score. Obviously at that size he's probably going to dunk without jumping. He's fairly mobile. He doesn't play a lot of minutes, but that have a 7'2 guy that backs him up, and they have another 6'10 guy. So they have great size, great shooting. Really good guard play, good wing play and a terrific power forward.
On practice and potentially making lineup changes
Well we probably could make some changes. It all depended on who was our matchup. If we were playing a small outfit we could have played Montrezl a lot at the 5 and Jaylen at the 4. We've had a lot of things that we could do with this time off. But now with the size of their players, we probably wouldn't go in that direction.
Have they seen the type of pressure you'll bring?
I don't know the league too well, I just have studied them.
Have you seen anybody apply comparable pressure to them?
I don't think comparable, but I've seen pressure. Yeah.
On March Madness
I just think it's the most exciting few weeks in all of sports. The Super Bowl's obviously very big, but it's just one game. This is so many games, and the excitement just mounts with each round of games. This is a great time of year for everybody: followers of college basketball, the fans, media, gamblers ... you know, every degenerate around.
Why did you want to go West?
I just wanted to get away from you. No, I felt that -- you know, every team is different, and this team just for some reason got very distracted around family and friends. I don't know why, I couldn't figure it out. This team more than any other I've coaches in my 40 years just got very distracted. Maybe it's the world of social media -- they listen to Twitter and the fans. I don't know. But this team more than any other just got distracted. Maybe it's the fact that they're so young. I'm not sure, but I just wanted to get away.
How is the chemistry on this team?
It's great. It's great now.
Has it gotten better over the course of the year?
I think they just had to get to know each other. I had to cut out the trash talking. I had to cut out the belittling of younger players.
Do you feel good about your team going into the tournament?
I feel great. I thought the last two weeks of the season we played really good basketball. We played a great half against North Carolina. There's two holes that we've fallen into when we lose. Challenged shots. Like I've said many, many times, on average, we've been 22 percent on challenged shots. This year we're 8 percent. At the end of that game, 8 out of the last 12 shots that we took were challenged shots. That's why we went into a drought. The other thing is that when we give up offensive rebounds, we play very poorly. So those are the two things we've really spent a lot of time working on.
On having a talk with Chinanu
I didn't really talk to him as much as I just talked to the team about having to get more production out of this 5 spot. I said I don't expect you to hit jump shots, I expect you to get put-backs off offensive rebounds. I just told Chinanu and all the players that I don't expect you to play two games in a trapping system where you get no blocked shots.
On Mangok's growing confidence
Mangok and Q give us the most consistent effort in practice. Along with Terry, Terry's very good also.
On Wayne playing better towards the end of the year
I really think the whole team's playing really well. I like the way everyone's playing right now. Losing to Notre Dame is no disgrace, and losing to North Carolina when they got hot in the tournament is no -- you know we played good enough to beat Carolina. I knew that Notre Dame would be a very tough matchup for us. Anytime you put 4 shooters and you play small against a team like us where it's difficult for some of our bigs to get out on them .... it's a poor matchup.
With numerous people picking you to win your first game, how far do you let yourself look ahead?
When you say "numerous people," people who know what they're talking about?
Well look, I've been an analyst, and sometimes you have to be a contrarian to the rest of the group, and sometimes you have to give your opinion. You know, they're never right. If they're right 50 percent of the time it's a lot, it's very difficult. The only sure thing when looking at this as an analyst myself is that Kentucky's in a league of their own. Anybody who's not in Kentucky's region is very happy, including myself. And anybody else can be beat.
So when I look at our bracket, I don't necessarily think it's good, I don't necessarily think it's bad. I think Irvine is a very tough opening round matchup. Then you go against a style that is like -- Northern Iowa is almost a carbon copy of Virginia, they're almost identical in the way they play offense and defense. Then you have Wyoming, who probably is one of the best defensive teams in the country.
So is it an ideal matchup? Probably not, but we're used to it from playing Virginia twice and some of the other teams. And then with Irvine, we know what we're up against. I don't think it's an ideal matchup, but I don't think there is such a thing.
I'll give you an example: someone said to me, Notre Dame is an ideal matchup for Kentucky. And he knew what he was talking about. I said, "that's the worst matchup for Notre Dame - Kentucky." So everybody has a difference of opinion in terms of analyzing matchups.
On how you scout ahead in the tournament
We'll study Northern Iowa and Wyoming all week long, but the players will focus in on Irvine.
On the players being in a routine
Yeah, they pretty much know what to expect like clockwork by now at this time of the season.
On the importance of understanding his style at this point in the season
Yeah like I said, we're very pleased with where we are right now. As long as we don't take challenged shots, we're gonna move the ball, take good shots and shoot a decent percentage. The more we shoot a decent percentage the more we're going to be able to get our pressure on, and good things will happen.
On Quentin Snider
I think Quentin's playing good basketball. He's getting the most out of his opportunity and making other people better. He's improving his defense.
I may have to use David Levitch going forward because we're gonna see some zones and he's very good at penetrating zones, very good at making shots. May have to play him a little bit. Irvine's mostly a zone team.
What do you like about the Trez/Jaylen Johnson combo in practice?
I like the way Jaylen's playing. I don't necessarily like them as a combination, I like the way Jaylen's playing right now. He's been very active in practice. Like I've said, Jaylen and Matz have probably improved the most out of all the freshmen, but they also had the furthest to come.
Has a light gone on with Jaylen?
I just think he's never been in great shape in his life, and he's finally getting into shape.
What does this team need most from Terry?
Just stay away from challenged shots.
Does he know when he's taking a challenged shot?
Yeah. He definitely knows it the next day. When he watches film. We show them the percentages. Sometimes there's nothing you can do about it, when the clock's winding down, but that's only about 10-15 percent of the time. I told him he's got to pass the ball more inside. He takes D-Wade to a new level because he falls down like D-Wade does every time too.
Could the possibility of playing in Seattle kickstart Shaqquan?
I don't think that has anything to do with it, because Shaqquan's not gonna play much in Seattle. He's been out hurt this week, and he's just now coming back. He's turning the ball over a lot, so I don't expect him to change a lot just because he's going home. I think Shaqquan's problem is physical weakness, it's turning the ball over too much, it's not because he's home sick.
What separates Kentucky from everyone else? Who's closest to them?
Well, they're undefeated. Kentucky can beat you so many different ways. Probably the best team they've played against is their second team. There are so many things at his disposal. For instance, if the backcourt isn't playing well, the twins, he comes with a lottery pick and one of the premier freshman point guards in the nation. God forbid if somebody doesn't attempt to block a shot or offensive rebound, they're coming out of the game and some other aircraft carrier is coming in. So he's got that luxury of being able to substitute based on effort, based on play. And they have a unique thing in that they have a great transition game, they pass and shoot it well, and then their third option that nobody has stopped all year is their offensive rebounding. Nobody's been able to keep them the offensive glass, and that's why they're undefeated.
That being said, what's it gonna take to beat them and who can beat them? Well there are a lot of opinions to that. My own personal opinion is that Wisconsin is probably the closest to that because of their size and their shooting ability, their style of play. But, that being said, I think it's gonna take a (1985) Villanova performance to beat them and Kentucky's gonna have to not play well. Villanova was almost perfect that night against Georgetown, and it's gonna take a Villanova-type performance and Kentucky not to play well, because Kentucky's not played well and shot poorly before and still won because of their offensive rebounding and their post game. They don't have a weakness. Their post game is awesome. Their bench is awesome. They're very well-drilled at every fundamental. So it's going to take a team playing a perfect game to beat them. And that's what it would take to beat Georgetown that year.
What would you tell Steve (Masiello) about playing them?
I don't think .... I think Steve just has to hope for the best. Have a good time in Louisville ... if he gets by Hampton, obviously.
What about this year's Villanova team?
They're a great team. This is one of Jay's better teams. They're different than a Kentucky or a Wisconsin. They front the post. They rely on their quickness. They rely on great perimeter play, great ballhandling, great defense. They win most 50/050 balls because of their quickness. So they're a different type of basketball team, but they're very effective.
On Irvine having two player shooting better than 45 percent from three
They're great shooters, and they release it quick. Obviously if you give help when they throw it inside, they're gonna throw it outside and they're gonna get shots. That's why they're in the tournament, because they shoot the three like that. And their power forward's great.
How did you narrow down the group of teams you thought you might play?
Well you try to figure out where you're going to be. We thought there was about an 80 percent chance we were gonna be a 4 seed and about a 20 percent chance we'd be a 5. So we looked at it based on calculations, and Lunardi, and all the people that give you information on teams that might play a 4 or 5 seed. Most of the time it's not a difficult process to figure out the pool of teams that you might play.
How has the tournament changed?
Because of social media, it's so gigantic. I think there are more people interested in this time of year. Everybody's interested, everybody's gonna fill out a bracket, everybody's gonna try to win a contest. So everybody's involved now.
I always tell a funny story - I was in the pros at the time, I was with the Knicks, and all the guys on the team were filling out their brackets -- we had a pool, and the way it worked was, say a 12 is playing a 5, if the 12 wins you get 12 points, if the 5 wins you get 5 points, so it's total points at the end. This friend of my wife's, Lillian, had this cousin, I think his name was Luigi. He had just moved over here from Italy. It's when Valparaiso got hot, and he was the only one who picked Valparaiso. He wound up winning $3,000 on this pool because he thought Valparaiso was an Italian university.
So there are so many naive people in this world who get involved in this and they become fans of March Madness because there are so many upsets, so many buzzer-beaters, so many exciting things. I just remember so many exciting times at Providence and Kentucky and Louisville. There are so many things that are exciting. You know, you're down 20 points, and West Virginia's made 11 threes, and you think you have no shot and you're walking up that pit, and it's a big steep walk, and you only have 6 1/2 players because Otis has a stress fracture, you think you're dead, you can't play zone anymore, you only played zone the last two months, what do you do? And then you come back and win it. You think back on those moments and say wow, it's just incredible.
Or against Austin Peay. We're getting killed and they carry the guy off the foul line, he misses two, we call timeout, get the play and we win it. Austin Peay is out, and we go on to the Final Four. So there are so many moments that are incredible. Incredible comebacks.
And then there are different types of moments. Like in '96 when we were 27 point favorites and God forbid if anybody comes within 16 points of you, everybody thinks you're gonna lose. And then stress and the pressure just mounts.
There are so many different emotions that make this tournament fun, looking back on it. You always hope there's more moments happening. Every team out there -- you know, there's no question that right now Manhattan is dreaming of that perfect game where they could beat Kentucky -- if they get by Hampton. Everybody's thinking of that, and that's what makes it so great. Somebody's gonna step up, somebody's gonna be Cinderella, and somebody's going to have those moments of a lifetime.
Will a 16 ever beat a 1?
Yeah, it's gonna happen. It's difficult, but it's going to happen because somebody can get hot, somebody can have that type of game. We all witnessed the Miracle on Ice with the young kids in the Olympics. If that can happen, anything can happen in sports.
I remember losing to John Thompson by 30-something points in the last game of the year in the Big East Tournament semifinals. Right before that we'd lost by 25, 30 points at his place. And we come to Louisville, and who do we have to play? Georgetown. And it was never a game. We led by 20 at halftime, and I think won by 15. I walked out not believing what had just happened. So you get all those moments, and sometimes there's no rhyme or reason for any of it.
Even when we lost to Morehead in the first round. You know, everyone was saying shock, shock, shock. I was saying, what's wrong with these Louisville fans, don't you know how good Kenneth Faried is? And you didn't. I did, because I studied every film and thought he was the best rebounder in college basketball. And they had a terrific two guard and we had Preston Knowles go out with a broken ankle, and everyone was in shock. Well if you know anything about basketball, it wasn't a shock.
How different is it flying under the radar as opposed to being a heavy favorite like 2 years ago?
The only time I ever got nervous was the first game. The first game always bothers me. Any time in the tournament, I'm bothered by the first game. You don't know your team's gonna come out, you don't know what to expect. That bothers me. After the first game, I have a blast. I just get caught up in the emotion of it all and the passion of it all. But the first game always bother you, because you just don't know if you're gonna have jitters or not, you don't know what to expect.
On saying he was happy they lost in the '96 SEC championship game
Well I didn't intentionally lose. Benching Antoine Walker -- I was hoping we would have some adversity at that point, because he really didn't deserve to be benched, but I did.
I think what John has done is exactly what should be done, because you don't want to lose with that team, because you have a shot at history to do something nobody's ever done in the game. But I was pleased at that time because I thought we were beating the hell out of people by so many points that we just needed to stay hungry and humble, so that loss was good for us. And then we went on and played great from that point on.
Is there an unusual burden on the No. 1 overall seed?
Well they're gonna ask a lot of questions about do you think a 16 could beat a 1. No, I don't think there's a big burden. You're supposed to win, and that's the burden, but I think what you get by the first round, you're fine. It's just getting by the first round for everybody -- whether you're a 1 seed, 12 seed, 5 seed -- you just want to get by that first round. You know when you're a 3-7 seed, you know that first round game's gonna be tough.
Did you watch "I Hate Christian Laettner?"
They asked me to be part of it, and I said no, because I don't hate Christian Laettner. My wife showed me a few clips of "the stomp" on her phone, and he would've been thrown out of the game today, because they would've gone to the monitor. But I don't hate the guy. Never hated him. I think he's one of the greatest college basketball players of all-time.
Now I will say I hate the fans that keep reminding me of that moment.
Do you tell your guys to watch or not watch other tournament games?
I don't tell them either way. I watch every game because I'm a big fan of March Madness. I love the pros. Always loved the pros because I grew up a pro guy, not a college guy. I got caught up in it all the time. People used to ask if I missed college. I never missed college in the pros, except March Madness. I always missed that time of the year. It's so special for the kids, so special for the fans, the pageantry's got great. Even at the ACC Tournament, they did something interesting, they played North Carolina's intro and our intro, which is kind of cool.
So it's just an unbelievable time of the year. You've got guys on ESPN 24 hours a day, saying the same things, saying their picks, and everybody's excited. I never really paid much attention to anyone's opinion it, because I know it's so difficult to figure out, especially in the first round. You're going to see things you're not expecting in the first round, because jitters come into play. Some of these kids -- and it surprises you, the better players are the ones who get the jitters.
You know with guys like Matz and Anas -- he's running through the square in Egypt hoping he's alive, he's not worried about March Madness. He was in a war-torn country at a time where it was pretty bad. Now Matz is different, there's not that type of problems in Norway, and Egypt's settled down today. But he (Anas) had a very close cousin killed three weeks ago in the anniversary of something that happened. He had a very close cousin die going across the square. So this is a young man whose seen it all, so he's not going to be nervous. But good players get nervous. They know they're on that big stage, and they want to perform personally and for their team.
Do you ever notice how much Anas smiles when he's in the game?
Yeah. I don't think he minds it at all. He thinks this is just fun. He doesn't know what we're going through. When he gets pushed underneath the rim and doesn't rebound, he doesn't understand -- I'm smiling at him too.
On former coaches being in the tournament
Yeah, I think Marvin (Menzies) has now gone to four straight tournaments. Mick Cronin, who's not coaching, his team's gonna be there. And certainly, Stevie Mas gets the opportunity -- you know he has a newborn baby girl in town and he gets the chance to see his daughter. You know, he saw her when she was born, but he gets to be here and spend some time with his daughter as well. So beating Hampton is really important to him. You know he probably, he'd never say it, but he probably wishes he had a different opener. I think he's going to realize how many Kentucky fans are going to be in the building. But it's exciting for his kids, because they get to play the best team in college basketball.
I think this is the first time where we got what we wanted. Every year we leave bitching like crazy, and this is the first year where we got what we wanted. We wanted to get away and go out West, we were hoping to be a 4 seed, we were hoping to stay out of Kentucky's bracket. Of course now we'll probably lose by 30 in the opening round because we're getting what we wished.
Look, it's gonna be a great tournament. Everybody thinks they've got a shot at this thing. I look at the brackets and I think, boy I can't -- there was only one game where I thought a lower seed could beat a higher seed. Outside of that, they were all toss-ups to me. This is the toughest I've seen because it's so close. You know, like Texas is playing Butler and I was listening to prognosticators talk about it, and God that's a tough matchup for both of those teams. I wouldn't be surprised to see UCLA get hot now because so many people say they don't belong. I've seen that happen so many times where the team that everybody says doesn't belong go to the Sweet 16.
On being on the opposite side of the bracket from Kentucky
I just don't think Kentucky and Louisville should ever play early in the tournament. I don't think North Carolina should ever play Duke early in the tournament. I think they should stay away from that. I think later on, if you're both good enough, you play each other.
I was happy because, this Kentucky team, you wanna stay away from them early. If you face them in the Final Four, you're happy and you do everything you can to beat them, but you wanna stay away from them early. This is a special Kentucky team. We lost last year, but that's because the referees just gave us the shaft (laughs) ..... Absolutely not. I'm definitely kidding.
On Georgia State and Kevin Ware making the tournament
I watched the game, and I texted his mom and told her to tell Kevin how proud I am of his effort. He had 15 at halftime and played terrific. It was great to see him come back, not only perform like that, but go to the tournament. He'll have a lot of great memories. It was exciting to see.
Travis Ford's also in the tournament from Oklahoma State. I was excited to see him make it. So for me personally, because I've been in this for 40 years, you have so many people in it that you're connected with.
It's gonna be a lot of fun out in Seattle. T-Will texted me and he's going to be out there rooting for us. I know Shaqquan's going to be happy to see his mom and his sister, and I'm not sure if his dad's gonna be able to make it up. Peyton can't go, but I'm sure we'll see 36 of his closest family and Samoan friends that made it in for senior night, so we'll be excited to see them as well.