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Guys, I couldn't agree with you more. You know, the home court is very strong right now. I just finished watching Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech. Bizarre game. Georgia Tech was dominating the game, and Virginia Tech -- which doesn't give up on any possessions -- gets two steals off inbounds, makes it a six point game after being down 10 with four to go, and they wound up winning it by two. Great shooting team, foul shooting team, paint touch team. Georgia Tech is as big and physical as anybody in the league.
Now tonight you've got a Florida State teams that's as good a 1-on-1 and transition team as anyone outside of North Carolina in our conference. It's an amazing conference this year. Anyone is capable of beating anyone, so we need the people there. Drive safely, get there early, and we've gotta have that home court advantage.
On the great home atmosphere against Pitt
Where it helps is it helps your defense. We hadn't had anything close to 40 deflections in quite a while. We were averaging like 22, 22, 26 over the last three games, and then we got 40. I think our crowd really helped our defense.
Would it surprise you if this was another defensive battle?
Yeah it would. I'm not sure this will be at the Pittsburgh pace. I think this team is much more of a 1-on-1, drive the paint basketball team. They'll break their structures and just go at you. They were 22 of 26 from the foul line against Virginia and that's where they beat them. They've got two outstanding freshmen with terrific size, a great point guard, and they've got 7-foot centers.
How do you slow down their three great guards?
Well you've gotta keep them out of transition, can't foul them in the halfcourt, and then the other thing is that they'll make challenged shots because of their size. It looks like they're covered and then they jump over you and make a challenged shots. We've got to keep them out of transition -- the way you keep them out of transition is don't turn the ball over and take good shots.
On the talent at FSU
Any time you have a great league -- I don't think our fans realize .... our program changed forever when Tom and I got together and Tom said, "listen, we have got to get in the Big East." We went to work on making that happen, and we got in the Big East. Then, Tom went to work on getting us into the Big 12. The Big 12 today, some people think (passing on us) was a big mistake, and then we get in the ACC.
Now, football has forever changed and I think women's basketball has forever changed along with the other sports, baseball and volleyball. When we went into the Big East, basketball changed. When we went into the ACC, so many sports changed. Now with that comes a different culture and mentality.
We've been on a tremendous five year run, and we want to keep that going obviously, but you have to understand what you're up against. What you're up against is that on any given night you're going to go up against the same amount of talent that you have. If you break it down, maybe they're different in some areas and so you try to take away their strengths and they try to take away your strengths, and it's all about preparation and execution. Those are the two words that go into every game.
Do you prefer that challenge to playing in a lesser conference?
Oh, it's the ultimate for anybody who wants to compete. It's very challenging, the road is very challenging. I loved the Big East obviously because of Madison Square Garden, at the end of the year we loved the Big East Tournament. But as far as the regular season is concerned, the ACC and the Big East are pretty much the same. We've got to be on top of our game right now. It's anybody's game to make the NCAA Tournament. You've got to do it on the court. Your homecourt advantage has to be there.
Coaching is even more important in a season with this type of parity. Do you revel in that?
The team I had that won the championship was a team that became a great basketball team winning 16 straight because they were a team. The sum of the parts were greater than the parts, and that's what made that team great. Luke Hancock, Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, Chane Behanan; they all fit in to a puzzle very well, and that's what's going to happen this year.
Who's the best team in the country? Some people believe it's North Carolina, other people believed it was Kansas and they lost to Oklahoma State last night. You have no idea. It's going to be the team at the end of the year that comes together and fits in to execute down the stretch and really plays together. And that's what makes it so fun. For the first time in a long time, for me, I can't name you the top 10 teams. I can name you 16, 17 teams that I think could win it all, and that's the first time in a long time I've been able to say that.
Some people say we're void of a great team. Well, we're void of a great team in January. That doesn't mean we're going to be void of a great team in late February.
Do all the upsets serve as a teaching tool for your players?
Yeah, very much so. I think it helps every team. Every coach can say, "look at this."
The one thing you're always going to get from our team is great effort. Now, this team is capable of beating anybody, and this team is capable of losing to anybody. They're not a dominant basketball team. They're a team that's learning, growing, getting better every day.
I've seen tremendous improvement over the last three or four days from Deng Adel. He's coming out of that area where he was probably having a little trepidation about his knee. Now he's over that and he's playing with a lot of freedom, and that's what you're looking for.
Can you show the team the Pitt performance and have that really drive home that this is what you're looking for?
Especially when they can see it on film. You have your scheme and then you try to change that throughout the game. All the guys were locked in. They had great respect for Pitt, as they do Florida State.
You know, Florida State's a team that lost at Iowa in overtime, beat a terrific VCU team, beat Florida at Florida, who has a strong homecourt advantage. So this is a team that can beat anybody because of their size and their talent and their abilities, and our team knows that. This team is well grounded, is what I'm trying to say.
Has Nanu had a switch go on in conference play or is he simply staying on the court more?
I think he's staying on the court more. I think he was playing very well prior to that, but not getting as many minutes.
On the UNLV rumors
In the last 15 years, I've had three job offers: one was a general manager's job, another was a would I be interested in talking to them as a candidate in the pros, the other was television. In all three instances I said, "no I'm not interested, I don't want to waste your time."
So I spoke to the people and never went to Tom. The first person who I'm going to contact, besides my wife, is Tom Jurich if there's any interest in any job for me. In 15 years there hasn't been any interest. So why should I step up and refute any rumors or anything at all? Well, because they say "we're going through some tough times, difficult times, so you might want to," but I'm not going to do that, because the University of Louisville has been very loyal to me, and I have been very loyal to them.
This is a top five job in the nation. It is monetarily, it is tradition, it is facilities, it is league -- it is a top five job. So when I leave some day, whatever coach they want, they're going to get. I don't have to answer to anything right now except Florida State. I don't want to have to, in mid-January, answer those questions and refute it. I'm at the University of Louisville -- and that's not putting down any other program that may open -- this is the University of Louisville. A coach should not have to, in January, answer to anything at all because he's focused in on Florida State.
What would Bill Belichick say if you asked him two weeks ago if he was interested in going back to the Giants?
He'd say he's focused on the next game
Yeah, let's talk about the next game. And that's what I did. So I'm not going to talk about any other jobs, because for the last 15 years my focus has been on the University of Louisville. My focus is on the next possession coming down the court, and that's the way I live.
It's not about answering "is it true/isn't it true?" If I reach out to somebody, the first person I'm going to reach out to is Tom Jurich. That's what's going to happen. I have not done that in 15 years. So when you're here at one of the top five programs for 15 years, you shouldn't have to make any answers.
I don't enjoy, like John said to me "it's a compliment." It's not a compliment, it's a distraction. Distractions in mid-January are hurtful to a team. Do you know how many text messages and how many phone calls I have to make to my recruits that I'm recruiting and spend going out two, three nights a week -- I've now got to answer to every one of them. So I'm not gonna -- let's drop it, let's put it behind us.
Moving forward, if something happens where I'm going to leave, the first person who's going to know is my wife, the second person who's going to know is Tom Jurich.
Those rumors about other jobs are always going to continue though
No, it really hasn't continued, John. It hasn't happened that much in 15 years. It really hasn't. It's been away from me. It's happened much more often up the street with John Calipari with the pros and so on. It hasn't happened to me, and that's a very good thing. I can focus in on my job right now and just pay attention to that.
We've got to get through some problems here at the University of Louisville, and I'm hoping I'm the person to lead us through those problems.
I'm going to assume you don't want to field a Bracketology question next
Well what was your Bracketology question? You think it's a little premature to talk about brackets right now?
I went on a little rant about it earlier. On Mangok Mathiang, you said yesterday that he wouldn't be back until late February at the earliest.
You know, Mike, to be honest, this is the type of injury -- it's not like a sprained ankle, it's not even like Deng's where he got back out there for 10 days and still wasn't himself. This is an injury that's a big problem.
It's a big problem in this sense: you're going, basically, two months without dribbling a basketball, shooting a basketball, playing defense. So I think the earliest time he could be back on the basketball court and helping the team would be early March. I don't think he's going to beat out an Anas at backup center or a Ray Spalding at backup power forward until March. He's going to need a good two weeks of basketball because he hasn't played in two months.
Now can he help us if we're good enough to make the NCAA Tournament? Yes he can. But I don't see him helping us before then. And I think you guys can see that. If you're not touching a basketball for two months, how are you suddenly going to step out there and play?
Not in your system
Not in any system. Really, not in any system. Although he's an emotional leader and although he's very smart on defense, the timing in basketball is so crucial. It's going to take time. That being said, Anas is getting better, Matz is getting better, Jaylen is getting better and Ray is getting better, and those are good things.
Ray Spalding did an outstanding job on defense in the last game, he created a lot of good things. Now, offensively, he's got to learn to not be in a rush, look the ball into his hands, get his footwork down and do those things that are typical of freshmen, but you gotta get over them. The more he learns, the more playing time he gets, the better off he'll be. Same with Deng Adel. Now Donovan Mitchell, he's pretty much able to go out there and relax and play without any problems.
Do you see yourself basing frontcourt playing time off of who you're playing against for the rest of the season?
Well the length certainly does bother offensive teams. Now it's going to be tough on Anas going up against a team like Goergia Tech who's got two guys who are built like Nanu. The length won't bother them as much and it's going to have to be team defense. That being said, as long as Anas can play intelligently, he can get around his lack of strength.
On Nanu's improvement
He's getting better and better with every game. Now that doesn't mean he's going to play great in every game, but he's getting better and better. I think Florida State will probably trap and double him tonight and he'll have to pass out of that. He, unlike Damion, can let the game come to him. He's not going to force things. He knows how to handle traps, so it'll be very interesting to see how he plays against Florida State.
Matz is the heir apparent to Nanu, down the road. He's going to get a lot of minutes (down the road). He just needs experience right now. We wanted him to play in a lot of JV games, and then we found out that according to the rules, Ryan McMahon, who we wanted to get a lot of experience as well, is not allowed to play in those JV games as a redshirt. We didn't realize that, so that was something we put on the backburner because we wanted Ryan McMahon to get a lot of experience there. But he's improving, Matz is improving.
Next year's basketball team, I think, is going to be very, very strong. I think you'll see that Ray and Anas are going to be 230 pounds at the start of next year. We're trying to get them to 220 by March 1 -- we got them to 215 right now -- and then to 230 by the start of next year. We think Matz will get a lot better, Ryan McMahon will get a lot better, we hope to bring in two 5th year seniors. So we're planning for the future, but certainly right now will go with Anas over Matz.
Are Matz's defensive issues because he doesn't understand the system?
He just hasn't played a lot of basketball. He just needs to play a lot. Being from Norway, he probably hasn't played competitive basketball more than five or six years, so his timing's just not there with things like shot blocking. It's pretty good on rebounding. He's got to improve his passing when he gets digs and double-downs. Those are all things that will come with playing experience.
He's someone that I'm very bullish on. I'm very bullish on Ray Spalding, Deng Adel -- they're all going to be outstanding players down the road.
On the schedule with no game last weekend
We just adjust to go out recruiting. Recruiting's a big part for us to get out there and evaluate some juniors. We're going to continue to do that.
It's not the worst thing in the world because we see Deng Adel right now getting more comfortable. He's someone that now I don't have any anxiousness about putting into the game. He's almost all the way back.
So we adjust. Everybody always complains about these late games and Saturday-Monday, but it's something you have to go through. We're going to go through it soon with Virginia-Carolina. It's something that I know the players really like and the coaches really don't like.
Yesterday was "New York Sarcasm Day," is today anything?
No, I'm just happy to be able to talk basketball. I say this with all sincerity: I'm very honored to be the University of Louisville basketball coach. It's a great honor because we've made this into -- it's always been special, but when we joined the Big East and now the ACC, it's special for all sports. And it's very special academically. The tide rises, and when you go against these schools like Virginia and like North Carolina and Duke, Georgia Tech, the tide rises academically as well as athletically. That's something we hope happens with all facets of the University of Louisville.
I think I've said it, and I hope I won't have to say it ever again. Let's just talk basketball, and let's forget everything else.
Thanks for your time, coach
Next time let's talk about brackets.
I'm not doing it
Brackets or Bompy, Mike.