Looking forward to playing another basketball game. After Sunday, how many teams will be playing college basketball? Not many, and we're fortunate to be one of those teams playing. And playing against a very tough opponent in Wyoming. I've known Steve McClain since his days at Hutchinson Community College. He's a heck of a coach and watching their team on tape they've got a lot of speed and quickness out on the perimeter and one of the best big men that will face in Uche – I struggle with his last name – but he's one of the best big men we'll face all year.
Have you gotten a chance to look at a lot of tape yet on Wyoming – and if so, what have you noticed?
I have watched a good amount of tape on them and the thing I notice is that Uche in the middle at 6-10 and 260, in league play he averages a double-double. And as you know, we've struggled against big guys this year – he could probably be an all-ACC post guy, that's how good he is. We're really going to have to find a way to limit him as best we can. I don't know if we're going to be able to do that, but he's really a talented player.
They've got a lot of size – they have 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 guys who are 6-8 or bigger. And four of those guys weigh over 225 pounds. So that's a concern, but yet they also have some quickness. Jay Straight, who is from Chicago, Donta Richardson, their leading scorer. Those are two pretty talented guards. So it's not just the interior of that team that concerns me, it's also their speed and quickness out on the guard spot. Again, that's why they won 21 games.
After the DePaul game you said you used the press because you had noticed they were turnover-prone. Is there any chance you will use the press on Monday?
I don't know. I think Wyoming's ball handling is probably better. Jay Straight is a pretty good, solid point guard. So I don't know how we'll start out, but I am pretty concerned about Uche in the middle for sure. Donta Richardson averaging 19 points per game and has a pretty good three-point field goal percentage.
They're a good three-point shooting team, they entered league play as the worst in the league and ended up being the best three-point shooting team in the league. For the season they shot 35 percent from the three and that's pretty good. Straight's at 35 percent and Richardson's at 38 percent. And they're a good foul-shooting team. Again, as you go farther along in the tournament you're going to face tougher teams, and this is definitely one of the tougher teams. They'd be a good team in the ACC.
What have you seen from your guys in practice over the last few days?
After our win against DePaul Tuesday, we gave them off Wednesday, had a film, shoot and lift session on Thursday, gave them off yesterday. We'll practice today and tomorrow. We just think that your fresh legs and fresh mind is as important as anything right now. I just think that after the DePaul game they were excited about playing, the crowd really energized our team and, yes, it might be hard watching the NCAA Tournament, but hopefully that'll be good motivation for next year.
You mentioned keeping legs fresh, are there still any nagging injuries that need to get better?
I just think everyone playing basketball right now has some kind of bruise or something minor that's just nagging. And mentally, too, just being mentally fresh and getting out of the gym for a bit I think is good. We'll see today in practice.
Was there something you saw that maybe made you think the team wasn't mentally fresh?
No, I think that's just normal. It was a concern of ours toward the last two or three weeks and we tried to really cut down practice and I think the kids appreciated that. And as a result they worked harder and played harder. I gave them a day off yesterday – it wasn't my original intent, but you've got to reward the kids for their effort and in return you say, ‘Okay, we're giving you a break now, make sure you show us that it was the right decision.'
Have you watched any of the NCAA games?
I've watched a little, but I've spent more time watching Wyoming tape. So, I'll probably watch a little bit this afternoon. I've pretty much watched all the tapes we have of Wyoming, so I'll watch a little bit. Last night I went to Dragon Tales with my kid, so I didn't watch much last night. So I haven't watched that much in terms of its entirety, I've watched bits and pieces.
Being from NY, how much do you remember the NIT growing up?
I didn't attend many games, but I watched it. It was always an exciting event. I remember watching Texas win it one year and they had this unbelievable shooter, they might have beaten Indiana one year. And I remember Indiana winning it and I think Butch Carter got the MVP. But I certainly watched it growing up – it was a great event that was held at Madison Square Garden.
Is there any concern that six days is too long a layoff?
Yes and no. We have a chance to get some rest. We've had some guys playing a lot of minutes. I hope it's good for us, but you never know until the results of the game. We don't have any control over that, but I think everyone is taking it as a positive that we have a break to get some rest.
Is there any player that Uche reminds you of?
There's no one in our league that he reminds me. He physically reminds me of Ben Wallace, who plays with the Detroit Pistons.
Does the size matchup make you think you'll need to use Byron and Damion more, or will you stick to a smaller lineup?
I think Byron and Damion will definitely get more of an opportunity in this game than they have. That's my game plan going in. Now, things change during the course of the game, but I think they will definitely need to play some against this big team.
Is the NIT something where if you do well it can make the disappointment of not making the NCAA fade away?
Probably. I think there's no substitute for the NCAA Tournament. That's what everyone shoots for. But this is our consolation so now let's make the most of it. We as basketball coaches talk about the NIT compared to the hundred bowl game that are out there in football. If you go 6-5 and make it to a small bowl, you're considered to have had a successful year. For basketball coaches, there are only 34 at-large bids. That's awfully tough.
We hope down the road that maybe the NCAA expands its tournament. Or the NIT is looked upon a little more favorably than it has been in the past. Because it is a great event. We played DePaul in the first round, an exciting game – that's a lot more exciting than watching Kentucky-IUPUI. It's a great basketball game and our fans appreciated it. So I don't think we should look down our nose at this tournament because you're seeing great early-round games. Tennessee-Georgetown, that's a heck of a matchup. So I think people who enjoy basketball hopefully appreciate the NIT.
What do you think of the caliber of the NIT this year compared to other years?
This has to be one of the best NIT tournaments because there is so much parity in college basketball. So many teams could have made the NCAA Tournament – Boston College, Texas Tech, Wyoming, maybe us, Tennessee – that didn't. So they spill over to the NIT and it really has deepened the pool of good teams in the NIT and has already made for some great games and will continue to make for some great games.
I imagine it's difficult getting kids motivated for the NIT. How do you feel your team has been about still playing?
I feel that we probably had a couple of youngsters who were a little disappointed by not being the NCAA Tournament, however I feel that was erased when we stepped on the floor for DePaul because we had over 10,000 fans that were very enthusiastic, a national TV audience, a good opponent. So I think that's behind us now and our kids are excited now about playing basketball and excited hopefully about trying to advance in this talented tournament.
If you're able to win this game and the next, how significant would a 20-win season be for you?
I think it's hard to look ahead, we've got to worry about Wyoming. If we beat Wyoming, then we have a chance to talk about it. Right now we're trying to win our 19th win and we've got a heck of an opponent. I think if Wyoming was in the ACC they would finish in the upper half of it. That's how good they are. They've got some good experience, their roster is full of juniors and seniors. They've got a team with experience, size and quickness and they are well coached. I'd just rather worry about No. 19 right now.