Xavier head coach Thad Matta

Xavier head basketball coach Thad Matta talked to the media about his team's upcoming NCAA Tournament opponent, Mississippi State.

Can you take anything out of your first meeting with Mississippi State?
"Both teams are obviously better. During that game we were so horrendous in taking care of the basketball. We had 20 turnovers which led to a lot of easy points for them. I would like to say we were careless with the ball, but their defense was so good. It was a lot like we saw last night against Louisville. I have a great deal of respect for Mississippi State and their players. I said after we played them in Starkville, 'how this team is not in the top 25, I have no idea.' I also said they were a team that could win the national championship. Going 25-3 in the SEC is an incredible feat."

Do you use the fact that your team has played them twice and lost both as a motivating factor?
"Yeah, I think you do. That was part of the flavor of trying to get through Louisville: We wanted another crack at a team that has beaten us. Of course, we are holding our breath because we know how good Mississippi State is."

Your team went from a 10-9 team during the first part of the season to a 14-1 record the past 15 games. Was there any one turning point that caused that to happen?
"I tell people but they don't believe this, but one of the biggest turning points was when we got into February the schedule got more favorable for us. We were the only Atlantic-10 team to have to play Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday two times. During that stretch, we went 1-5 and four of those game were on the road. Because the NCAA requires you to take a day off, a couple of those games we went into with just one day of preparation. It wasn't enough because teams, at one point, had a week to prepare for us. We knew if we could come out of January with our head above water the schedule would become more favorable. But, the bottom line was our defense got better. At January 31st our defense was giving up 40% from the floor and the last 15 games we are 37%. I think that has been the biggest key for us."

Was another factor the two freshmen getting used to their roles as starters?
"It was. They really kind of grew into their roles. The thing about both of them is that they are both high character kids and have really appreciated the opportunities that they have been given. They have really done a good job of playing off the seniors and other upperclassmen."

Over the last 15 games, do you think your team has played as well as they have played while you have been at Xavier?
"Even last year, when we won 16 straight games, we weren't playing a high quality of basketball in some of those games. So, yeah, I would say this is as well as we have played."

When I say Lawrence Roberts, what immediately comes to your mind?
"He is one of the top players in college basketball. He can beat you by scoring, he can beat you by rebounding. Last night, he was shooting the three. He is just a tremendous talent. I think he is one of the top five players in the country."

Even though up-tempo is Mississippi State's game, since you are unbeaten when scoring over 80 points per game, will your gameplan be to play up-tempo?
"Yeah, I think we would obviously like to get the ball out and go. The thing is when we are running in transition, that means the other team is not scoring. But (Sunday), we don't want to take a shot just so we can say that we are playing fast."

Do you think you are at a disadvantage in the post due to Mississippi State having Lawrence Roberts there?
"I think so. Maybe, another advantage they have is their depth. They can take out a 6-9 guy and bring in a 7-0 guy. And Branden Vincent is a great low post player who is a threat as well. I will also say that Mississippi State does a good job of getting the ball to those guys where they can be successful."

With both teams having great guard play, could what happens in the paint determine the game?
"I think so. Anthony Myles, for us, has come a long way the last 15 games. He has really played well. And there is no mistake about it, he has to play well for us to have a chance to win."

Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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