Our team is very excited to be here, and I'm excited for our guys. We've got a lot of young guys and guys that hadn't played a lot of college basketball.
And so I feel like our players played their way into the tournament. So I'm proud of them for that. Obviously we're going to play-- everybody in the tournament is obviously very good and a good team. So we've got a great challenge playing Xavier.
But our guys are excited. They've got a lot of enthusiasm and anxious to play.
What were your thoughts as you were watching the Selection Show and what were you thinking was going to be the destination seating-wise or if your team was going to be in the bracket? What was going through your mind at that point?
COACH GOTTFRIED: Well, we weren't sure, obviously. We knew we were a team that was close. But you just don't know exactly what the committee is thinking and who it may come down to and what the deciding factors might be. But I did feel like we put ourselves in a position where we were in the discussion.
And the one thing I do believe in and I think over the years -- I've listened to the committee members that have served on the committee, I've listened to the chairs of the committee, and over and over again I've heard them say that you gotta choose to play good teams in the nonconference.
You obviously gotta win some games, but sometimes when it comes down to you're trying to compare two teams that are both good, good teams, deserving teams, the one thing that can separate that sometimes is how you chose to schedule and did you win away from home and those type things. So even last year we had a group for two years at NC State. We had four starters that started just about every game for a two-year period, and we lost that whole group. And there were times where I thought, boy, we might need to really soften up the schedule and maybe play a little easier schedule and get some-- maybe some more wins.
But in the end I always believed that if you got yourself in a position, kind of like we were, right here, the schedule is one thing that can tilt things into your favor.
So I was hoping those things were going to come true for us as we watched the show last night.
T.J.'s had a great year. From someone's who watched every play five times, how good has he been?
COACH GOTTFRIED: T.J.'s been spectacular. I think what I've enjoyed the most is watching him mature and grow up. And we forget he's just a sophomore.
And you look at how he's improved. And last year he was a really good freshman player. He improved his foul shooting, improved his 3-point shooting.
He's improved his demeanor. He's matured. He's growing up. He's still a young guy. And he's also learned how to accept the fact that he needs to play well for us to have a chance, and he knows that.
And sometimes that comes with maturity.
Sometimes you're not ready to do that. Like even the beginning of the year, we came up here and played Cincinnati, I think our second game, and he wasn't comfortable all the way just yet with that. I think as the season wore on, he began to be more comfortable.
So he's had a terrific year. I think he's had an All-American-type year obviously. He's been ACC Player of the Year, and he's deserved it because I think he's played at a high level all year long.
When we asked coaches from leagues like Albany's about the First Four they always say they prefer this event be just four games between at-large schools, like yourselves, and they obviously want to let the 16 seeds just go on to the second round. So I'm just wondering what your thoughts on that were, how you feel about a change to the event to make it so it's just a game between at-large teams.
COACH GOTTFRIED: You know, I don't know. I don't really care too much. I think when you're in it, you're in it and you need to be excited about it.
There are some college student-athletes that never have the opportunity to play in the greatest show on earth, whether it's Tuesday night or Thursday night or whenever it might be. And so you cherish that. And I truly believe this is the greatest show on earth in sports. I don't think there's anything like the NCAA Tournament.
And I've got a son that's getting ready to play college basketball. He's coming to your town, by the way, to play at Sienna. I hope he gets to play one day in the greatest show on earth. I don't care what night it is. I don't care if it's the First Four. It's a great thing to be a part of.
You've got to earn your way in. Teams are good. Everyone in it is deserving. So I think that's the approach I have with it, and I'll be excited to play whenever it may be or however they want to do it.
With the addition of Pitt and Syracuse in the ACC, how much tougher has it made the conference, especially your schedule as it already was hard?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think it just took a great league, made it greater. And we get Louisville next year as well.
So the emphasis and the commitment to basketball. All of our sports are important. Football at our place is very important, baseball, all of our sports.
But basketball in this league, it's exciting. And you bring in some teams like that that have made a commitment at their schools to be good, they want to be in the tournament. They want to be in the Final Fours. They want to win national championships. You're bringing that kind of a group into an already great league, it does a lot.
It helps your strength of schedule. It helps our strength of schedule in the league. It makes it tough. Now you've gotta go play at Duke, at Carolina, at Syracuse, at Louisville, or Notre Dame, Pitt, those kind of games, or play them at home. It adds a lot to what is already, I think, a really difficult schedule and a difficult league.
What are your impressions of Xavier and what do you think are some keys for you guys in tomorrow's game?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think they're really good. And I think in the games that I've watched on tape, they really execute their offense really good. Semaj Christon is a terrific player. He's a handful to try to stop because he attacks you in so many different ways. He gets the ball in the break. He's tough to guard there.
They do so many things in the half court for him and some pick and roll things and try to create mismatches.
The big guy inside is as skilled and talented as a player that maybe we've seen. He can really pass out of the post. I think that makes him dangerous, because when the ball goes in there, they do a great job cutting and moving and those things off of him.
But Chris has done a great job with this team. They've got some guys I think that have improved a lot. Guys I watched in high school and watching them now saying, wow, they're better. So he's done a great job with them.
Anything for you guys?
COACH GOTTFRIED: I think when you get to this time of year, there's a lot of things you want to take away from your opponent or expose maybe offensively. But I think the most important thing is that you've gotta do what you do really well.
Like we've got to execute our offense really well. We've gotta defend them with our principles.
You only got one day to prepare, and so it's not like you're going to have a thorough, full scouting report with your team where they're going to grasp everything in one day. But you've gotta be fundamentally sound defensively in how we defend and how we do things. But you've gotta execute your offense.
John Wooden always used to tell me when I was out at UCLA: Your ability to execute your offense from the top of the key to the baseline and your ability to guard somebody from the top of the key to the baseline usually determines how good you become.
So for us this time of year we've gotta be good in those areas.
Despite your turnover, just the natural way things go with college basketball, different team this year, but is it beneficial at all to be back in the same venue where you started last year's tournament, any additional comfort level?
COACH GOTTFRIED: You know, I've been asked that a couple times. I don't think so. Tyler, T.J., and Jordan, on our team, those three guys were here. We were here. I don't get to play, so that doesn't help.
But I don't think so, really. I think we have so many new young guys, this is a new experience for them. We need to make sure that we're not just excited to be here, because when you're young sometimes that's what happens, you just-- you're so giddy that you're here.
And we need to have some maturity about that, which I think our guys will. So I don't know that there's a real advantage for us having been here last year.