First of all, we're excited to be here, and we got in late last night. I think by the time we got to the hotel it seemed it was about 4:00, 4:30 in the morning. But our guys are going to get a little rest today and then they're going to be very excited about playing tomorrow night.
Got a great challenge. We're playing against a really good team that probably is one of the oldest teams in the country. I don't know that I've seen very many teams that start five seniors anymore in college basketball. That's going to be an interesting challenge for our young, inexperienced team so it should be an interesting day.
Coach, you've talked a lot about the spirit and the resilience of this team. In some ways has this been one of your more rewarding seasons as a coach just to see that growth?
MARK GOTTFRIED: Well, I hope it continues. But I do; I feel good about what's happened because of where we started. I go back and think about how much we lost from last year. I think about our early practices. I think about some of our early games in November and the uncertainty of how we were going to play and how we were going to score and how we were going to defend and all that kind of stuff.
I really like our team. That's one thing about it. I like-- and you used the word that I've used a lot -- I like our spirit every day. Even after the tough games we had and losses we had that were really emotionally tough, our guys seemed to always bounce back and have a good spirit about themselves. That's made it a lot of fun. Hopefully we can keep on going with this for a while.
You addressed the quick turnaround. Could you talk about how that may affect your substitution patterns, and also an update on Cat Barber's status? I understand he was really sick last night?
MARK GOTTFRIED: Well, first of all, we played a lot of games recently, starting with the ACC Tournament and then heading to Dayton, getting here to Orlando, and it may mean at times we give our guys a little bit, find spots to rest them, especially T.J. I thought even last night there was a stretch in the second half where I needed to get him out and just let him have a breather.
I don't take him out often, but he needed a few because it is a quick-- we've played a lot of games in a short amount of time, plus the travel like last night, which I think was the best way to come was to come right after the game because our guys weren't going to go to sleep anyway right away.
As far as Cat goes, he seems to be a lot better today. He was really sick yesterday. I didn't know he would play at all, to be honest. He gave us some good minutes in the first half and then at halftime he really didn't have anything left in the tank, so he's got a little more bounce today. So he's going to get some rest tonight, and we'll see hopefully tomorrow. I think he'll be okay.
12 seeds have had a lot of success versus 5 seeds in the tournament. Why do you think that's so? What makes that match-up so intriguing, and do you like coming in here as a 12?
MARK GOTTFRIED: You know, I don't really know that there's one answer to that. I was an assistant coach at UCLA as the 5 seed and Tulsa beat us as a 12 back in, I think it was '94. I think sometimes that 12 seed is a team sometimes that may be surging towards the end. Maybe they're on the rise and maybe sometimes the 5 isn't. I don't know that that's always true. But it does seem like that match-up, that 5 and 12 provides some upsets.
You know, in our case, truthfully I don't think we're really interested too much in 5s or 12s or whatever it might be. I mean, our guys seem to be playing well. They have a lot of confidence whomever they're playing. I'll tell you what I've done the last-- well, since last night. I got on the plane last night probably about 1:00 and started watching Saint Louis closer, and they're really good. I know they've lost a couple here early, but I like what I see. They're a good team.
We'll see. I don't know that there's one magical thing about that 12 and 5 match-up.
You seem to have pulled the right levers this season, some of the different moves, putting Ralston back in after T.J.'s injury and then when you switched to Tyler as the starter, is that just a feeling-out process, and was there some luck in that, or is that something that you feel like it's worked out for you well this season?
MARK GOTTFRIED: Well, I think all of us in coaching, what you're trying to constantly do is to make your team better. After every game, win or lose, you're studying your team and trying to figure out, okay, how do we need to score better, who needs to play more, how do we use our rotations, how should we defend better. And my theory has always sometimes been, have a hunch, you bet a bunch.
Sometimes you just have a hunch. With a couple of those moves you mentioned or some other things we've done, you're not always right. Sometimes you make moves and you get two or three or four games down the line and you say, boy, that just didn't turn out like I thought it was going to.
And then sometimes they work in your favor, and the nice thing about our team this year with the nine guys that play, sometimes it's just game by game a little bit on who may play more, whether it's a defense match-up or a lot of different things.
Anyway, the nice thing is our guys, regardless of kind of which decisions I've made, they've just kind of hung in there and adapted pretty well to whatever the decisions we've made have been.
How tough is it with this limited time to put a game plan in place for this when the guys were-- were they asleep until about noon today or when did they finally get going?
MARK GOTTFRIED: It's hard. Two days before the game-- a game, especially a game of this magnitude, you never want to be taking off at 2:00 in the morning, which we did last night, but at the same time that's part of the turf. That's okay. It's not going to be an excuse for us. It's not something that we are going to build in that puts us at some sort of disadvantage. We're excited to be in the tournament, and we're going to go play.
But it does make it hard, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. I told our guys, we could be back at Reynolds Coliseum playing in the NIT, so we're not going to scribble about travel or how hard it may be or quick turnaround. We've got to get ourselves ready to play, and that's the bottom line. We'll be ready. Our guys will get some rest today. We let them sleep today. We probably got into the hotel, it was around 4:00-ish, I think, by the time they went to bed it was 4:30, but we let them sleep until 12:00, 12:30 and got 'em up, go 'em something to eat, move them around a little bit today. It's part of the process, and we'll be okay with it.
Earlier you talked about the experience level for Saint Louis. The seniors on the Saint Louis teams are Rick Majerus' guys. Any thoughts going into this game about Coach Majerus?
MARK GOTTFRIED: I got to know him pretty well from a lot of different times we've crossed paths. As far as basketball goes, he was one of the brightest basketball guys-- he always wanted to talk basketball. He would want to talk pick-and-roll out of nowhere. You could be standing there doing something and we'd end up talking like that.
Obviously when he passed, that kind of touched all of us in coaching because one way or another everybody had crossed paths with him at some point in time. I know that was really hard. It was really hard for their team I'm sure, and for Jim and everybody involved, and then obviously Jim has just done a magnificent job kind of bridging that gap and moving forward. But yeah, that was something.
Can you talk a little bit about T.J.'s emergence and what he's meant this year?
MARK GOTTFRIED: Well, I think T.J., what I like the best is his improvement from a year ago. He had a really good freshman year, but didn't make very many threes, shot about 54 percent from the foul line, had some really nice games as a freshman, and then he'd kind of hide in some and he wasn't as consistent.
And then I think throughout this year, really this summer and then throughout this year, we've all watched him become more consistent. He's improved every part of his game, even the defensive side of things he's gotten much better. He's improved with his maturity, which has been, I think, really a big part of his game developing, as well, his demeanor, all those type things.
He's had a phenomenal year, as good as anybody, and sometimes we forget he's still a sophomore. He's not an upperclassman, really. We're proud of him, and hopefully he can keep doing what he's been doing.
You talked about watching video of Saint Louis on the plane. Looking at their team offensively, is there a player that you feel, hey, we really need to contain this guy or make him do things that he doesn't like to do, and if so, who will get that assignment?
MARK GOTTFRIED: It's interesting, when I watch them, and I know that Jett is kind of their motor, it seems to me, and he turns the corner there on some ball screens, and he's like Bo Jackson running at you with speed and strength... he's a big, strong guy.
But I also think all those guys, you've got to try to contain all of them and what they do. I know they've lost a couple here recently, but the one thing that's been impressive is they don't really get out of their game much. Teams have had a hard time disrupting them. That's part of having five seniors out there.
Whether it's taking a three away from a couple guys or their ability to drive it by a couple guys, I think it's kind of all five of them, especially those starters. They're a tough group.
Like I said before, I've been involved in college athletics a long time, and when I coached at UCLA back in the late 80s I was an assistant coach in the early 90s, everybody had seniors back then. Well, nobody does, and here you've got a team that has five [senior] starters, which is really rare in college athletics.