“Open statements are pretty easy. Every coach says we're happy to be here. Happy to still be playing and coaching. Memphis is one of my favorite places, and we've already practiced today. We'll go out there on the court and do some shooting, but had a decent practice, and we're excited about playing. Got in last night and [someone] said, man, what a great regional. North Carolina, UCLA and Kentucky, and he paused, and I said, and Butler. We're 0-2 against those guys, so they're pretty doggone good too but we're happy to be here.”
You said this is one of your favorite places; what makes this one of your favorite places? I think the last time you were here you took off and won the National Championship.
"Well, that's one of the reasons, yes. Not that I'm superstitious at all. But no, I came here probably in the mid to late '70s recruiting several times. I stumbled into Rendezvous and I found the best ribs I'd found anywhere in the country, so I love the Rendezvous. We've recruited kids here. Love the golf courses, love the people, love the music. 2009, we had a nice run that got us to a Final Four. I just like the town a great deal and the way I'm always treated. The people are so nice. But yes, Regional Tournament in 2009 was a very big part of that.”
This is your 17th trip to the Sweet 16 or further; do these things ever get old for you?
“No. You know, it's -- I'm greedy. I'd like to go all the time. It doesn't happen that way. But got a new group of kids. Their enthusiasm is sort of infectious, and they seem to act and say that I've got great deal of enthusiasm for doing it, but I don't think it ever gets old, and the fact that you do it -- nowadays in college basketball, your roster changes over pretty frequently. And we just have a lot of guys back from last year's team but lost Joel James, Marcus, and Brice, but these kids are very enthusiastic and very hungry to try to continue playing.”
You mentioned the strength of this regional; can you remember one that's had not just the strength of these teams but the history? You've got the three teams that have the most NCAA titles, I believe.
“The glamour names are there, yes. I think that's probably a little bit different. I've been in to Regionals before, I think, where we'd have 1, 2, 3, and 4. I've been in the Final Fours where we had three 1s, so I've seen that.
“But as you say there, with the names that are here with North Carolina, Kentucky, UCLA, the number of championships, the number of wins, does make it a little unusual, but I happen to think right now Butler is better than any of them, and that's the team we're getting ready to play. But it's pretty impressive.”
You mentioned Kentucky and UCLA. I know you're obviously focused on your game, but there's a lot of hype about this game. Is there any part of you that's kind of looking forward to watching those teams play?
“You know, it's the kind of thing you would probably expect the answer that I'm going to give you, but it's really true. I haven't spent one second on any tape of UCLA or one second on any tape of Kentucky. I think I'd be a bad guy and a stupid guy if I did that kind of thing. Butler, as I said, they've played us twice in the last five years and beaten us both times, so they've got my attention to say the least. Now, if you're talking about just watching a game as a fan, darned right I'd like to watch that game. But I'd like to watch it a heck of a lot more if I've got a really big interest in who we'd be playing, there's no question.”
ACC looked like the strongest conference throughout the regular season. Your team is the last team standing. What's the proper way to assess the ACC this season with the results in the early rounds?
“You know, I don't think you can compare. Last year at this time, I think I read it somewhere -- I guess you guys should tell me, I can believe everything I read in print -- but I think last year we were 16-1 coming into this weekend and now we're 7-8. I firmly believe last year we were a really big-time conference, but we didn't show it during the regular season and we did show it during the tournament. Four teams in the Elite 8, two in the Final Four.
“This year I was convinced we were by far the best league, but we haven't shown it in the tournament. I don't know if either one of them are the only way to gauge, but it's a very, very strenuous schedule. It's exhausting trying to play in the ACC with 15 -- playing those 18 games is a marathon, but you have to sprint through it.
“I think the ACC is still the best league. Anything that happens in the tournament, I don't think that -- last year I didn't think that made us the best league. I thought we were the best, but again, some pretty knowledgeable people had our league ranked as third or fourth, I think, last year, and they're pretty knowledgeable people. But this year they had us ranked first, but we haven't proven it in this tournament, and that's the bottom line.”
Coming into this year with a lot of the same guys that played in the National Championship game last year, did you sense a hunger from these guys to get back to that final game?
“Well, you know, the most inadequate feeling you can ever have as a coach, and I had the highest level of inadequate feeling last year, what was I supposed to say to my team in the locker room after Kris Jenkins made that shot that won the National Championship. It's just like somebody reached into your chest and pulled your heart out and shook it right in front of your face and taunted you. There was nothing that I could say that would remove the pain that those kids felt and our staff felt. But I told them I would hope one thing they could get out of it was use that as fuel, as motivation to work extremely hard on your game over the summer and try to become the best individual player your could be in hopes that when practice started we could be the best team. I think it did drive them for some of their work in the off-season, but it doesn't get you any extra points. You've still got to go out and play.
“It is a situation where we've got several kids, but the leaders of our team last year were Marcus and Brice, and they were our two best players and they're playing for a living right now. But I do think they used it as motivation, and if it works, we'll talk about it, and if it doesn't works, we'll just say, well, it didn't work.”
Butler's bigs, Tyler Wideman and Andrew Chrabascz have been pretty much undersized all year and they will be against your team. What do you see from them on film that allows them to be effective?
“Andrew is pretty dadgum impressive. He gets that ball and they clear out one side of the lane, he bangs and he bangs and he turns to his left shoulder and shoots it. There's nothing you can do about it, and he has over 100 assists. I think particularly he just makes the other guys much more effective.
“And Wideman, I've never seen a more appropriate name than Wideman. In the post, you know, Kennedy is not very tall, but Kennedy is wide, also. But they do present problems for us. I mean, they have three guys I think that scored 17, 7 and 4 against us two years ago when they beat us, and one of them doesn't even start, but he's their leading scorer.
“But their big guys do some things out on the floor that take away some of the advantages that we have when they're on offense, and we're having to guard them out there, and I am hopeful that at the same time maybe some of the advantages we have will be when they're trying to guard us inside. They're a fun team to watch. They really are. Chris has done just a magnificent job with them. They don't beat themselves. As a coach they're really a fun team to watch, except when you're getting ready to play them.”
Last year when you actually physically cut the nets, I think you had a small mishap. What specifically happened, and if you had that opportunity again this year, will you take any precautions?
“If we get a chance to cut down the nets, I won't give a flip if I cut my finger halfway off again. Yeah, I'd take that. Last year, it's pretty well documented, I've got some vertigo issues and I was up there on the ladder, and I felt like it was sort of moving a little bit as I was trying to cut the net. And I missed the net and cut my finger, and then I tried to macho it real well and hide it from everybody. And it was bleeding like crazy down there and they ended up putting four or five stitches in it in the locker room. But if you tell me that's all it takes to keep going, I'll sacrifice that, that's not a problem at all. Hopefully I'll be a heck of a lot more coordinated.”
The Arkansas game on Sunday, what did you see out of your defense in the last five minutes where you were able to hold them scoreless from the field?
“Well, we were more active, we were more focused, we used our brain and our heart both. We were more attuned to what they were trying to do. And in addition to that, yes, I do believe that the stress or pressure or whatever bothered them a little bit. They had the lead and they're trying to milk the clock, and then all of a sudden they shot they get at the end is probably not the shot Mike wanted them to get. We were really good for four minutes. Well, we were really good for the first 16 minutes, and then we were terrible for the last four minutes of the first half and the first 17 minutes of the second half. But give them credit. People at our school and all the schools that have the kind of success, they always think it's just about you. But the other team has some involvement in there, too. Another thing Arkansas really made us look bad for a long time, but those last four minutes, I think we got six straight stops, and they missed a couple of free throws, too, and that really helped us to say the least. But we were more active, too.”
Joel said he practiced earlier today. How has he looked to you? How does the ankle look?
“Better. Coming back Monday, was off… when you get in a tournament, you don't even remember what day it is. I think we came back -- Monday was off, Tuesday we did quite a bit of running and shooting, and then Wednesday we had practice and we've already practiced today. I do think he looks better. He's still not Joel, yet, and someway, somehow, between now and game time tomorrow, he's got to get to be the Joel Berry that we've seen all year and that's played great for us.”