"I think he's fantastic. I had never really seen him myself up until the summer after his junior year of high school before he went to Hargrave, and I just loved him. In fact, somebody told us out in Vegas that he may be decommitting – he had already committed to Mississippi State at that point – and if he had, there's no question that we would have recruited him. I watched him play in the three games out in Vegas and I just thought he was brilliant. We wanted another guard in that class, anyway. And then in watching the tape the last two or three days, he appears to be having a fantastic year for them."
Have you had any problem getting your returning players motivated for the N.I.T.?
"I don't think so. It's been a tough year for us. We're just happy to still be playing."
What's your overall opinion of MSU?
"It's a well-rounded team. You've got to think about Varnado inside; he's such a relentless rebounder and even on the offensive end, he gets his hands on so many balls. You've got to be concerned about him dominating that area six or eight feet around the basket. He doesn't give up many easy looks, to say the least. And then their ability to shoot the 3-point shot; four guys in the game all of the time that can shoot the 3-point shot and shoot it effectively.
"And then the other part of it is that I think they really guard you. They do a nice job on the defensive end of the floor. They've got great athleticism. And then one of the things they do to is they push the ball at you. If you take a bad shot or if Varnado blocks a shot, they can turn that into a fast break opportunity on the other end. The crazy thing is that I watched both of the Kentucky games and I think that they either could have or should have won both of those games. It's almost like the stars and the moon were aligned and it wasn't going to happen."
How would you sum up this year for your program and how it got to where it is right now?
"Two or three things. We lost a lot of guys and guys that we had… Ed Davis played a role for us last year, but he hasn't one of our starters. Deon [Thompson] was our fifth option, probably, and Marcus [Ginyard] didn't play last year. But those are the three guys with experience. Marcus has been hurt a huge part of the year and we lost Ed about 10 games ago. So we haven't gotten the experienced players to have real good years for us. We've been beaten up a lot. We've lost 38 games [due to injury] from guys in our top-nine or top-10. And then the bottom line is that I have not done a good job myself and haven't been able to get them to play as effectively as we want. So that's how we stand here at 17-16."
With the way Tyler Zeller has played recently, does it make you wonder what might have been if he had stayed healthy?
"Well, you always think that, especially when you consider how much time he missed last year as well. But I thought going into the preseason, and I even said it to everybody, that I thought our depth up front would be a big plus for us and then as soon as we got through the nonconference [schedule], that's when we lost ‘Z'. That was a big blow for us. Then we lost Ed and then we lost David [Wear], so our depth up front was really hurt. But I do believe that he is getting his legs underneath him and starting to feel more comfortable. You always say, ‘What if?', but it doesn't do any good. It is what it is."
Considering the time Zeller missed, are these postseason games more important for him?
"I think they're important for everybody. We're still trying to win for this team, period. But at the same time, the more the young guys get to play, the more experience they get and I think that helps them."
The Bulldogs and William & Mary both rank in the top-10 nationally in made 3-pointers. While their offensive styles are different, are there similarities that UNC can take advantage of in defending the 3-point shot?
"Well, you've got to guard them. William & Mary took 48 percent of their shots from 3 and I think 44 percent or something like that of Mississippi State's [shots are from 3]. So it's a huge part of their offense. We've got to get out there and play that. They are very different offensive styles. William & Mary is almost a no-post offense with five guys on the perimeter with the screen-and-roll and the slips and all of those kinds of things, where Mississippi State does have Varnado setting screens and rolling to the basket. So they're different, but you've still got to be able to get out and challenge the 3-point shooters. They do a great job of it."