The NIT does some preliminary work – we were in the ACC Tournament and I talked with Dick Baddour and Larry Gallo, to talk about what ifs. We played the what if game and said we'd gladly accept an NIT invitation if that's what we had. There was no doubt, no question that if that's what we had we would take it and play in with a great deal of pride.
Some of the players have said they're not all that enthusiastic with playing in the NIT. How would you assess the morale of the team going into Tuesday night's game?
We addressed that last night, had them over to the house and watched the Selection Show and talked about it afterwards. I asked them how they felt and we all were disappointed and hurt. There are a lot of teams in there that we've beaten and a lot of teams in there that we're as good as. A couple games here or there, if we had made some foul shots, covered a man or taken care of the ball better, we would be there. That's just part of the experience, growth, maturation of this team. We'll learn from that and I said to them ‘I don't want to feel this way next year.'
But by the same token we have the opportunity to play in a national tournament and wear the North Carolina uniform, to catapult us and springboard us to success next year. Also hopefully get to play with a full team – hopefully Sean can play more minutes and that'll help us not only this season but next season as well.
What is Sean May's status? Will he continue to play?
I have not addressed that today with Marc Davis, with Sean. But it is my understanding, unless something happens between now and the start of practice [today] that he will play. Haven't had the conversation with his mother or father yet today, but I think the expectation is he will play tomorrow.
Now that you've had a chance to look at the Duke film, how do you think it went with inserting Sean back into the lineup?
I thought it was fine. First two times he touches the ball when he gets into the game he scores. He blocks a couple of shots … I thought he was fine, it was just that the team, we didn't perform well. And I think a lot of that was from the offensive end to start. And when you don't score … the energy got sucked out of us a bit and on top of that Duke was making shots and playing very well on the offensive end. I felt that hurt us. We didn't move the ball, we didn't cut as hard. We didn't do the little things – the little things affected us. That's, again, the experience of beating a great Maryland and then coming back the next day having to play Duke. That's new for our guys, the Duke guys have been through that before. That'll help us not only in the NIT tournament but help us next year.
It's easy to say after a loss that Sean's playing may have screwed up our chemistry. So then you might say if he didn't play we would have had a better chance at beating Duke. I don't think that's accurate. That day Duke was clearly the better team and we weren't as sharp. We are a better team with Sean May on the floor – he's one of our best big man and one of the big man in the country. We're glad to have him on the floor. It helps our depth – all of a sudden we can play a little bigger and all of a sudden we're a little fresher. His minutes against Duke were so limited, he wasn't going to play a lot anyway and then when we got behind I didn't want to put him in there when we're trying to chase and put him in a bad situation.
You've coached in the NIT before, is there anything you feel is key to make sure your team is focused and exciting to play?
That's the biggest thing. There were some teams the year we were in it that were a lot closer. Dealing with the disappointment … the year at Notre Dame we were a lot closer and when we didn't get in you had to quickly change the mindset to, ‘Okay, we're disappointed, we're mad, so let's prove to the NCAA that they made a mistake in not taking us and win the NIT.' And we about did it. That's the mentality you have to have.
This is a great tournament. There are teams in this tournament that are better than some teams in the NCAA Tournament because of the automatic bids. You can't tell me Tennessee is not better than some of the teams in the tournament and you can't tell me that DePaul is not better than some of the teams in the tournament. I can go down the line, Texas Tech, Georgia Tech, North Carolina …. but there are a lot of automatic bids. So I think you're maybe going to even see some better games, especially in the early rounds of the NIT than you'll see in the NCAA Tournament.
DePaul beat Louisville, Cincinnati … they've beaten some real good teams. You talk about Carolina-DePaul, that's a pretty good matchup, I don't care if it's in the NIT, NCAA Tournament or non-conference game.
What's Jackie Manuel's status?
His foot's still sore. We'll see when we hit the floor how he handles it today. He's had a problem with it all year but it really flared up this past weekend.
Do you take examples of teams in the past that have taken NIT runs and parlayed into success the following year – do you show that to the team?
Virginia in 1980, I think, made the NIT and went to the Final Four the next year. Vanderbilt won it and then went to the Sweet 16. Obviously our Notre Dame team. I think a lot of teams have taken that and gone from the NIT … Tulsa is in the NCAA this year, Alabama, Memphis …So, yeah, I think it's definitely a good atmosphere and a good way to finish up the season.
How are you getting game tapes of DePaul?
David Cason is in charge of our film work and during the year we just tape games – any game we can tape we tape. So we have a library, and a couple of DePaul tapes are in the library. I've watched them already. Then we call around to friends of ours and ask ‘Do you have any DePaul tapes?' Every league has a rule that you can't get tapes from conference opponents, so we find out who they played non-conference and call them.
Last night we didn't know until 9:30, 10:00. Then you scramble through your video library, start making some calls and if we get them with Fed-Ex we don't get them until tomorrow morning.
Since most of your players haven't tasted the postseason, what kind of advice do you give them going into the game?
Just the excitement of the tournament. We have the opportunity to hang a banner, we have the opportunity to win over 20 games, the opportunity to play on national TV. Everyone is watching college basketball in March. You get a lot of exposure from this event. It's not something you're ashamed to win, I promise you. Look at the teams that are in there. Texas Tech, Virginia, St. John's, Tennessee, Georgetown, DePaul, St. Louis, UNLV, Temple. There are some good teams in this event.
What kind of atmosphere do you expect tomorrow night?
Ticket sales are going well, and 3/4's of the lower level are going to be general admission seats, so I think it's going to be a lot of people who get the opportunity to get lower level seats who might normally be in the upper level. Kind of like it was against Maryland when Coach Guthridge was coaching and the whole lower level was filled with students. It'll be a little different atmosphere, but our fans have been great all my three years and they really energized us [in the last few home games of the season] and I hope they can come in an energize us again tomorrow night.