Q&A: Butler's Matthew Graves

Kevin Danna offers to the readers of The Bootleg this Q&A session with Butler Associate Head Coach Matthew Graves before the Bulldogs and Cardinal battle it out on Thursday Night at Maples Pavilion.

The Bootleg's Kevin Danna:  First question coach, welcome to the Bay Area. I know you guys just got in today probably from Spokane, but do you guys have anything non-basketball related on the itinerary for the guys out here on the west coast, or is it strictly business?
Butler Associate Head Coach Matthew Graves:  We told our guys when we left Indianapolis that this is a business trip. We're not on Christmas break or vacation or anything like that. We're coming out here to compete and try to get two wins, and obviously last night didn't go as we had hoped, so we need to be even more focused and be ready to go tomorrow.

Danna:  Mentioning the game last night, a hard-fought loss against the Bulldogs. What did you take away from that game as a staff?
Graves:  I think the biggest thing for us as a staff is we're still trying to find that consistency that's really bothered us from the beginning of the season. We've struggled to - really, who is going to play from night to night as far as not only starting but who is able to come in and give us valuable minutes. We've had nine different guys lead us in scoring this year, which is obviously a little unique.

Danna:  Erik Fromm was one of those guys who had a very nice game against the Zags after being inserted into the starting lineup for Andrew Smith. I know he was in there to start off to keep Smith out of early foul trouble, but did you expect to get THAT kind of offensive output from him?
Graves:  We were not, but certainly we were pleased. I think the biggest thing in what Erik was able to do was early in the game he stepped up and took a charge on [Gonzaga's Robert] Sacre, which was a huge play for us. It was a scouting report play, and he really did a nice job. And like we've told our players time and time again, the game honors toughness, and he made a tough play and took a charge, and that really propelled him into having a really good game on the offensive end of the floor as well.

Danna:  Considering his success, is this a lineup change you make a little more permanent - maybe not for Smith every game, but to just find a way to get him into that starting lineup? 
Graves:  I think so moving forward, but again we still haven't settled on certainly who we are going to start tomorrow, let alone as we move into conference play when we get back from Christmas. We're just trying to find guys that we can count on night in and night out and right now we've only got two or three guys that you kind of know what you're gonna get each game you go out and certainly to be a championship-level team, you've got to be able to find seven or eight guys that you have a pretty good idea going into the game what you're going to get. So we're still in the early process of finding that out even though we're 11-12 games into the season.

Danna:  It's been understandably tough for your team offensively without the likes of Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, but what do your current Bulldogs need to do to start hitting a better percentage from the field?
Graves:  I think first and foremost, our execution early in the shot clock is not bad, but as we get into the possession, we get guys that get a little bit anxious and we've really talked about our shot selection not being where it needs to be. And a part of that is we get guys that get a little bit antsy, want to make something happen quickly after the initial set breaks down and also just working on basic fundamentals of delivering the ball and our spacing when we need it to be there. With as many young guys as we are playing and guys in a little bit of different roles, they're getting better. That's what's encouraging - we're not anywhere near where we need to be but from where we were two weeks ago, we have made some strides in what we are doing offensively, so that's definitely encouraging moving forward.

Danna:  A couple of those impressive freshmen and young guys that I've noticed are Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods. What does this incoming class add to the team - is there anyone you see that could potentially fill the role of a Howard or Mack or Hayward of years past?
Graves:  It's hard to compare those guys to freshmen just yet, but with Kameron, he's got tremendous upside with his size, length and ability to play out on the floor, so he's got a chance to be a really special player. He's got to understand that you've got to bring it every day, and as a freshman, he's still learning and going through the growing pains of being a freshman. And then Roosevelt has probably been our most consistent guy even though he's a freshman. He's really starting to find his niche in what he needs to do for us, and he has been a tremendous boost for us on the defensive end of the floor especially.

Danna:  Overall your team is two games under .500, but your Final Four teams didn't get off to the best of starts either. Obviously this is a much different team, but do you see this year's team being able to get on a similar hot streak and win a lot of games in a row?
Graves:  I hope so, but right now, at this point, I would say no. It's too early to make any statement like that.  Again, it goes back to what we were talking about earlier - just finding enough guys to be consistent every day. Our biggest problem as a staff right now is it's hard to game plan when you're not sure what you're going to get from your own team. So until we can find enough guys to be consistent on a night in and night out basis from practice to game. It's going to be a struggle for us, but like I said, we're encouraged. In our game with Purdue, we had some good moments and even last night, we played some good basketball at times, and we've got to continue to put it together for a full 40 minutes.

Danna:  Since you've really had to take it game to game as a staff and you're not sure what you're going to get out of your players, did you guys set any season-long goals heading into this season? Any specific milestones that you wanted to highlight as a staff?
Graves:  We've never talked about season-long goals with the exception of we're wanting to win a championship, and there's a lot of different ways you can do that, from winning your regular season championship, to getting in your conference tournament and getting hot and playing well. But our biggest thing is we wanted to continue to improve every day, and with this team, that's really been our only goal and focus is to continue to improve as a team every day, and we understand that conference play helps you in your seeding and different things like that. But at the end of the day, we need to be able to put together some really good basketball late in the season. That's what we're continuing to strive for with this young team.

Danna:  The Horizon league is looking very tough again, with Cleveland State getting off to a great start, Milwaukee looking strong again, Valpo already at eight wins, and Detroit knocked off St. John's. How does the league in 2011-12 compare to recent years past?
Graves:  I think the biggest thing with the league compared to other years is that you got more teams that could potentially win the league. Last year, there was a 3-way tie for first at 13-5, and I think this year - I don't know if 13-5 will be that magic number - but I think there are five or six teams in our league this year that are capable of winning the conference championship. So it's going to be very important as we head through the conference season to get that one or two seed because in our league, the top two seeds get a bye to the semi-finals, and that's really going to be crucial and give you a leg up on everybody else who is competing for that tournament championship.

Danna:  Out of that group of five or six that you mentioned, is there a team in particular that especially scares you?
Graves:  They all do. We dropped a game at home against Valpo and we're 0-1 in league. Milwaukee has some older guys back that play well and Detroit might be the most talented team on paper in our league. The other team that is very scary right now and that's gotten off to a good start in conference being 2-0 with those two wins being on the road is Cleveland State. They've got probably the most veteran leadership of anyone, so certainly night in and night out, those are the teams that can really give you a problem.

Danna:  How many bids do you think the Horizon can get come March?
Graves:  I think it's really going to be one - the team that wins the conference tournament. Unless something changes, and I'm not sure exactly what the other teams have left non-conference, I just don't think anyone in our league has done enough in the non-conference to warrant an at-large bid. But that can certainly change over the next couple of months. You get a team or two that gets hot and goes through the league and goes 16-2 or 17-1, then some things may change, but we'll have to see how that plays out over the next two months.

Danna:  Finally coach on a personal level you were part of the construction of this mid-major powerhouse as a player for Butler, being on the team that got Butler back to the tournament for the first time more than three decades. What's it been like for you to see this program grow to what it is today?
Graves:  It's a tremendous high. It's a great feeling knowing that you had a small part in developing - as a player, we were able to get to the NCAA tournament and that led to getting better players in here and then having the opportunity to go through and being on the coaching side of it and being a part of that every day. It's a wonderful place to say you go to work every day.

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