LSU-Butler Quotes, March 18
March 18, 2009
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Willie Veasley, and Matt Howard. Questions, please.
Q. Matt, since you played on the team last year, started, I'd just like you to talk a little about the difference of going from a team with so many seniors to one with three freshmen in the starting lineup? And how different the seasons have been? How that goes?
MATT HOWARD: Well, the main difference was sort of in the expectation level coming in this year. You know, I think a lot of people that didn't really expect us to be here. Last year was sort of the opposite situation. So, you know, it was a little bit different from last year in that regard.
Q. I meant more along how the team came together and what you had to do as the only returning star?
MATT HOWARD: Well, last year, like you said I was the only freshman, so, you know, it was a little different in the fact that I was learning the ropes. And the four seniors, they were helping. Or five seniors they were helping me along with that. And this year, it's sort of a different situation where I was trying to do that for all the freshmen that we had. And so, I think they did a really good job adjusting.
Q. You had a really good season this year. I know last year you the game against Tennessee, probably a tough performance for you. What did you learn from your NCAA Tournament experience last year? And how much did that Tennessee game kind of motivate you in getting ready for this year?
MATT HOWARD: Well, I think it motivated me quite a bit, because I realized that it wasn't really the performance that I wanted. And in some ways it felt like I let the team down.
So going into this year, just trying to make sure that, you know, I was a little better physically, and just a little more prepared, I think.
It really hurt, and that's what losses should do. So I tried to make sure that I did the right things this off season, and just better prepare myself for this time around.
Q. What do you know about the match ups as far as who you're going to be on and who is going to be on you? What do you know about the LSU player you're matched up with?
WILLIE VEASLEY: We watched film. I know that they've got a great group of guys, their starting five. You know, they've got Phil Turner who is a pretty good player. Tasmin Mitchell, he's a good player. The big guy, Johnson, he's athletic. You know, I think we both match up, we're both physical. We both teams are athletic. So I think we match up really well against them in those aspects.
Q. Who will be on you?
WILLIE VEASLEY: I'm not really sure who's going to be guarding me?
Q. And who are you guarding?
WILLIE VEASLEY: I think it's Mitchell.
MATT HOWARD: Well, I'm not real sure if we've completely said who we're guarding. But like Willy said, they're a really athletic team. And got a couple of guys that can really score the ball. So they provide a lot of match up difficulties for a lot of teams. And, you know, like I said, I'm not real sure if we're set who we're guarding yet. But I'm sure we'll be ready for them.
Q. You guys don't get a lot of chances to play schools from the so called power conferences, but you usually seem to thrive in those situations and often you're an underdog. Does that matter to you guys? Or do you find yourself almost subconsciously elevating your game when you go and play teams like Ohio State or Tennessee or LSU?
MATT HOWARD: Well, I feel like it's in the perception of what people think we should do is the main thing. So when they see us as a mid major going up against them, people will assume that we're going to have to elevate our game.
In some regards, we may have to. But I think more than that it's just the fact that, you know, you have to play tough against those teams because you may be a little smaller. Or maybe a little more athletic. But as long as you're executing, that can go really far, executing. When the team's more athletic than you, you've got to do the things that you do to outwit them.
WILLIE VEASLEY: As far as like getting up more for these games because of the BCS conferences, I don't think we pay attention to the names on the jerseys. It's just another game that we know we have to come out and play for, because they're going to give us a good game.
Q. You have a really physical style of play. Could you talk about what your body feels like after a game and how exhausting it is, if it is exhausting?
MATT HOWARD: Yeah, it's a little exhausting because of the way I play. I try to make sure that I'm giving it everything I've got. And so, you know, you're going to get tired that way. The game takes a little bit of a toll on you that way.
But I feel like that's the only way to play. For me, especially, because I'm, and most of these games we're definitely going against somebody that's a little bigger, somebody more athletic. So if I'm not playing my hardest, then, you know, I'm going to get beat on a lot of possessions.
Q. I understand it's been a while since the conference tournament break, was that something that was needed for the team to rest up and get refocused for the tournament?
WILLIE VEASLEY: Yeah, the break, I think helped us. We got to work on a few things that we didn't do very well in our last game. We got to work on some execution. Just make sure that we got our sets down and stuff. Then we got to rest up, you know. We didn't have any games, so we just got to practice and relax and stuff.
MATT HOWARD: Like Willy said, we got time to work on some of the stuff that maybe we didn't do so well. At this time of the year, you want to be firing on all cylinders. And so, you know, just the coaches did a good job at looking at what we didn't do so well and working on those things this last week.
Q. Can you talk about Matt's sort of high energy and physical type play? And Matt, can you tell us what Willy's strengths are?
WILLIE VEASLEY: Matt being physical. He's just what we need, a big body down there, you know, to bang, to get the tough plays. He's somebody that we look towards during games to give us those get us some of those tough plays. That brings energy to us. It makes us want to work harder when we see him working like that.
MATT HOWARD: Well, Willy, he does a lot of stuff for us. A lot of things that go unnoticed, too, I think. A lot of times he'll be guarding one of the team's best players, and so he's done a great job all year guarding.
You know, he also he makes some of the tough plays, too. Like he was talking about just rebounding and, you know. But the main thing is when Willy's playing pretty well, I think our team plays pretty well, too. We feed off of him a lot, too.
Q. You had said earlier talked about how that Tennessee game kind of motivated you. Is there anything differently you did in the off season to get ready for this season? Particularly, because I imagine you knew you were going to be, even as a sophomore, kind of one of the elder statesmen. Is there anything specifically you did to prepare this year that you hadn't done in previous seasons?
MATT HOWARD: Well, it may seem a little odd, but actually, I felt like I was a little overweight. My knees were a little banged up. Didn't feel so well. So one of the things I wanted to do was work on that, work on foot speed so I could guard out on the perimeter a little bit. Also, it's that I was a little wider, and I wasn't taking so much of a toll on my knees.
Q. Would you talk a little about what y'all want to do better? What y'all used that week specifically to focus on, individually and as a team?
MATT HOWARD: You mean the last week before that we've had? Well, I think Willy mentioned his execution. In the last game we played probably about as well as we could defensively, but, you know, offensively we struggled a little bit. Just working on execution.
Executing our plays and executing defensively, making sure we were doing our job. You know, that was pretty much the main thing we focused on.
WILLIE VEASLEY: Yeah, basically just what Matt said. The week was basically executing defensively, getting our sets down. Spacing, you know. Just so that getting back to playing, you know, our type of basketball.
Q. To follow that up, you say on our type of basketball. If you had to describe Butler's style of play in a basic way, how would you say it? When you guys are good, what's happening?
MATT HOWARD: I think when we're playing really well, we're moving the ball. We're spaced really well, and when you're not spaced really well, stuff becomes cluttered, and it's hard to get good shots. And so when we're playing well and executing and we're in the spots that we're supposed to be our offense flows a lot better, and that's a really big thing with our offense.
So we worked on spacing, and being in the right spots, and making sure we were setting the screens and setting screens in the right spots.
Q. Are either of you guys surprised that the SEC regular season champ is an 8 seed? Did that surprise either of you guys?
WILLIE VEASLEY: I'm not sure about if we were surprised. I guess every team in here is the best they picked. So seeding, I'm sure just like us, they didn't really worry about it. I'm sure it doesn't bother them that much.
MATT HOWARD: Well, I'm sure a lot of teams are not real happy with the seeds they got. And I know that's a power conference. I'm sure that they may have expected to get a little better.
To be honest, I can't really tell you what the committee thinks and what goes through their minds. So as far as we look at it as it is what it is, you know, there are six games, so it doesn't really matter where you're at.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Butler head coach Brad Stevens. An opening statement and questions.
COACH STEVENS: It's nice to get a chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament again. I don't know really what else to say but that. We're excited to have the opportunity. Obviously, the challenge is great. LSU is a great team. They've had a great season. Very well coached, very talented.
We're looking forward to having an opportunity tomorrow.
Q. Would you just talk a little about having watched tape of LSU, some of your impressions have been specifically what they do well and that match up?
COACH STEVENS: Any time you have the combination of great coaching, so system, team plays with purpose. Team has an identity, those type of things. You combine that with exceptional athleticism and basketball ability, you've got a really good team. Ultimately an SEC champion. They've been really impressive on tape.
I can go through the individuals till the day is done. But, obviously, with Thornton being the SEC player of the year, and Mitchell being first team all SEC, and with all these guys' experience with Temple and Mitchell specifically. Having already started and played deep into the tournament in the past. You know, you've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of things. We're going to have to play very, very well tomorrow to compete.
Q. Talk a little about your style. You gave us LSU, can you break down your team a little bit and contrast it with what you had last year? Obviously you have younger players, but has it changed what you do? Are you saying things to different guys?
COACH STEVENS: I think every team you have, you treat differently from the standpoint you have to make tweaks to match and fit your strengths on that team. Obviously, Willie and Matt who are just sitting up here, are guys that have been here before. You know, we talked about being inexperienced, but between them, they played seven NCAA Tournament games. So those guys understand what this is all about.
The biggest challenge for us as we were going into the year was we really couldn't make any assumptions. We really didn't know in September or early October what we were going to do until we got on the practice floor on October 17th with regard to how we were going to attack specifically.
But that stuff ironed itself out fairly quickly, and we had an idea of what some of on our strengths would be as a group. You know, the starting three freshmen, sometimes that takes a little bit of time. These guys bought into what we were trying to do defensively. These guys bought into the concept of team, system, and it made for a pretty smooth transition.
Q. Y'all did as good a job defending Stephen Curry as just about anybody all season. Now you're going up against another high scoring guard in Thornton. What sticks out from what you see of Thornton on tape, and can that performance against Curry give you confidence going against another high scoring.
COACH STEVENS: Well, he's excellent, first of all. Thornton's a guy that can score it a number of different ways. I don't know how many guys there are in the country that can come off those baseline screens and post. Fake like they're coming off a baseline screen, sprint off or shoot it off either foot, score with the basketball. And do it all at 6'4", and do it all with great strength. He's an outstanding player. Certainly one of the better guards we've faced in the past couple of years.
So I don't know if we take necessarily anything from that Davidson game, other than the fact that we've got to play with the same sense of urgency that you did against Curry without question. Because Thornton is, to me, and I don't know. I don't rank them, I don't get into this. But to me I can't imagine him not being pro.
Q. What do you know about Garrett Temple as a defensive player? What do you tell your player about him as far as you think he might guard?
COACH STEVENS: I don't get into those match ups. I heard you ask Willie that question as well. And the answer for Willie is he'll guard everybody on the team tomorrow. And that's what he's done all year. That's the way we play. We switch a lot, we have a lot of different guys guarding, and that is the strength in our team is the versatility.
As far as Garrett Temple, I think that's probably the word that best describes him, he's a terrific defender. I'm sure he can guard 1 through 5. I'm sure he can switch. He has obviously had great success.
You know, any time you're starting with that group as a freshman in the Final Four, I think that speaks to your not only not only your physical capabilities, but your mental toughness and your ability to be versatile and impact the game in a lot of different ways.
Q. Can you talk about Matt Howard's game? What he brings to the team? The sort of energy and effort out there?
COACH STEVENS: It's unbelievable. He's as good of a leader by example as I've ever been around. He really is. He's terrific. He plays as hard in the last minute of the game as he does in the first minute. He can fight through fatigue as well as any guy that I've ever been around. He's just got a great deal of mental toughness.
I just think at the start of this year with no seniors, knowing that he was the lone returning starter, although Willie, you know, played quite a bit, and Willie had 11 in the second round against Tennessee last year, he's been here before. That we were really going to have to lean on Matt as an example and role model for the rest of this group because of his effort, his energy, the way he does things on and off the court. He's an academic All American as a sophomore. You can't ask for a better leader especially if you're young in general.
Q. I've probably asked you this before, but is there anything that Butler does regularly maybe that if a team hasn't played your style or your system before, it's a little deviation from maybe what LSU and other maybe SEC schools would be used to seeing?
COACH STEVENS: Well, if there is I don't necessarily want to go into them today. I think that every team has a unique system. All 65 teams that are still playing have found a way to have success in that system. And the bottom line is you have to do what you do really well to have success in this tournament.
Obviously, you have to know your opponent, you have to try your best to take away what they do well and make it as difficult as possible. But we can't have all our focus on them. We have to do what we do really well.
Q. Can you talk about Gordon's development, what he brings to the team and then sort of about halfway through the season?
COACH STEVENS: Well, I think we thought pretty highly. We felt pretty good about Gordon coming into the year. Last year he led his team to a High School State Championship in Indiana in the biggest class. He hit the game winner in front of however many people at Conseco Fieldhouse at the buzzer to win that state championship. He's 6' 8", he can handle pass and shoot. He can defend, he can move. He glides on the court. What is there not to like?
So early on in the year, I think it was the fourth or fifth practice, one of my assistant coaches came up to me after he had hit about three shots in a row to end practice and said a star is born. It's not a big surprise to us what he's done all year. I think that he could continue to get better. I think he's excited about getting better. He's extremely coachable.
You know, we talked about Matt earlier, I think he's a future academic All American as well, and just a guy that can really, really make everybody on the court better regardless of what he does from a scoring standpoint.
Q. What made you want to get out of your first career? You were in a marketing company? Did you just have a what led to you suddenly getting out of it?
COACH STEVENS: I was 22 or 23 years old, and had a lot of passion and a lot of desire to be around sports and in the game of basketball. You know, I was really fortunate at the time I didn't have anybody else that depended on me. So I just decided that that was as good of a time as any to try to take a jump and see if I couldn't get into coaching basketball.
And I didn't do it for necessarily anything more than being a part of a team. Having a chance to compete and being around a sport that I love. I told the story many times. But the best part about being at Butler was getting the key to Hinkle Fieldhouse, because I grew up 20 minutes away. So it's been an incredibly smooth transition for me. It's been really aided and advanced and enhanced by the people I've had a chance to work with and work for.
Q. How much do you worry about and how important do you think it is the seeding? Like Sunday morning, how much were you fretting over what seed you would be?
COACH STEVENS: I don't worry about it at all. Unless it means we're not in. I'd like to be in the tournament. I think it's something that we'll never take for granted. I've been one of the last few teams that didn't make it before early on in my coaching career, and just to have the opportunity to compete. You know, if you're looking for easy games. If you're looking to walk through a game in the NCAA Tournament, it just doesn't happen. So I don't care about seeding. Seeding is irrelevant from our point of view.
The committee does a great job. They do it with all the information they can. Nobody puts more time, effort and energy into that. And just to have a chance to compete in this is special for us. You know, we recognize whoever you're playing, the challenge is going to be huge.
Q. I'm sure this is a topic you've spoken about before, too. But when they gave you the job, you obviously had to show a lot of maturity beyond your years and what not to do that. What did they tell you that said Brad, we're confident. We know you can do this, and know you can have this responsibility?
COACH STEVENS: You know, I don't know that they ever said anything specifically to that. They did incredible working environment. Butler is an incredible place to work. You feel empowered every day you walk in there. We have a terrific administration.
But Barry Collier was the head coach for 11 years at Butler. He then went to Nebraska, was a head coach. So just him signing off and giving me that opportunity made me feel like for him to say that, meant a ton to me. And you felt like we're in a great situation.
I've got the head coaching job, we had five seniors that were going to be coming back. They were winners in every way. They had already been to a sweet sixteen. That made for a smooth transition for me.
It's been a great learning experience. But, again, when you work for I worked for Barry who is my A.D. now, and I worked for Coach Motta who is at Ohio State, and Coach Likliter who is at Iowa, you're not only working for great coaches, but you're working for great people. So every day is a terrific learning experience. You gain a lot of confidence from that.
AMY YAKOLA: Joined by student athletes from LSU: Tasmin Mitchell, Garrett Temple, and Marcus Thornton. Questions for the student athletes.
Q. The SEC only got three bids. I think you're the highest seeded team at 8. The conference got a lot of criticism all year. I was just wondering how good do y'all think the conference is this year? And do you feel in a sense you're representing the SEC because of all the press you've received?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Well, the whole season, you know, like I said, the SEC has been kind of down as far as teams that have been ranked in the top 25 and stuff like that. And we were on the team ranked. We do feel a lack of disrespect. But we're not going to talk about that. We're just all here to play ball. We're here at the NCAA Tournament, and we're very excited.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Tas said, you know, we were the only team toward the end of the season to be ranked. You know, whether it was strength of schedule or what, but the SEC just wasn't the old SEC this year. We went 13 3 in the SEC, so we did pretty good in terms of against our SEC foes. But the 8 seed wasn't expected, but it is what it is. And, you know, to get what you want to get in the NCAA Tournament. You've got to beat some good teams whatever seed you are. We're just ready to toss the ball up like Tas said, and play great tomorrow.
MARCUS THORNTON: Coming into the season like Tas said, coming into the season, everybody put the SEC to beat down. As far as the player in the SEC, you had to come out and play every night. You know, because any team could be beaten on any given night. Like Garrett said, I'm just happy to be here, and ready to throw the ball up.
Q. I don't know if you watched tape of Butler or what your coach has told you. But some teams have a little, it's awkward to prepare for Butler sometimes because of some of the things they do are unconventional. But would you comment a little on what some of the things that Butler does? If it's peculiar from what you're seeing, or if it resembles maybe what Florida and Mississippi State do a little bit?
TASMIN MITCHELL: From watching tape on them, they're talented. They play on a team of freshmen and sophomores. But, you know, they just run their offense. They run their offense. They're a very patient team. You know, they stay poised and guard them on the defensive end. But they've got to come back on the other end and guard us.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Tas said, they're a very impatient team. And I think we can go with the Washington State team that we played earlier in the year. In terms of we have to be patient on defense, and not gamble as much because they take their time. But also the way they have the four it's similar to Mississippi State. And they have guys that can shoot the ball. Their second tallest guy in Hayward can shoot the three. Ravern Johnson was a guy from Mississippi State who can shoot the three. So they're a guard oriented team, but Matt Howard is the stud in the middle also. So it's going to be a great game to play.
MARCUS THORNTON: Like Garrett said, they're kind of like a Washington State. You know, they're patient in their offense. They don't take quick shots, bad shots, you know. They do what the coach says. Just like every other team we played this year, we can't take them lightly. They wouldn't be here if they weren't good, so we have to take them like we played everybody else and try to win the game.
Q. This is for Garrett as part of that first question, do you feel like LSU is representing the SEC in any respect because of the disrespect they showed y'all?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I mean, I feel like we were representing the SEC whether we had six teams, seven teams or two teams. Or if we're the only team because we're LSU and we're from the SEC. Us being the highest seed in the SEC, I don't think that has anything to do with it. I think Mississippi State is representing the SEC just like we are, as is Tennessee.
You know, we're over the disrespecting thing. We're just ready to play ball. We're going to have to play, like I said, play good teams and beat good teams to get where we want to go in the NCAA Tournament.
Our path might just be a little bit difficult at the beginning also.
Q. Last stretch of the season there things just haven't really gone your way. You kind of lost the Mojo there. Do you feel there's anything you can do that you can kind of get that back? Have you guys sensed getting that Mojo back?
MARCUS THORNTON: At the end of the season all the guys say they got complacent. You know, after we clinched the SEC, you know, people just got happy because we did that, wasn't worried about the games that we have remaining. But we knew we were going to start at practice today from the Mojo thing you're talking about. You know, that's the way it started at the beginning of the year. You know, grinding through the SEC, and we're just trying to get it back for the NCAA Tournament.
GARRETT TEMPLE: Like Marcus said, unfortunately, I think we got a little complacent clinching the SEC. But I think we were during that season we were hungry, trying to earn respect in the SEC and throughout the nation. And, you know, we have another reason to be hungry now. It's a one game elimination. If you can't get up for this game, if you can't gain your Mojo back and find your Mojo for this game, you're in the wrong business.
TASMIN MITCHELL: Piggy back off what these guys said. We got lackadaisical at the end of the season. Lost three of our last four. But, you know, we've got to try to gain that back and have the same hunger that we had at the beginning of the season to get respect. But like Garrett said, nothing about the disrespect, it's about coming out here in this NCAA Tournament. Anybody that knows anything can happen. So we're just out here playing ball, getting our Mojo back.
Q. Y'all had a few off shooting nights in a row here, do you think you're due to snap out of that as a team? And how much of the shooting is just sometimes you're hot, sometimes you're not?
MARCUS THORNTON: You said it. In the game of basketball you know everything's not going to go the way you plan every game. Because if so, everybody would be the best. So, like I said, we've got to snap out of it a little bit. Get some shots, get a good feel for the area and the arena, and try to come out Thursday and make something happen.
Q. Tasmin, if you could take me back to 2006 your freshman year when you made it to the tournament back to the Final Four, back then, did you think that could be an every year thing for LSU? And secondly, with everything you've been through since then, the injury and the rough couple of seasons the past two years, how has that changed and made you stronger?
TASMIN MITCHELL: Yes, without a doubt, you know. Every team going into the season thinking they can make it to the Final Four, especially if we made it the year before that. So I was thinking that we can make it. The sky's the limit for the team. You know, as the season's played out, it didn't go as planned. But, yeah, you know, their run to the Final Four was unbelievable.
Me and Garrett sit back and talk about it. We talk about it all the time. You know, remember it was like this, remember that, remember that game. But you know what I'm saying, that's over with. We've got to try to get back to what we were. But two years after that, you know, we kind of really, really dropped the ball. We really proved to teams that, okay, LSU is not the same as 2006.
My injury made me stronger because it allowed me to see things not from being a coach, but from a coaching perspective. Like what I needed to do. I think it made my game stronger, you know, and some things in a lot of aspects. So the injury was, you know, it was almost a blessing from God because it just allowed me to come back and play with these guys and get back to what we were.
Q. In 2006, Daryl Mitchell was a guy that loved to take that big shot. When you look at Marcus's game, is it kind of similar to Daryl now that he likes and relishes that big shot? He's a guy that can knock down a lot of points for you? And Marcus, can you comment on wanting that big shot at crunch time?
GARRETT TEMPLE: Yeah, we saw that when we went to Maui last year. Tas played the first game, two games. But Marcus had a couple of big threes to send it into overtime. And at Auburn he hit a big three to win the game. So you have a guy like Marcus Thornton that can shoot the ball and almost 25, 26, 27 feet. You expect it to go in. And he had that confidence in himself. The team had the confidence in him for him to make that shot.
You know, he's also the guy, if he's not open, he's going to pass it, use him as a decoy. But I do see a little bit of Daryl Mitchell in him. When he got here, I said he's a 6' 4" Daryl Mitchell. Daryl used to hit that big shot hopefully. Hopefully we won't have to make a big shot. But if we do, I have confidence that if he's shooting it, it will go in.
TASMIN MITCHELL: It's hard to replace a Daryl Mitchell. He was a great leader, great point guard, stuff like that. But Marcus is in a category of his own. I think so. He's one of the greatest scorers I've ever seen. He's always up for the big shot. You know, his game has become complete, and, you know, we put the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
MARCUS THORNTON: Just to comment on that. It all comes from these guys having confidence and being able to know that I can make the shot or whatever. Like Garrett said, it's not just making the shot if people are guarding me too tight. You know, one of these guys are open, I'm going to get it to him, and I have enough confidence to know they'll make the shot.
So it all goes back, you know, to the team. You need all your team players to win the game and have confidence in them. That's how we got here.
Q. Which one of you guys will guard Hayward? I guess I'm asking it to all of you guys. Just talk a little about the problems, a guy that's as versatile as him can cause?
GARRETT TEMPLE: I think I'm going to be guarding Hayward, Gordon Hayward, I think his name is. He's a very tall freshman that can shoot the ball about 6' 7" ons, 6' 8", but also has a lot of basketball skill in that he can dribble the ball, pass the ball. So, I mean, he's a very mature freshman. It's going to be tough because of his length and not because of the offense they run.
But I've had to guard, you know, great players a long time. So, you know, with my teammates here playing great team defense is going to be the biggest thing. That is the biggest thing about guarding a guy that can score the ball is team defense.
AMY YAKOLA: Joined by LSU head Coach Trent Johnson. Opening comments from Coach Johnson.
COACH JOHNSON: Boy, the LSU Tigers are excited to have an opportunity to play. We're looking forward to competing against a very, very well coached and very good Butler team tomorrow morning. And it is morning for some of us.
Q. A lot has been made about the comparison between a veteran team featuring a lot of seniors and the fourth year junior as opposed to a freshman and sophomore team. Do you put any stock into those comparisons?
COACH JOHNSON: No, none whatsoever. Butler has a basketball team that defies their age. They're very mature for their age, they're very skilled and they're very good. With the amount of players that they play in the summer whether they're coming out of high school or still in college. Experience doesn't mean a thing at this time of the year.
It's about your ability to play, and concentrate and do the things you've been doing all year long. Not to mention the fact they have a rich basketball tradition of postseason experience, and being consistent in having that postseason experience.
Q. Butler does a few unconventional things offense and defense. Are they particularly awkward to prepare for for a coach and a team? Or is it not that much different from preparing for Florida or Mississippi State or Washington State?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I don't know what you mean by unconventional. I have the utmost respect for teams that play like they play. And I want to single out one player, though they have a good, balanced group, of very good basketball players.
Matt Howard in a 35 second shot clock possession set the back screen, the on ball screen, will seal his man. Will go inside to him in the post and go back out, and will not let him score. That's how he impacts one position. They have a bunch of guys that that are capable of doing that. So when you talk unconventional, any coach in America will say Butler University under Coach Stevens leadership are playing a game we all want to play. That is maximizing their ability.
Q. Earlier the players were asked about the word was used Mojo. I would say getting their confidence and their swagger back. And they talked about that with some eloquence. What has the coaching staff done to recapture what might have been lost over the last three, four games of the season with respect to swagger and confidence from your team?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, again, I've said this for some of the local guys who cover me. That is this group of guys being hard on themselves. When we went into this year, we knew that we were going to have to do three things really well with a sense of urgency. Defend, rebound, take care of the ball, and offensively shots were going to come.
We've lost three out of four games to people who have been better on a given afternoon, better on that day. Our margin of error has always been slim. When we won seven games in a row, the ball was going down for us.
So, again, it's my responsibility to get them just to relax and understand that, hey, look, nothing's wrong. Yeah, we've lost three out of four, but it's not because of what we haven't been doing, other than the fact that the ball hasn't been going down.
We've defended pretty well, rebounded pretty well. Everybody you're playing at this time of the year is good. And so that happens.
Q. Two questions, Marcus Thornton, I know it's not an individual team, but he seems like a guys that always willing to take that big shot for your basketball team. And a lot of times he knocks it down. Second, Butler's offense, is it a good match up for your team in terms of your defense? Because there are no 6' 10, 6' 11" guys. It's mainly a perimeter team?
COACH JOHNSON: To answer the first question. Marcus has taken shots down the stretch during the framework of our offense and our system. And his percentages along with Tasmin Mitchell's percentages in late clock situations are pretty good. So we have to go to them. They're our two best players offensively.
In terms of a match up, I mean, this game is predicated off quickness and mental toughness and skill sets and skill ability. So being 6' 11, 6' 10, 7 foot has nothing to do with it. It's your ability to be a basketball player and play above the rim or below the rim.
I've been in situations where I've had guys that are two seven footers and we played a Texas team in the sweet sixteen last year, and got eliminated and their tallest guy was 6' 6". So the bottom line is teams and players individually doing what they've done all year long to get to this point and not stepping outside the box or stepping outside their character.
Q. In the overall scheme of things, how important do you think Seton is? Obviously 1 8 is a big difference. But is there that much difference between being 6 and an 8?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, for me, and I've said this and feel this way, I don't think it's a big deal. I really don't. You know, players and other coaches who know a heck of a lot more than I do will say so. But for our basketball team which is the one point now, if we were a 3 seed or 4 seed or 5 seed or I should say 4 seed on up, the level of team that we're going to play against is going to be very capable and can beat us if we're not right.
Now if you're talking about a 1 seed, which we're not worthy of that. This team is not worthy of a 2 seed or 3 or a 4. So that's how our team looks at it.
So, no, it doesn't matter. It's about match ups at this time of the year. And there is so much parody in college basketball with the exception of maybe six or seven teams, and we're not one of them, that you need to be ready to do the things you've done all year long. So the answer to the question, the seeding and competition and being ready to play is everything to this guy.
Q. You mentioned Matt Howard a little bit. But I imagine you've watched their film, and I was wondering if you could comment on the energy and how hard that kid plays every time he's on the court in both directions?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, he plays no harder and with no more energy than anybody that steps on the floor for Butler. And that's what you respect. Those kids are always ready to play. And they know how to play. You know, I have a group just very similar in that regard.
I can honestly sit up here and tell you going into every game this year, this group that I've been fortunate enough to coach this year has always been ready to play. They competed from start to finish. And if there's a loose ball we'd be the first ones on our way to get it. So this 8, nine games will be a game that if both teams play to their capability, it should be a very, very good basketball game.
Q. You alluded to the match up situations, and this time of the year. What about Butler is a tough thing to match up with?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, I think what's tough about Butler is it takes principles, and what I mean by that is you have to be patient, you have to have a level of discipline because going down on the other end offensively, they're going to take good shots. They don't take bad shots.
So, you know, again, are there going to be any loose possessions in this game if you're guarding them? No. They'll be very position and detail oriented. And defensively they force you to take bad shots, so we're going to have to be disciplined in our offensive approach and take good shots.
This was a team that was to me very similar to the likes of a Washington State. But probably a better basketball team than Washington State is with no question in terms of how they approach the game.
Q. I'm covering a Bearcats team that has a lot of newcomers to this tournament. I was wondering if you could reflect back on your first trip as a head coach to a tournament, and what that experience and challenge was like to you?
COACH JOHNSON: I can't even remember yesterday, you want me to go back to 2004? Well, again, I've always tried to is to stay grounded. Stay on an even keel. All I can tell you is in '04, I didn't have enough time to really enjoy it. Because we had to win likes six games in a row, and the team to win the WAC championship, and the next thing you know you're getting ready to go to Seattle to play a Michigan State team.
So it was more of a different scenario in terms of me being able to enjoy it and sharing experiences as opposed to getting guys to understand that you have to be ready to play. And it's still just a game. The game's going to be decided on the floor. You know, this time of the year, everything's going on outside of you, the excitement and all of that is fine. And it's great. But you still have to at some point settle down and play the game.
So that's all I've tried to do and relate to the guys. We have fun. I have fun with them. But to go back and reflect on '04 is pretty hard. Because we were under the grind. We didn't have anything sowed up until actually, we got beat by Georgia Tech, and it was like oh, wow, this is what we've accomplished the last month and a half. So.
Q. In your years of coaching in the NCAA Tournament, is there one overriding thing that you've learned about the difference between it and the regular season that you have used? Anything that you say to your teams? Any tactics you use? Something that you've learned from playing in the tournament that helps you to be successful?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, yeah. To me it's always been pretty simple but yet so hard to do. You have to do the things you've done all year long to get to this point. Some way, somehow, guys have to enjoy it. But you still have to compete at a high level. And just stay and concentrate the best you can. And it's hard. It really is hard for kids.
You know, you look at it, it's probably going to be one team that's going to walk away from it that's going to be happy. I don't care what anybody says. There's going to be one team that walks away that are going to be happy. But there are 65 teams that got themselves in a situation that they have a lot to be thankful for when it's all said and done.
Q. Just wondering in the year that you've been here, what kind of leadership qualities have you seen from Tasmin? And do you have any specific examples of things he's said or done to take a leadership role with the team?
COACH JOHNSON: Well, Tasmin is number one, he's a man. He's not very vocal. But it's all been by example. Very inspirational. He has not missed a day since I've gotten here. Whether it's an individual workout, in the weight room or in practice. And when you stop and you look at it, you know, playing against sometimes in the position we put him in against 6' 9", 6' 10", and sometimes being on the perimeter chasing around guys that are 6'4", that's huge.
You know, he's probably one of the more enjoyable men that I've had an opportunity to coach in a short period of time. And I'm hard on the guys, but, you know, he's especially a young man. I think the people in Baton Rouge understand that, because they get a chance to see him and be around him a lot.
He's more of an example guy from a leadership standpoint, and some other guys are more vocal, ala Garrett Temple and so on and so forth.
Q. How late were you in the office Sunday night? What time did you leave?
COACH JOHNSON: On oh, on national TV you would ask me that question. I got my usual two hours of sleep. See these big bags under the eyes, they're good.
Q. What do you think it is that makes Garrett Temple such a good defensive player on a variety of players?
COACH JOHNSON: I think it's the understanding of the game. Obviously he's an older guy, he's been around. He's not the best of athletes. He's not the biggest and strongest guy, so he's a student of the game.
But all that being said, I think he's got a unique match up coming up tomorrow, because he's a young man that he's going to be guarding is very, very special in terms of his ability to make plays off the dribble and off the bounce. Like a lot of guys on this basketball team. And again, I just have been very impressed with Butler as a team. I mean, you need to go back no further than Xavier gets beat by Duke handily, and Xavier's next home game is against Butler. And Butler goes in there and beats them very precision and very efficient. So we're looking forward to it, and excited about the challenge that's in front of us.
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