Hear from Texas A&M, Nevada and Kansas State's head coaches on latest March Madness 365 podcast
Texas A&M’s team tested head coach Billy Kennedy more than any other he has coached during his seven seasons in College Station.
But it could end up being his most rewarding.
Kennedy, who joined NCAA.com's March Madness 365 podcast, said he had never before in his career had the number of injuries and suspensions the Aggies had this season.
“It’s been the most challenging year,’’ Kennedy said as the Aggies prepare to play Michigan in the Sweet 16 Thursday in Los Angeles. “But we’ve been able to weather the storm and be in this position.’’
Kennedy said the Aggies were “capable of being a dominant inside team,’’ led by Robert Williams, who he said is “playing his best basketball of the season at both ends of the floor. He’s a dominant presence.’’
The frustration for Kennedy this season has been the Aggies’ inability to be consistent, even with the suspensions and injuries.
“We’ve been better against the better teams,’’ said Kennedy. “It seems like that gets their attention. The better the opponent, the better we’ve played this year.’’
Texas A&M beat Providence and North Carolina, in Charlotte no less, en route to the Sweet 16.
Kennedy said he is feeling as well physically as he has in years since being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease soon after his arrival in College Station in 2011.
“My health is better than its ever been,’’ said Kennedy. “I’m so thankful and fortunate the doctors I’ve seen and the treatments I’ve gotten. My nutrition has been better. I’m fortunate that my symptoms are not as severe as other people.’’
Kennedy also added that he was well aware that former President George H.W. Bush, whose presidential library is on Texas A&M's campus, picked the Aggies to win the national title.
“I hope he’s right,’’ said Kennedy. “I promise you that much.’’
Kansas State coach Bruce Weber also joined the podcast and said UMBC’s upset over Virginia forced his staff to work through the night to be prepared to play the Retrievers on Sunday. The expectation was to play top-seeded Virginia, and while one assistant did have the UMBC scout, the prep was hardly the same as for UVA.
Weber said he was confident in the preseason that he was coaching an NCAA tournament team after the Wildcats made it a year ago.
Weber discussed how much he loved his time at Southern Illinois and Illinois, but agreed in retrospect that moving wasn't a bad idea.
“I don’t know if you can stay at a place more than seven or eight years now,’’ said Weber, who referenced Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Kansas’ Bill Self, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo as more anomalies than the norm. “It may be the best thing to keep moving. The thing I don’t like about it is the relationships (change). The former players at Illinois, I feel like I’m not as much a part of them anymore. That’s why I got into it. But that’s part of the business.’’
Weber said he’s hopeful Dean Wade will be back for the Kentucky game Thursday in Atlanta after Wade missed the past three games. Weber said Wade would be key in finding ways to score more efficiently against Kentucky.
Nevada’s Eric Musselman was on the podcast as well, and said the comeback wins against Texas and Cincinnati were the two best he has been associated with and that’s over “any NBA playoff game as an assistant coach or any game as a head coach (in the NBA).’’
He said watching his late father, Bill, coach South Alabama to the NCAA tournament and nearly knock off Arizona in 1997 was the most fun he had in the NCAA tournament until last weekend.
The Wolf Pack, who are down to essentially six players due to injuries, have had to reshuffle their lineup with Cody Martin playing more point guard. Musselman said his team is still evolving due to the limited numbers.
He said he thinks one of the reasons Nevada got an at-large berth after failing to win the Mountain West conference tournament was because it did what the committee wanted and played road/neutral games.
“At the end of the year, we didn’t want to say our schedule kept us out,’’ said Musselman, whose Wolf Pack take on Loyola Chicago in Atlanta in the Sweet 16 Thursday. “We wanted it in our hands.’’
Musselman, who at 53 has shown to be quite fit by taking off his shirt for postgame celebrations once last year and then again Sunday after the epic comeback against the Bearcats, said his exercise regimen is simple: “One hour of cardio every day. One hour lifting.’’