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Round Three Media Session at NCAA Tournament

OHIOBOBCATS.COM John Groce
OHIOBOBCATS.COM
John Groce
OHIOBOBCATS.COM

March 17, 2012

Q.  Walter, Eastern Michigan game very slow paced.  You guys struggled to score for the first ten minutes.  Looked likes South Florida is going to be kind of the same style.  How do you fix what was the problem up in Eastern Michigan the first go-round?

Walter Offutt Well, we just need to go out there and play our game, play with energy and effort and be aggressive on offense.  Obviously, they're not playing a 2-3 zone.  We still have got better as the year has come past.  I think we need to go out there and be aggressive and play our game.  It will be fun and we'll be fine.

Q.  Compared to, I guess this would be more for Reggie and for DJ, compared to 2010, you guys were sort of the upset of the day with two 15 seeds winning yesterday, some people predicting you to beat Michigan from the outset.  What's the different feel the day after today preparing for the next game compared to two years ago?

D.J. Cooper:  We just more focused, you know, just moving onto the next game plan.  Thinking about preparing for South Florida and not, you know -- we're not stuck on Michigan anymore.

Q.  For any of you guys, is there a team you've faced over the past couple of years that compares with South Florida with their length defensively, maybe Louisville or another team like that?

Reggie Keely Only thing I can -- team I can think of close to South Florida is Marshall.  They did a real good job, real long, athletic big men.  I think we did a good job against them.  Hopefully we can continue what we did against Marshall to South Florida.

Q.  As you mentioned, DJ, and for any of the three of you, how much does that help when you got that maturation, been there a little bit, got some experience to draw on as you prepare for Sunday?

D.J. Cooper It gives us confidence, more focus to prove on at the next game, to get ready for our game plan against South Florida.  They play two different styles and just get focused and ready for the game tomorrow.

Q.  This is for DJ or Reggie.  Certainly USF is a team a lot more defensive minded, lot bigger.  They're going the try to slow things down.  You guys play the more uptempo offense.  They're always going to want to bang inside.  How are you guys going to try to keep the tempo up and sort of bring a lot of points to a team that hasn't lead a lot with this long streak here?

Reggie Keely We got to take every opportunity we have to run, push the pace.  Again, we got to try to force our will and hopefully get it -- get the score in the high 60's 70's.  We know you can't play with that type of style.

Q.  Reggie, when Morgan was out of the game yesterday, you had the height advantage, the size advantage inside.  Maybe not have that same advantage at any time when USF is playing you guys tomorrow.  Does that change your mindset at all?

Reggie Keely We ran into a few seven-footers, six-ten, six-eleven kids all year.  I think I held my own, did a good job against those guys.  I try to stay a aggressive and physical and try to impose my will on the game.

THE MODERATOR:  Any other questions?

Q.  Just follow-up, have you given yourselves a chance to think about what happens tomorrow?  You go on the court, you and South Florida, the winner gets to play on in the second weekend.  Do you think about that much at all or try to block it out as best you can?

D.J. Cooper That was our goal, you know, from last week, you know, just to focus on the four teams that's in our bracket.  That was one of our goals to move on from, beat Michigan, play the winner between South Florida and Temple.  And it's Temple, so now our focus is on Temple.  I mean south Florida.  My bad.

Q.  DJ, you were there in Providence a couple years ago when you guys won that first time in the NCAA Tournament in awhile.  What has changed about Coach Groce's approach to the post-season now compared to two years ago?  What have you noticed different just about maybe y'all's scheduling and everything else, schedule, rest, and things like that?  What have you noticed different about this trip now?

D.J. Cooper:  Just got smarter, I guess you could say.  The mentality is different.  He wants to win as bad as we do and he's getting us prepared.

THE MODERATOR:  Any other questions?

Q.  DJ, we mentioned the height of the Bulls.  That's probably going to focus down low inside.  Playing Akron, seven-footer in Zeke, probably the focus was down low.  They hit you for some 3's on the backside.  Will the focus be again on South Florida inside and are you concerned about opening up the 3-point game?

D.J. Cooper No.  We're going the play our system.  We play in a pack, we make it tight.  We got to focus on not giving them easy buckets and trying to make it as hard as possible for them to score.

Q.  Walt, could you tell us what you guys have seen in the brief time you've had to look at South Florida?  What makes them so good defensively and so tough?  How do you work around some of those factors tomorrow night?

Walter Offutt Offensively they're very athletic, very long and athletic and big inside, and obviously they have great size and also great size on the wings as well.  6-7 on the winning as well as 6-6 on the winning.  They do a good job defending.  They have good length.  That's what gives them the good job to defend.  They do a good job of rebounding.

I think if we limit the amount times they can get in the paint, whether that's through blocking out or through not letting them drive as much, we can make them score over the top of us, it helps to our advantage.

Q.  Guys, this is their third game, this is your second.  They've had to travel quite a bit as well.  We talked about tempo being important.  Is it even more important, possibly an advantage that you have, that this is your second game and this is their third?

Walter Offutt Yeah.  That's something the coach talked about quite a bit lately, them playing right around seven guys for the most part.  We play eight, nine guys each night.  We have to push the pace as much as possible with DJ and Stevie, done a good job of that over past week, two weeks we've been playing in the MAC as well.

We're going to continue to do that and hopefully it will play to our advantage towards the end of the stretch of the game.

THE MODERATOR:  Anyone else?

Q.  Guys, all of you, back-to-back nights or back-to-back games this weekend, you're going the play two of the ten slowest-paced teams in the country.  How critical is it for you guys to turn the pace and go for 70, 80 possessions?

Reggie Keely We know a fast-paced game is to our advantage and it's crucial for us to push the pace in order for us to get the win.  We want the game in the high 60s, high 70s.  We know they played three games in four days.  We got to really wear on them throughout the game.

D.J. Cooper Yeah.  We got the try to get as many buckets as possible.  As many times as we can get in transition, that's good for us.

Walter Offutt Yeah.  We can play slow as well.  We can grind it out.  We showed that we can grind it out.  If it gets stuck in a half-court game, we can execute our sets with DJ, we're screening well and Reggie is cutting hard to the basket, getting post-ups, and me driving, giving it to Kellogg.  We can play a ground-out game.  We'll have to battle it out, whichever way it was.

THE MODERATOR:  Time for a few more, if there are any.

Q.  I don't know if any of you are college historians, but a lot of teams have made runs that are -- they have made their names for years and years and years.  How deep do you guys think you have to go before you can be remembered as one of those magnificent Cinderella runs?

D.J. Cooper We really haven't thought about that.  We just trying to win one game at a time, move on to the next -- able to get to the next weekend.  It would be great to make the run, but I don't know.  Maybe two more games, maybe.

Walter Offutt Final Four.  I mean, probably just, you know, thinking about the Butler days, obviously Coach Brad Stevens and Coach Groce coached together at Butler.  Actually last year at this point, he's actually just talking about Butler, how they're such a great team and how they really didn't have like a tremendous start.  They bought into the team, the players did.  They went to the -- not only to the Final Four but to the national championship game right there at the -- there at the end to win it.  We're going to take one game at a time.  If it happens, it happens.

THE MODERATOR:  Time for about two more if there's anyone else.  All right.  Thank you, guys.

We'll get started with Coach Groce from Ohio.  Coach is going to give an opening comment before the questions.

COACH GROCE:  Obviously excited about the opportunity and it's just that, you know, another open door for our guys that we're excited to walk though.  Playing a very good South Florida ball club, one that in the last 24 hours have obviously watched and even less time than that, watched a lot of film on them and really appreciate how tough they are and how physical they are and how well they defend, and Stan's got those kids playing at a pretty high level right now.  It's a great challenge for us but one we're looking forward to tomorrow.

Q.  Coach, how familiar are you with kind of a body of work with Coach Heath where that program is?  They were sitting there on selection Sunday, unsure of whether they get in.  Is that a dangerous kind of dynamic?

COACH GROCE:  I'm sure he's used that for motivation, you know, and that's probably given them a cause in this tournament to advance.  But at the end of the day, I always say this, that type of stuff works for about the first four, five minutes, and then after that, the game kind of settles in.  And at that point it's about who executes the best, who plays the best, who makes the most plays, who imposes their will in any game.

So, I've known Stan for awhile and he's done a great job at every place that he's been, and right now I really respect, as I said in the opening comments, how hard he's got those kids playing right now, especially on the defensive end of the floor.  It's fun to watch.

Q.  Coach, have you gone up against Heath before at any level?  Do you guys have any connection in the past?

COACH GROCE:  Jimmy Christian was a friend of mine, used to be an assistant for Stan at Kentucky State.  Obviously Stan has Michigan State background with Coach Izzo.  I was at Ohio State with Coach Matta.  I've kind of followed Stan's career.  As I said earlier, he's done a great job.

Q. Defense has kind been your M.O. all season?

A. It's kind of the same with them.  What have you seen from them in the short time that you've been watching them on the defensive end?

COACH GROCE:  You talking about them on the defensive end?

Q.  Yes.

COACH GROCE:  The biggest thing is how hard they're playing and competing, for example.  They've got great size and length and athleticism, and they really challenge you in and around the paint area.

He's done a great job of, you know, keeping it tight, making it hard to score around the basket.  You know, very similar in some ways to we played Louisville earlier in the season at Louisville, and I thought they were great, still are great defensively, albeit different schemes.  It appears that Stan plays a little bit more man to man where Coach Pitino is playing more zone now.  Both teams very, very good defensively, very, very hard to score on.

Q.  Have you ever seen a team like USF that can go six minutes, ten minutes without scoring, go three for 27 in the first half, shoot 11 percent, they're only down by four and they look like a top ten team in the second half.  Have you seen a team that's so schizophrenic?

COACH GROCE:  I don't know if we look like a top ten team.  That was us early in the year.  People that followed us would know that it took awhile for our offense to get to where it's at right now.

We've executed really well offensively in the last month, but we had to rely on our defense at times.  We had some droughts ourself, so I can relate a little bit to that.  But I've always told our guys, and I'm sure he tells their guys, if you defend and rebound, you're going to have a chance.

But it is impressive.  Last night I think they were maybe 11 percent field goal percentage at halftime.  Then come out and win.  I think if you said to most coaches you're going to shoot 11 percent in the first half and score 15 points, how do you feel about your chances of winning?  Honestly, they would probably say "not great."

Again, it's a testament to how they defend.  It always keeps them in games and gives them a chance every single night they play.

Q.  Coach, when a coach has got experience in the tournament like Stan has, is that something that coaches are able to kind of pass through, guide their teams a little bit easier when they get to a chance to advance to the second week?

COACH GROCE:  I think it helps.  I think about two years ago when we were in the tournament, I think the thing that helped me was that I was so blessed to be with Coach Matta at Ohio State, Xavier, and Butler, and we had been so many times that I was able to rely on that experience in preparing our team two years ago.

Now, we went two years ago and here we are two years later.  I do think experience is a great teacher for sure, and I think it's helpful.  My wife said to me last night when I got back to the hotel, "I've never seen you so calm."  I don't know if that's a good thing.  Probably is, I guess.

Q.  Coach, Walter Offutt was talking about you guys were sitting around this time a year ago watching Butler make its run or you were making some comments at maybe some of the team meals then about "Butler can do it, anybody can do it" type thing.

Were you sort of laying the groundwork for this moment even a year ago?

COACH GROCE:  I wasn't saying if Butler could do it, anybody can do it.  My point was that I really appreciated, and obviously I'm biased because Brad and I are close and Brad and I worked together, Brad Stevens, but did such a great job getting those guys to play together as a team and to execute -- we have a saying, "Individuals play the game, teams win championships."  That's the point I was trying to make to our guys.

It's not track, a track event, it's not golf, it's not a wrestling match.  There's some connection there on dependent relationships between five players that are out there playing simultaneously, and I thought Butler really exemplified that over last couple of years.

I really enjoyed watching them play and I did allude to them on several occasions about -- to our guys about watching them, how well they play together and as a team and it was about team.  I meant that certainly with all due respect to Butler.

Q.  Coach, talk about preparing your team for two hyper low-tempo squats in a row South Florida and talk about how at the end of the season, you guys have really turned off the turnover machine.  I think you had one in the second half last night.

COACH GROCE:  Trying to jinx us, Rob?

Q.  Maybe not.

COACH GROCE:  I'll answer the second question first.  As I mentioned, our offense was not real sexy for awhile at the beginning of the season, and I think it's gotten better as the years went on.  Guys have understood their roles better and playing within their role and stepping up and making some plays.

I think we've cut harder, screened better, our timing is better, and combinations of all those things have made our offense better.  Thus, you know, I think the reason for less turnovers, better ball protection.

In terms of preparing for USF, obviously you know, it's a different game.  You're right.  Completely different game than Michigan.  I told those guys it's like a 180 from Michigan.  Just as challenging, but different from the standpoint that defense is their calling card.

Michigan was the highest-rated offensive team we had played all season.  We knew we were going to be really challenged there and good defensive team, but South Florida's defensive numbers are off the charts, you know.  Obviously their tempo and pace, which you were alluding to, you've got to be able to adapt.  You guys have heard me say, in tournament-type format, you've got to be adaptable.  I think that's a real key to surviving and advancing.  We're going to have to adapt to put together a game plan in a very short period of time that gives us the best chance to succeed.

Q.  Coach, with all the hoopla, the noise, all the game planning for South Florida around last night and today really, that hour-and-a-half session you had today, do you feel the team got better?

COACH GROCE:  I do.  We approach everything with an effort to get better.  That's what you can control.  You know, we have a saying in our program "to control the controls."  You can always control attitude and effort, and sometimes you can't control all those other things.

Our focus every day is on getting better, getting our program better, our players better, understanding -- teaching them to understand that every minute that we're with them is precious and valuable, and if they approach with it the right mindset, that's how they're going to improve.

We use the analogy 212 degrees all the time, the boiling water analogy and that water doesn't start boiling until it hits 212.  There's a lot that goes into that water temperature getting to 212.  That's a daily grind, daily focus on getting better, getting 1 percent better every day is kind of our slogan, and I think our kids have lived that.

Q.  Coach, all year long you talked about your team being in progress and not arriving yet.  Is there ever going to be a point where the team arrives, or is it just really just continual improvement?  And is there a platform during this tournament where your team can take a bigger step toward arriving at its full potential?

COACH GROCE:  I always think we can play better and do things better.  I think as soon as you think you've arrived, you're in trouble.  We're -- basketball is a humbling game, and we understand that we have that conscious choice every day to get better, but I always believe that you can get better.

I certainly have never taken the mindset or the mentality that we've arrived.  That's not really what our program is about.  It's not what I want our guys thinking.  And we're trying to play better than we played yesterday tomorrow, and that's our goal.

Can you repeat your second question there?

Q.  How much does your team have to do in this tournament to take the next step toward, whether it's prominence, whether it's towards just realization of that potential?  Like is there an end goal for this tournament, or is it really just that one game at a time?

COACH GROCE:  We've been taking it one game at a time all year.  I'm not very good at a lot of things, but, you know, singular focus is one thing I can do.

Once again, my wife can tell you that could be a detriment sometimes, but I can get pretty singularly focused, and that's what we've done.  One day at a time, one game at a time.  It's about surviving and advancing this time ever year.  It is.

It's about tomorrow, you know, South Florida is trying to be better than we are tomorrow for 40 minutes and we're trying to be better than South Florida is during those same 40 minutes.

That's what it's about tomorrow, executing our game plan at the highest level and giving ourselves a chance to advance to the next round.

Q.  Coach, Walter Offutt said he would like to have left with you when you left Ohio State, but you encouraged him to give it a shot.  He finally showed up.  Just talk about your relationship with him and sort of like he feels like he's sort of been reborn being at OU.  What have you seen in his progress, et cetera?

COACH GROCE:  Well, to be honest, Tim, he's done much more for me in our program than I could ever repay him.  He's, as I said yesterday, a culture changer.  He's a great student athlete.  He's responsible, he's a great young man.  He represents our program both on and off the court.  He brings an element of toughness to our team.

On the defensive end, I mean last night he blocks the shot, he gets the steal, he seems to always make those plays when we need big stops.  He gets our guys energized on that end and excited to play, and I don't know if he's had a bad practice.  He always brings it every day.

So, believe me, I owe him a heck of a lot more than he owes me and our program does for sure.  So, he and I have special relationship.  I've known him since he was in eighth grade and he and his family and we're obviously blessed to have him at Ohio and he's a big part of what we do.

THE MODERATOR:  Time for about two more if there are any.  Anyone else?  Okay.  Thank you, Coach.

            COACH GROCE:  Thanks guys.