We're tremendously excited to kick off the NCAA Tournament here tomorrow night. We think, as our players alluded to, we feel like we've earned it. Played a very tough schedule. And this is what you worked for all year.
We have a huge challenge in NC State. They're a good team. They're playing their best basketball of the year down the stretch.
T.J. Warren is a scoring machine. And we're going to have to do a great job not only on T.J. but the rest of their team.
Coach, we were talking to Matt and Dee about that cryo tank and some of the treatments. And I'm kind of intrigued about that. Could you talk more about that, and is that something new that you guys are using?
COACH MACK: Yeah, just had a person reach out and say that this is, you know, a way to sort of expedite getting iced after practice, after games, and so we just felt like we would try it out.
This time of year guys are trying to heal up a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, and we've been going at it since mid-September. And certainly Matt and Dee have been battling injuries. Obviously Matt's a little more severe than Dee.
But, again, anything that our training staff can do, they'll do. And they'll turn over every rock to try to figure out what they can do to put our players in the best position possible to play on game night.
What has Matt brought to your program, not just your rotation?
COACH MACK: Tremendous work ethic. High character kid. Kid who wants to win. I think when you talk specifically about his play on the floor, one of the very few post players in America that wants to be in the post that can pass equally as well as he can score.
And I think he's just scratching the surface. It's been well documented how much weight he's lost in the last year. But I feel like when this year ends, Matt's going to put just as much hard work, effort, perspiration in this coming offseason so he can be one of the best centers in all college basketball.
You know, he's the smartest kid on our team. He's probably smarter than any coach on the coaching staff, and at times he tries to tell us that. But Matt has to understand coaches and then players.
But I've really enjoyed having Matt in our program. He's a great kid.
Coach, the players addressed playing here in Dayton and the experience and that ties in with the crowd as well. Could you just address that?
COACH MACK: I'm sure it's going to be a little bit oil and vinegar tomorrow night. You're going to have a large contingent of Xavier fans that are going to make their way up 75.
We have a tremendous fan base, very loyal fan base, hopefully a very loud one tomorrow night. And I'm sure they'll be sprinkled in some Dayton fans that will give us their warm welcome, but that's okay.
I think it's going to make for a great environment. I'd rather play in a supercharged atmosphere than a hollow one, and we're going to have that tomorrow night.
T.J. Warren gets the lion's share of the publicity, as well he should, ACC Player of the Year, but what does Ralston Turner bring to the team and what does he add to the complement?
COACH MACK: He's a tremendous shooter. Coach Gottfried does an excellent job of getting him free on screening actions. He can change the game. Just two or three consecutive possessions they're going to free him up for two or three 3s, and the next thing you know you're down ten points.
When he's playing well and shooting at a high level, they're a different team. So it's a huge challenge.
He's not a small kid. He's got great size. He's got a very quick release. He's a big challenge.
Semaj has had a great year. How good from your perspective has his year been?
COACH MACK: He's had a very, very good year. I mean, to me he's one of the best guards in the country in transition. He does a great job of getting in the lane. I think he's extremely hard to keep out of the lane.
He makes the right play almost every single time. He draws contact well. He finishes through contact. I think his shooting has been much improved. Earlier in the year he wasn't shooting free throws as well as he is now.
But down the stretch, I'd say over the last 15 or so games, he's won us games at the free-throw line. And, then again, he's not a one-way player. He plays defense. He takes just as much pride on the defensive end as he does the offensive end. Had a huge steal in our Providence win at home against Bryce Cotton that sealed the game.
To me he's one of the best players in the country, and I know he's anxious to play in this tournament.
NC State seems like it's a very different team compared to your last opponent, Creighton. But do they remind you of anyone else that you've played this season?
COACH MACK: I don't really get into comparisons. We take each team for what they're worth. And I do know that NC State is playing their best basketball of the year. They have a lot of young kids, and so usually that takes time.
T.J. Warren has really started to-- I don't want to say put it together, but he's had some unbelievable nights at Pittsburgh, to have 40-plus games. We know that he's going to be extremely difficult to guard. They're going to put him in the long post. They're going to put him in iso situations, he's going to try to draw fouls.
But it's one thing if you have only one or two talented players. NC State has really, really good guard play. They have big guys that go off the offensive glass.
So I don't really compare teams. We just know it's going to be a challenge. Anytime you make the NCAA Tournament, whether you're us, you're NC State, whether you're Florida, whoever, you're a good team, and you're very capable on any given night.
Overall, just how do you see the matchup? What do you think it will boil down to?
COACH MACK: Well, I think it's a good matchup. We have to keep them off the glass. We're going to have to be prepared for different types of defenses.
I know Coach Gottfried throughout the course of the year showing several different defenses, whether it's man to man, which is primarily what they play in the ACC tournament.
But they'll quickly go to a 2-3, they'll go to a diamond and 1. We can expect that with Semaj being out there.
But, again, I think what tournament play comes down to is being yourself, not getting rattled by the environment, making sure that at least from our standpoint we're the same team that limits you to one shot.
We've led the Big East in rebounding differential. If we want to advance in tournament play, we've gotta be that same team tomorrow night.
Coach, I asked some of the guys this earlier. What was it like for that transition for you guys moving from the A-10 to playing in the Big East this year?
COACH MACK: I think Justin Martin said it best: Basketball is basketball. There's some terrific teams in the Atlantic 10 as evidenced by the number of teams that got in the NCAA Tournament.
It's really hard to compare leagues, per se. I would tell you that physically there's greater size in the Big East, but in terms of skill level and talent, it really depends on who you play.
And, for instance, you look at UMass, they're a completely different type of team than St. Louis but yet they're both really, really good.
I think what's been really great from our standpoint is the round-robin feel of our conference. Much has gotten lost in the 14-team, 16-team leagues. There's no equity. There's no equality. We play everybody home and away. By the time we got to the conference tournament, anybody that played one another, they were playing for a third time.
So I think over time our league's going to have some great rivalries that are going to be built in overtime.
Semaj knows T.J. from Brewster. You've had a lot of success with guys from Brewster, different prep schools, high school all-star teams, various levels. What do you think guys get out of that experience?
COACH MACK: I think they get, number one, the ability, an opportunity to live away from home. And those schools, especially up in the New England prep school system, are really good academic schools. Those kids have to go to study hall. They're taking tough classes. They have to balance the fact that they're away from home. It's a mini college experience.
And so when they get to an Xavier, an NC State, I think they're better equipped to make that transition.
I think a lot of kids that just go straight from high school, where they go home and watch cartoons with Mom and Dad at the house, it's quite an adjustment.
And I think guys like T.J. Warren, Jalen Reynolds, Semaj Christon, Myles Davis, guys that have that prep experience are better because of it.
Did you ever worry about losing Semaj during his year?
COACH MACK: Well, we didn't have him before he came out, so when he was a senior at Winton Woods, that's when we began recruiting Semaj. He made his decision at that time that he was going to go on to a fifth year, a prep school year. And so he committed to us in the summer right before he went off to Brewster. So but, yeah, you always worry.