Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy's time on the SEC teleconference Monday as well as selected questions and answers from Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings and Georgia head coach Mark Fox.
Ole Miss is the No. 6 seed in this week's 2014 SEC Tournament in Atlanta and will play the winner of 11-seed Vanderbilt and 14-seed Mississippi State in the second round Thursday (approximately 8:25 p.m. CT, SEC TV/ESPN3). The winner of Thursday's game will play 3-seed Georgia in the quarterfinals Friday (approximately 8:25 p.m. CT, SEC TV/ESPN3).
We're excited about heading to Atlanta and competing in the SEC Tournament coming off a hard-fought win, which will hopefully give our guys some life moving forward.
On Arkansas' big loss at Alabama:
We're all living on a slippery slope. We played about as poorly as I have ever seen a team play from our vantage point against a team that played about as well as they could possibly play in Arkansas, and then both scripts got flipped. All I saw was the final score.
I was not surprised so much that Alabama won because Alabama is a good basketball team and it's hard to win on the road, but when I saw the score I was surprised because of how well Arkansas had been playing, and then as poorly as we played, we were able to bounce back and grind out a hard home win. It speaks to my theory, where I don't believe in game-to-game momentum; I believe in in-game momentum. Each game has a life in and of itself, and you have to prepared as such.
On making a run in the SEC Tournament:
Most everyone, especially when you have a lot on the line, you hope that your players would go into with a sense of urgency that the next loss could be your last game. We have one senior, and I know he will be playing with a sense of urgency. When you have a number of different guys who have that sense of urgency, you make plays and special things can happen.
We were certainly a part of that last year. I had three prominent members of our team, who were seniors, and they were playing with that senior sense of urgency, and we were able to get a last-second win in game one. We had a feeling of relief but also excitement about the potential that the next day held, and that's what you can experience sometimes in tournament play.
On balancing the routine with the excitement of playing in the SEC Tournament:
Heading not the tournament, you try to keep your routine the same. We have been doing this now for a number of months, and you try to stay on the same routine. Once you get into that tournament setting, there's always electricity in that building. The SEC does an outstanding job of creating an electric atmosphere. Guy gets excited about that, and if you can get through that first game, guys are really on edge as it relates to the opportunity that's in front of them.
On Georgia's play through the SEC regular season:
Mark (Fox) and his staff did an outstanding job of getting that team to understand who they were. They were 6-6 in the non-league and when you do that, not many people gave them much hope of moving up in the standings once they got into league play. They looked in the mirror and made the necessary adjustments as to who they were and their best chance to be successful, and they maximized that by having an outstanding run in our league.
They're playing as well as anybody with a hard-fought win at LSU in the last game. They're playing with momentum and a lot of confidence. They'll be in their home state, and there will be a lot of Bulldogs in the building. Last year, we came into the tournament in a similar mode, where we were tied for second and we got the third seed via a tiebreaker, and then we were able to make our run. Georgia is in a great position.
On the team's mindset entering the SEC Tournament:
I'm like most every coach. We split the season into a number of different quarters going back to our high school days. Now we're in the fourth quarter. This is the postseason. This is the epitome of March Madness, which created this mindset that anything can happen. We lived that last year when we were able to go and have a magical run. That's still fresh on the thoughts of our players' minds. We realized that the task is going to be a daunting one, but at the same time, all coaches try to turn the page and say we're all starting here anew. There's a lot to play for heading into Atlanta.
We're getting ready for a well-coached Vanderbilt team. Coach Stallings does about as good a job as anybody in the nation of exploiting some of your weakness, both on the offensive end and defensive end. On the offensive end, for them, they do a great job of running a lot of set plays. When you're playing Vanderbilt, you have to make sure that you rely on your principles more so than just guarding their set because they do a lot of sets, but more importantly they have counters to those sets to exploit anything that you're doing as far as the way you're guarding the basketball.
In the first game against them, Damian Jones got in early foul trouble. He has a world of potential, and he's going to be a really good player in the SEC. Having him available on the court to give them an inside presence, along with their outside shooters and scorers will be a problem for us.
On the team mindset entering the SEC Tournament:
The one thing that we're trying to focus on, because we're playing Vanderbilt, and we played a good game against them. It was a closely contested ball game. We had a couple of chances to cut it to two points under two minutes, and we missed point-blank layups and a couple of tips. You could show them that you had some success against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt, so that's one thing that always helps. The second thing is that we went into the SEC Tournament last year, and it was the first time that we had won a game in the SEC Tournament since 2008 as a program. You try to point to those positive things because the negatives are very obvious.
On the team's depth:
It's a problem. I don't think you can sit here and say that we're on an even playing field with everybody else. Our first year we were playing with six and seven scholarship guys, and this year we played the whole season with seven and eight scholarship guys. There are two things we don't have. We never had the competition for playing time. Any program needs that. The second thing is that I have never had our best teacher, which is the bench. You need that to have that competitive fire in your program all the time. Our guys continue to play hard. Everybody has their bumps and bruises at this point in time. It's more mentally fatigued than physically fatigued. Our guys have to pull it together for the stretch run.
First of all, I would like to congratulate Coach Donovan and the Florida Gator basketball team on their championship. Going 18-0 in our league is an incredible accomplishment, so I congratulate them on a job more than well done. Our team is coming off of two very close games, difficult, similar-type losses from last week.
We're thankful for the opportunity to play again. Those were two frustrating losses for us last week, but we're hopeful that we can get to Atlanta and play the way we have been playing defensively and maybe play better on offense. Our defense has been good enough in our recent games except for one to really give us a chance to win games, and our offense has not been what we need it to be, so hopefully we can do some things this week can get that rectified and play better offensively and maintain the defensive intensity that we have shown the last few weeks.
On making a run in the SEC Tournament:
It tends to happen just in the games. You can start to get the feeling in a game. If you win one, maybe you get on a little bit of a roll. There has never been anything that I have sensed going into the tournament when we have done well or when we have done poorly. It's more of thing where you get there, you win a game and then you get a feeling, see some confidence and start playing well, and the confidence gets contagious and it carries you through the weekend. I have never sensed anything in the prior couple days going into the tournament.
When you win, you gain confidence and momentum is built. In 2004, I remember when we beat Mississippi State, which was league champion that year, in overtime and that was a tremendous situation for us because they had just won the league. That catapulted us not only in that tournament, but that gave us momentum going into the NCAA Tournament as well. That's the kind of thing I'm talking about, winning a big game, winning a tough game, winning a close game, and it continues to provide you momentum.
Our team is excited about the tournament. We're really excited that it's in Atlanta and just down the road for us, so hopefully we will have some support from our fan base there in Atlanta. Our kids are really excited about the tournament, and it should be a great week of basketball in the Georgia Dome.
On this year's team:
Normally, you compare most things in the life to the first time you maybe did something, so I compare of my teams to my first team, which I thought was really a group of overachievers and a team that was picked fourth in the league that won the league and won an NCAA Tournament game and was a joy to coach. Every year, I often compare the team I'm coaching to that group because it was my first one and it was one of my favorite teams.
This team has been just as much fun to coach. These guys have been a real joy, and I look forward to seeing them every day. They enjoy each other. Throughout the season, whether it is success or failure, they have tried to use things to grow as people and grow as a team. From that standpoint, it's been a process that we have all enjoyed.
On the locker room after the win over LSU:
It was typical. The kids were certainly excited. They had a sense of accomplishment for winning the game because LSU is a good team, and it was a good win. It was typical of a scene after a conference road win. It was not more than that. When you win a road game in this league, it's very hard to do, and so they were excited like they would be for most conference road victories.
On the coach's control of team chemistry:
Coaches do their best to manage the personality of the group, but the one thing that you can't control -- and you can in some instances as you recruit -- is the quality of character. You really have to have people that have great character to strive and achieve, and sometimes you can't control that. You don't know exactly -- even though there is some communication in recruiting -- until you go to battle with someone how they're wired. Fortunately, we have a really good chemistry and some really good character on our team that has allowed us to continue to grow.
On the team entering conference play:
That was a tough time. We had played George Washington in our last nonconference game, and I learned right before that game that my dad was about to pass, and so right before conference play started, I was away from the team for a day or two. I don't know if at that time we had a grasp on what we could accomplish. From day one this year, we felt like we could have a good team. Even though Kentavious left, and we knew there would be some growing pains getting used to his absence, they didn't waver from thinking we could have a good team. It just took a little while to figure out how to do that.
On NCAA Tournament standing entering SEC Tournament:
For the first time, yesterday, since I didn't know whom we would be playing, I took a minute to look at it. I don't know if we will have to win it, but it sure takes the stress out of it if you could do. We would have to advance. To have a legitimate at-large chance, we would have to advance. If you advance, you might as well win it.