Updated Thu, Mar 15, 2012 8:13 pm
Question. Coach, you've widely regarded Walter Offutt as one of your team's leaders this year, but he wasn't with you guys here at the tournament a couple of years ago. What's his role been this week?
GROCE: Well, it's the same as it's been all year, to be honest with you. Walt brings an element and toughness to our team that's hard to quantify, to be honest, and he's meant such a great deal to this team, they voted him captain before they even played a game, although he was on the team last year sitting out.
He's one of our leaders. Like I said, brings an element of toughness to our team. I think at defensive end is where he's brought that the most and really helped us in a big time way at that end of the floor.
Our defense has kind of been our bread and butter all year. We really emphasize that in rebounding, dating back to last spring, and Walt is the guy that epitomizes what we're trying to do defensively and what we're trying to do with our rebounding.
Q. Coach, with Michigan's spacing and ball movement, just what makes it so tough to prepare for a John Beilein coached team?
GROCE: Well, it's just that, and then you add to the fact that they execute so well. You know, they're the highest rated offensive efficiency team that we've played all year. They've got great personnel. They space the floor, as you just said. They really spread you out. They've got guys who play off ball screens very well and make great reads. You can tell they've got very good instincts.
Burke and Hardaway have very good instincts. Their coaches do a great job of putting them in position to be successful, and then they execute, they screen well, they move the ball, very efficient on offense. So you talk a lot about teams talk a lot about defending in the three against them and trying to minimize that, but that's easier said than done because of that execution, that spacing and their players' ability to make plays off the bounce.
Q. It's about eight years ago since you faced them when were you at Xavier. How did you counter that a little bit?
GROCE: Well, we had some really good players ourselves at that time. We were really good defensively. Working for Coach Matta at that time. He's a very good defensive coach. I thought we were well prepared. We were athletic and long and able to recover with that team very quickly and get, you know, to and from the paint out to three-point shooters well.
We had good personnel. It's funny how that works. You have good players, oftentimes they make you look pretty good.
Q. Coach, can you talk about the challenges of going against a team that likes to play more of a four guard lineup and how you can impose your will instead of having to adapt to their style of play?
GROCE: Well, it's unique for sure. Even at times they'll put five guys out there that are highly skilled and shoot the ball all the way out to the three-point line. So it's a great challenge to defend them. One our guys is looking forward to, again as I said earlier, that's been our calling card all year. It's going to be a great challenge.
Obviously we play a little bit more of a traditional four and five, and we've guarded in our league, we've guarded some undersized 4s relative to the collection of 4s and 5s that we play. I think it's helped us that T.J. Hall has really come along well in the last couple of weeks, because he's a guy that can play both inside and out and offers us some versatility as well.
So, you know, it won't be the first time we've seen that situation, but they do it at such that high level with those four guards, and then when Smotrycz is in the game, it's really five guys that shoot 3s. Again, we'll have our hands full.
Q. You have a few connections to the Michigan coaching staff. But you coached LaVall at Butler, what do you remember about him?
GROCE: That's tough. Smart and was really competitive. LaVall was a great player for us at Butler. He's a terrific young coach and a great person. I've got a lot of respect for LaVall.
Q. As far as defending Michigan goes along those lines, who have you seen this year that would compare to Hardaway, Junior, if anyone?
GROCE: That's a great question. You're saying one of the better like wing players that we've defended?
Q. A guy who can play guard and is as long as him.
GROCE: He's six-six with great length. See if anybody comes to mind. I'll tell you, obviously the most recent memory I have is Saturday night's game and the kid that Akron brings off the bench, Quincy Diggs who is the sixth Man of the Year in our league. About six-six, long, shoots 3s, decks it, defends it. Athletic, tough.
That's probably the comparison that comes to mind, because it's the most recent. You know, I think that obviously it's a challenge because you don't see very many guys that play on the perimeter that have that type of size and length, and I think Hardaway can be very explosive offensively because he can post you, he can drive you, he can shoot 3s off catch and bounce. He's a tough cover.
Q. As you look back a few years ago, did you guys have the element of surprise going for you as you look back on it? Number two, with everybody talking about that now, is that totally gone in this kind of game?
GROCE: Well, I think it helps that we've got some experience with some guys that played in the game two years ago. We've talked a lot the last couple of days, and I think our guys understand that this game is an independent experience from the standpoint of, you know, what happened two years ago has no reflexion on the game tomorrow night in terms of how it's executed, the game plan that they're trying to impose on us and the game plan that we're trying to impose on them.
Now, from an experience standpoint and familiarity with the NCAA Tournament and confidence and trust in our system and, you know, I'm one of those guys that believes success breeds success. I'm sure that elevates our guy's level of confidence and trust in what we did and their teammates and our system and how we travel, and those things are very important.
But, you know, tomorrow night when the ball tips, you know, our guys at least they should be, Tim, thinking about the game two years ago, they need to be thinking about the possess that's at hand and trying to do their job on every possession to give Ohio the best chance to play well.
Q. What about this season and maybe even in particular the MAC tournament has prepared your team for the NCAA?
GROCE: Well, I'd hope the way we practiced and the way that we've -- the schedule we've competed against, the way we've played at the end of the year. You know, we always have a goal to try to play our best basketball in February and March. We've done that a lot, so we've been very blessed to have great assistant coaches and a great support system around us that gives us a chance to keep getting better and better and better and better.
And I think, I think our guys in the locker room right now really believe we haven't played our best yet, and they've really bought into what we've been telling them about getting better, because I think sometimes in January and February becomes a little bit of a grind and you've got to be able to grab your guys and get them focused on getting a little bit better every day.
Teams are either going to trend upward or downward, and I'm blessed to be around a group of guys and players that have trended upward here towards the end of the year and hopefully we continue on that trend tomorrow night.
Q. John, you might have been asked this, the fact that all these players know each other, does that help or hinder preparation for a game like this? Stevie Taylor and Trey Burke were on the same AAU team for years. I don't know, when people have that such familiarity with each other.
GROCE: I think the game has changed a lot. I was just asked that question in the locker room, Tim. I think Stevie and Trey played together in AAU, they played against each other in high school. Nick Kellogg played against him in AAU and played against him in high school and around different Columbus area events. And Walter Offutt is from Indianapolis. He knows know Novak and Douglas well and vice versa. I just think the game has changed with AAU and traveling, and even high schools travel more now. There's more games and more of a platform for basketball.
So, I think from a familiarity standpoint that that's, you know, not a bad thing, but I also think the one thing, and I've tried to warn our guys on this, is sometimes when that happens, guys can go, you know, personal battles during the game and this is not, you know, Trey Burke versus D.J. Cooper or vice versa or Stevie versus Trey when he gets in the game, because they know one another.
This is Ohio versus Michigan, and it's about two teams competing and that want the same thing and that's to survive and advance, and every guy on our team needs to be focused on their role to help Ohio do well.