Pitt head coach Jeff Capel met with the media on Sunday evening following his team’s selection in the NCAA tournament. Here are the full details of what Capel had to say.
What was your message to your friends over the past few days as they had to wait for the moment and know there was nothing they could do after the ACC tournament?
Keppel: Just to be excited. We were excited about the day, excited about the opportunity. We felt quite comfortable and confident that we would get to call our names. Let’s just be ready for when it happens and figure out who we play, when we play, and be ready to go from there.
You said the whole time you felt like this was a tournament team, how do you feel about where they put you?
Keppel: This is right. it is what it is. We are excited and honored to be a part of it.
What was practice like today? Did the boys look tense at all?
Keppel: No, they didn’t seem stressed. It was mild. We had a few days off and we came in and tried to shoot a lot, just try to move a little bit. We’ll really start preparing now because we have an opponent and just looking forward to that.
What do you know on a superficial level about the state of Mississippi?
Keppel: I don’t know. I mean, as soon as I heard he was our competitor, I just looked at some stats on my phone. I haven’t seen him play at all, but I know you have to be good to be a part of this tournament. It’s something they’ve earned, so I knew they were a good basketball team.
It’s been a long road since you’ve been here, how do you get a team to play in this tournament?
Keppel: That’s awesome, man. I’m really happy for these guys because they’ve worked, they’ve fought, and we’ve won and I think it’s something that’s earned. For this group to be the group to go back on the Big Dance, that’s a great thing.
How do you approach the challenge of preparing quickly for a team you don’t really know much about?
Keppel: You are excited about the opportunity to continue and play the season. So you embrace the opportunity that you have to keep playing, so you just get ready.
I know you’re a huge fan of basketball, were you watching the games this weekend and all the bubble stuff?
Keppel: I try not to watch too much basketball as far as college basketball goes once I lose it. I tried to just get away and spend time with my family, just hang out with my family, watch some movies, watch the NBA. I caught a few games today as we were here at the office before practice, but I tried to get away from it for a few days.
Is it human nature to be disappointed to see brackets unfold and you see teams getting beat or getting higher seeds get better resumes?
Keppel: Is it human nature? Yes and no Again, I am excited and honored that our name has been called. They are just too many coaches and players who would give anything to hear his name. So I’m definitely excited about it. I don’t think our league gets the respect I think we should, but there’s nothing I can do about it except hope we go out and play well and all the teams in our league do well Do it.
What’s the harm in playing in the first four?
Keppel: I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that this is a quick turnaround. Today after 6:00 you get to know your opponent a bit and then we have to play on Tuesday. So it’s not a lot of preparation whereas if you play on Thursday or Friday, you have a few days to prepare. You can really get caught up in what this team does. For us, we have to do this very, very quickly. We travel tomorrow and then we’ll find out what time we play on Tuesday and we’ll have something on Tuesday. But that’s the only thing, it’s a quick turnaround.
You talked about how you’ve been away from basketball for a few days, what have you encouraged the team to do over the last few days?
Keppel: Just to go away. We only had two days off to refresh mind, body, and come back on Sunday energized and ready to go.
What’s the advantage of having four guys who have already played in the NCAA tournament?
Keppel: Well, we have some experience. We have people who are at this level. It’s actually three, JB didn’t, that was the year he qualified and he canceled it in Wichita. Again, hopefully some experience, but look we played in a great conference. We played some big games throughout the year in tough conditions. I think we will be ready and we are excited about the opportunity to play.
What fundamentals do you need to have in order to advance in the NCAA tournament?
Keppel: Well, I guess you have to have a fresh mind and fresh feet. I think you should have a clear mind and forget everything in the past. You have to focus on what is right in front of you and then you have to be fresh both mentally and physically. You have to understand that everyone is 0-0. Everyone who is a part of this tournament has done something really special, whether they’ve had an outstanding year, they’ve had a complete resume, or they’ve finally warmed up and won their conference tournament. So you’re part of a select group and you have to cherish it and go out there and leave it all there, because you’re really only guaranteed one game. That’s why everything should be left there. I think the best way to do this is to have a clear mind and be as fresh as possible.
What do you need to do to get better defensively?
Keppel: We haven’t defended well in about a month since the Boston College game. It’s little things, but they add up to big things. We have to fight a little harder. We have to stop the ball more. When we have two on the ball, our swing behind us should be on point. The effort has to be a little more and all these things add up as we move forward.
What do you think caused the slide on defense?
Keppel: I think our inability to practice is because we started playing a little bit more. I think we are unable to practice because some people are getting beaten up, I think that is what did it.
I am going through your statistics minute by minute. There is almost a 400 minute difference in playing time between Nike as your sixth man and Guillermo as your seventh man, but when you look at Duke the difference between their sixth and ninth man is only 150 minutes Is. Does it play into breakage?
Keppel: Look, we’re trying to do whatever we can to win the game. So from game to game, it can be different. I’m not a guy who’s married to anything specific. It’s the feel and sometimes in sports you have a group that’s playing really well together, so you want to stick with them. Sometimes you have a guy who is going and sometimes you have a guy who is not playing well. Sometimes matchups cause you to do something different and so that’s always been the case for me, but we try to stay fresh in what we do in practice. I think it has hurt us a bit because we don’t have 8-9-10 players to practice with.
How much do you think the committee weighed in on Duke’s loss?
Keppel: I don’t know. I really don’t know. I mean they say the margin of win and loss should not be a part of the criteria, maybe it is. I wish they had weighed the Northwestern win a little more because of it, or if it was part of the metric. Again when you look, at least for me when I look back at us and I think we had four Quad-1 wins. I think we were 7-8 against Quad 1 and Quad 2. I think we have a tie for fourth most or fourth most road wins of any team in the Power-Five. So I thought our resume is good. We had 15 wins in the ACC. I thought we showed that we can play away from home and win away from home. We’ve beaten some really good teams here. Obviously what we did after we got to some place in the non-conference. Our only loss after that was to Vanderbilt and I think it was only by a run or two. I think they are a very good team. So I think we have done a lot and obviously we have done a lot to be in this tournament. Could we have gotten a higher rank? Maybe, but then you have to talk to the committee people about it.