Leonard Hamilton participated in his weekly Monday teleconference and discussed the Seminoles win at Virginia, their week off, preparation for their upcoming game against North Carolina, trying to secure a bye in the ACC Tournament, and much more.
"We had a pretty good outing against Virginia last week. We played very well and played a complete game for 40 minutes. We got a much needed weekend off. Coaches will say that this is the time of year where you have a lot of nicks, bangs, and bruises. So we used this weekend to do some mental work and look forward to what we know is going to be a hard-fought University of North Carolina team."
Q: Would you be for or against the expansion of the NCAA Tournament field to 96 teams?
Hamilton: Well, in the first place, if you look back at the history of how the NCAA Tournament has evolved, years ago it was 16 (teams) and people asked the same question when they expanded it to 24, and then they asked the same question when they wanted to expand it to 32. Then there was concern about the quality of the tournament when they expanded it to 48. Now that we have expanded it to 64, I don't know what the number is but we have added a lot more teams to the overall NCAA group of teams to pick from. So it is only logical to me that if the number increases, that you would increase the number of participants. Secondly, there seems to be such an emphasis placed on the criteria that you are supposed to meet in order to be able to qualify for the Tournament and that seems to be a moving target. One year it is strength of schedule, then it is road victories, and now we get a point-and-a-half for a road victory, a point for a neutral site, and half-a-point for a home victory. We go behind closed doors and we vote. So why not take that mystique out of it, include more teams. I think we will all admit that basketball has improved. You have more of the mid-majors that are of higher quality. You have the BCS-type schools where parity is setting in. I think it is only logical and reasonable when you take under consideration the percentage of football teams that go to bowls versus the percentage of basketball teams that go to the NCAA Tournament. The only right thing to do is to increase the pool.
Q: Can you talk about Solomon Alabi and getting the ball to him and how he delivers in late-game situations? What is it about him that makes him a good finisher when the game is on the line?
Hamilton: Well, Solomon during the year that he was injured really spent time improving on certain skills, certain aspects of his game that we wanted him to be a little more proficient in when he became healthy. His jump hook, his turnaround jumpers, his free throws, and his overall understanding of the game. So he has worked very hard in all of those areas and he is confident, he works very hard, and he is a sponge. He is one of those players that coaches like to have on your team because he is eager to follow directions and allow himself to be coached. We are the kind of team that has to win games by committee, so it is very difficult to assess who we are going to go to when the game is on the line because I am not real sure that our go-to guy may not be the guy who might have the best opportunity or is the open guy. So I think in that particular game against Marquette and some of the other games, we felt that we may have had an advantage at that particular time or the type of defense we were facing, so we thought it was best to go to him but in different games it might be someone else.
Q: Your team is right on the cusp of finishing anywhere from third to sixth in the ACC right now, and with the top four seeds getting a bye in the ACC Tournament, how important is it to get in the top four and get the bye in the first round?
Hamilton: I think it is very important that when you look towards the ACC Tournament that if you have an opportunity to get a bye and be able to get an extra day of mental and emotional preparation, it is very good for a team, especially a team that is dominated by freshman and sophomores like our team is. But the thing that we have tried to avoid doing is looking too far ahead with our young and inexperienced team. We literally have gotten to the point, and I know it is something that all coaches say, but where we just try not to look too far ahead of ourselves. We just try to make sure we stay focused on who we are, where we are, and the areas where we need to improve. I think that we will put ourselves in the best position come tournament time to be as high of a seed as we possibly can. But to answer your question, I think it is very important for a team, more than anything else psychologically, to know that you finished in the upper-echelon of the league and to have an opportunity to go into the ACC Tournament on a positive note.
Q: One of the reasons why your team is at the cusp of that position is that your team has had some success on the road this year winning three road games in conference. Can you talk about doing that with a young team and being able to win on the road in the ACC?
Hamilton: Well our team seems to be maturing and finding out more about each other and how we need to play with the talent that we have in order to be successful. I think we stubbed our toe a couple of times and it has gotten the attention of our guys. I think we have played fairly well on the road especially since we have gotten into conference play. In the times where we have not played as well, I think we have evaluated ourselves and it has been very motivating to our players to assess how we faltered. So I think we have two home games and two road games remaining, we are hopeful that we can be successful on the road because obviously that gives you some more 'quality points' as it relates to the NCAA Tournament, once that selection process is started.
Q: When you beat Virginia that may have been your best road games you played this year and then you had seven days off before your next game. Would you have rather played this past week after beating Virginia or did the seven days off come at a good time?
Hamilton: I think we needed the rest. I think most coaches, we all go through periods where we are playing games without very much preparation and you get bumps, bruises, little ankle turns, sore tips to your fingers, and things of that nature, so to kind of be able to work and practice on fundamentals without some of the physical contact is sometimes good. Guys get a chance to get a little more treatment and into the cold tubs, and things of that nature, so I am thinking it came at a very good time for us. I am not real sure one game on the weekend is that big of a difference this late in the season.
Q: You are heading to Chapel Hill to face a North Carolina team that is struggling, does that take any of the edge off the game or does it make you more hungry to get them? Does it have any impact at all on the game?
Hamilton: I hope that doesn't have any impact on our preparation. We have been operating with adversity as well and trying to deal with injuries. Sometimes hungrier, they are more attentive, and we all know it is just a matter of time before Carolina is going to explode with the talent that they have. We know that they are going to be on their very best game and they are very capable of playing good basketball. You watch every game that they play and there are periods where North Carolina just looks scary. The potential is there. Our approach is going to be like any other time. We have a tremendous respect for them. Roy (Williams) does a great job in preparation. We don't have the luxury as a team in our position or a team that is trying to move up the hierarchy of the ACC to do anything other than play at our very, very best. We have not always done that when we have gone on the road or at home for that matter. We try to not concern ourselves as much with the name on the jersey of our opponents as we have tried to develop a sense of pride and identity of who we are and what we are about. That is what we have been preaching to our players. They seem to be buying in. Hopefully that will be our motivating factor going into the game on Wednesday.