In advance of Sunday's Second Round NCAA Tournament game between the Villanova Wildcats and the Iowa Hawkeyes, Jay Wright, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Daniel Ochefu sat down with reporters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Q. Daniel, the daily question, how did your ankle make it through the game yesterday, and how do you feel today?
DANIEL OCHEFU: Ankle made it through perfectly yesterday, no tweaks or anything. And today, Im feeling fine right now. Felt good on the little walk-through practice we just had. I'll get back to the hotel, do some treatment and continue working on it so I'll be good for game time.
Q. Ryan, I feel like the big picture perception of Villanova and specifically you and the senior class is kind of tied to March and how far you can go. Given all that you've accomplished during your career, is it almost unfair that the big picture perception is tied to this time of year?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: No. Everyone has the right to think what they want, say what they want. We played in those games. We haven't come through in the second round of the tournament. We've had some great success throughout the regular season and in the Big East Tournament the last couple of years. Hopefully, we can win tomorrow, but we're just excited to play.
I can't really tell people how they should look at our senior class or myself in particular. They have the right to think of us how they want to.
Q. Either one of you guys, what are your thoughts about Iowa so far and what challenges they present. Do they remind you of anybody sort of you've seen this year?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: They're tough. They can really score the ball. They have great size and great length. Clearly, Uthoff can go off at any moment, same with Jok, and they have Woodbury on the inside. I don't think we've seen anyone in particular that has had the length that they've had and had the scores that they've had. I would think a couple years ago, when we played Creighton, when they had McDermott and all those shooters, they were that good. So that's the one team we were kind of thinking had the length, the shooters, and the skill guys that they had.
DANIEL OCHEFU: We know they're extremely tough, well coached Big Ten team. We played them our sophomore year in Atlantis. They do a lot of the same things that they did with Devyn Marble and Uthoff and the other guys. We know they're two years older, stronger, better players, and we really have to lock into that scouting report.
Q. Both of you guys, you've been around Jay now for four years. Are you seeing him -- is there like any kind of a different Jay in this tournament here and his approach? Is he kind of like -- it seems like he's got a lot of energy. Is he doing anything different? What kind of changes have you seen in him, if any?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: Compared to like our freshman year in the tournament? Coach Wright always has great energy, every single day in practice. I think even around tourney time he's the same person and has been throughout the whole year. That's the one thing I've loved about Coach Wright is you know you're going to get 100 percent commitment to that practice or that day, whatever it is, whether it's film, whether we're just talking in the locker room or before practice or anything like that. He's going to give it to you 100 percent.
I just think he always has that energy, but the NCAA Tournament time, you know he's going to turn it up a notch.
DANIEL OCHEFU: Definitely, what Ryan said, NCAA Tournament time, he definitely turns it up, and we all have in terms of intensity, attention to detail, just because that's what we have to do. It could possibly be our last game, and I think this year we have a lot more young guys. So it's definitely on myself and arch to be on the young guys and make sure they understand we have to respect every opponent despite their ranking or whatever. One of the best 68 teams in the country is playing in this tournament. If we're playing against them, we have to give them the utmost respect.
Q. For both players, we've all heard since September about your season will be measured by the second game in March, second NCAA game in March. Now that it's here, is there any -- I know you guys always say the same thing about taking it one game at a time. But now that it's here, is it more of a special or more compelling moment for you guys?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: Yeah, you know our answer is always one day at a time, one game at a time. We're just excited to get back out on the court and play again. We know that, if we play our game and defend and rebound like we know how to, there's going to be a good result at the end.
We're just excited to be in the NCAA Tournament the second weekend. We're excited to have the opportunity to get past this game, and we'll try to do our best to be ready to do that, but we know we have a very tough Iowa team.
DANIEL OCHEFU: We're just extremely excited to be able to play in our second game in this tournament. Everybody's been talking about this game for the whole year, even in the summertime before the season started. So the fact that the game is here and we can finally just get it done. Hopefully, we'll get the win, and people will stop talking about it.
Q. I know it wasn't really reflected in the scoreboard, but is sometimes that first game tougher because you haven't played in five, six days, and you just want to come out and set a good tone for the tournament. Getting past that, now getting into a little bit of a rhythm where you can play every couple of days, is that better for you guys? Or it's not really a factor?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: There's always going to be nerves in the first game, first round, just with the younger guys. Everyone knows everything's turned up during tournament time. But especially getting out there because you know you're going to play a good team and a team, since we got the 2 seed, we knew that team was going to come in with confidence off their tournament, and I think they did. We struggled in the first half, and they really came out and punched us, but we kept responding, and eventually we were able to turn it up a notch.
I think in the beginning everyone always has a little jitters just because you see everything, NCAA Tournament and you see the commercials and everything like that, but once we settled down, I think we were able to just play our game and eventually get the win.
DANIEL OCHEFU: I thought that first half, our first game was good for us just because we were grinding for a good part of it. We just stuck with what we were doing. Coach Wright really harps on playing 40 minutes. We played 40 minutes in that game, and the results were in our favor.
We're not expecting to blow teams out like that every game, but if we play 40 minutes, guys like Ryan, Josh, Kris are hitting threes, and stuff is going well inside and we're defending, we're capable of doing that.
Q. For both players, Jalen and Mikal are new to this NCAA thing, played pretty well yesterday. What do you see in their demeanor ? And the way they prepare that makes you think they're ready for this big stage?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I think, since Mikal redshirted last year and he was able to be a part of the NCAA Tournament team, he already had a good sense of it. And then the second half of the season, I think he's really found his role on the team and what he can bring to the team with energy off the bench defending and rebounding.
I think Jalen is just -- he's ready for the big moment in every single game. I think for the NCAA Tournament, it wasn't as big of a deal because I think he's taken every game like it's the biggest game of the year. And I think back to the Temple game when I knew that was a huge game for him and the way he responded in that. So I just think he's mentally -- he's not a freshman. I think he's an upper classman, and he knows what is just our next game and knows what to do when he's out on the floor.
DANIEL OCHEFU: I think they're both doing a great job of just getting coached and continuing to be coached. Even today, Mikal messed up in our scouting report, and guys were getting on him, and he responded immediately, made the adjustment, and he didn't make the mistake again. So both of those guys have done a great job understanding, just because the intensity is up and we're going to be on them more doesn't mean they should be down on themselves. We're not going to be feeling bad for them if they make a mistake. We're just going to tell them about it, and they're on to the next play.
Q. For both of you, this is more just out of curiosity. Yesterday was maybe the craziest day in NCAA Tournament history. When you guys were done, do you guys watch the rest of the games? I know you're also preparing for games, but how do you guys handle the fun part of the NCAA Tournament as participants?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I think, once we -- I mean, definitely right after the game we have to do all the media and everything. So we didn't get to see much of the first half of the Temple-Iowa game. We were able to watch the second half in overtime in our room. We're definitely all following along. We all were watching -- I think we were watching the Iowa game, but we were following on our phones the Middle Tennessee State and Michigan State game, which was a big shocker to everyone.
I know I didn't fall asleep until all the late games, and there were three great games, Northern Iowa with that shot and every other game. So I know I was paying attention. But I know it doesn't have any effect on us, but I know just as a fan, it was pretty neat to see all the cool games.
DANIEL OCHEFU: Definitely. When we're having our meals, there's always a game on, and we're watching it. Somebody else has their iPad out watching another game. We go to our rooms and continue watching the games and all the great finishes last night definitely good. I know I was up late watching the Northern Iowa half-court buzzer beater and the St. Joe's game.
You know, it's March. Great things happen. We just don't want to miss them. So the TV's right there. We're laying in bed and just turn the TV on, and something great could happen.
Q. Since you guys watched the Northern Iowa game, who on your team has that best half-court shot if it comes down to it?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: Um --
THE MODERATOR: If it's you, you can say it's you.
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I don't want to say myself, but I think any end of game situation, I think my teammates have that confidence in me shooting the ball from wherever it is. I don't want to say myself, but I think that's what Daniel and everyone on our team would say.
But if I had to -- I would probably go Josh, if not me. I don't know. Kris? I don't know.
DANIEL OCHEFU: End of the game, I'm putting the ball in Ryan's hands. He's made big shots. He's done it before. He always steps up to the plate, and we all have the utmost confidence in him. We've seen him do it before. If he misses a shot, then we're surprised that he missed it. If it's the half-court shot, I'm giving the ball to Ryan, just how Northern Iowa did.
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: The only reason everyone would have the confidence in me is because in practice every single day and in a game situation, it's always a play. It's not just that person taking the shot, it's that person making the right read, and I think with the ball in my hands, I think I'll make the right decision, whether it's to shoot it or pass it.
Q. You mentioned you watched the games, the other games going on. I was wondering if you pay closer attention to the Big East, or do you care more about the Big East teams that are playing? Or is it just whatever?
RYAN ARCIDIACONO: I definitely was watching them. We all want them to win, at least I do. I was definitely watching the Providence game the other day. We didn't get to see the Butler. I didn't really watch any of the Xavier game, but we're definitely supporting all the teams, and hopefully they represent the Big East well, and hopefully we can all do well in the tournament.
DANIEL OCHEFU: It's always cool to see guys that we compete against in the same league do well in the tournament. Whenever I got a chance to catch a little bit of the Xavier game or Butler game, I watched. The Providence game was cool.
Q. Daniel, you mentioned earlier that you've been hearing all the talk about the second round going back to the summertime. I'm just wondering, what are some of the conversations like? Is that like with family keep telling you about that?
DANIEL OCHEFU: No, just fans coming up to us saying, we're going to make it this year. We're going to get them this year. We're going to get past the second round. Back then, we didn't even know if we were going to be in the tournament yet. It was just going through the whole year hearing that, it was kind of annoying, but everybody has the right to say just because it just means they expect better things of us, just like how we expect of ourselves.
Q. Maybe can you give us a sense of your relationship with Fran McCaffery and what it means to be going against him in such an important game.
JAY WRIGHT: Well, I think Fran and I have been in this for a while. We're always going to run into our friends. People are asking us about playing Temple, all the Philadelphia people, and I was thinking in the back of my mind, it doesn't get any better if we play Iowa. I think very highly of Fran.
I don't know if you guys know this in Iowa, but he's kind of a legend, a basketball legend in Philly, White Magic, and in my era -- he was a little bit older than me, just only a couple of years -- but he was a big time player and very well-known amongst our generation. He coached at Lehigh. I played at Bucknell. I followed everything he's done. He's won everywhere he's been, everywhere -- Greensboro, Siena, Iowa. I think he's one of the great coaches in our country, I really do.
I had a young assistant who wanted to get started in coaching, and I asked Fran to take a chance on him, Andrew Francis, and I just said, look, I'll give you my word. This guy's going to be good. And he gave him a chance, and Andrew's been great for him. I just think the world of him, and I appreciate his friendship and that he gave Andrew a chance, and I think he appreciates that I gave him a good guy too.
Q. Given what Ryan and Daniel and the rest of the senior class has accomplished across all four years, is it almost unfair that the big picture perception of these kids is tied to tomorrow and what they do for the rest of this month?
JAY WRIGHT: Yeah. I really -- you know what, I really don't think it's unfair. I just think it's sports, and that's the beauty of coaching college athletics is that you get to use these as life lessons. They're either going to go by this weekend, and they're going to be the winningest class in Villanova history and they're going to get to a Sweet 16, or they're not, and they're going to be the winningest class in Villanova history and didn't get past the second round. Either way, it's going to be a learning process for them.
I don't think they're going to define themselves by this for the rest of their life, but I understand what you're saying. It would seem unfair, but that is the way it is. You get a lot of benefits playing for Villanova. They're going to use those the rest of their life. But this is all part of it, man.
I heard Valentine from Michigan State yesterday say, this is something I'm going to live with the rest of my life. If you're a big time athlete, you put yourself out on the stage in the arena, that's all part of it. That's why you've got to respect what these guys do.
Q. We were talking the other day about elite programs, and you guys are certainly on the cusp and have had stretches of league play, but they don't seem to go through a five or six-year stretch of not -- like Kansas hasn't been in it for a couple years late, but now they're back getting runs again. What is the difference between those guys and the cusp guys, and how do you get from there to there?
JAY WRIGHT: There is a difference, national perception, you know, if you get into Sweet 16s, final eights consistently, and we had that going for a little bit, I think you are considered one of the elite programs. If you don't, nationally, you might not be considered.
It's kind of similar to what we talked about yesterday, I think, locally, East Coast-wise, if you see the teams play all the time, I think our program has great respect. But it is definitely -- your national reputation in this sport is definitely based on how you perform. Do you get the Sweet 16s? Do you get the final eights? Do you get the Final Fours? Do you win National Championships? That puts you with the elite. We'd certainly like to be there, but we've got to earn it. We've got to go do it.
Q. Is there a luck factor?
JAY WRIGHT: I think the elite programs over time don't have as much problem with the matchups. We have -- again, the years we were going Sweet 16, final eight, Final Four, the matchups really didn't matter. We had some really tough matchups the year we went to the Final Four. We had UCLA, Duke, and Pitt, number 2 in the country. That was bad matchups. Didn't bother us then.
But if matchups give you trouble, you've got to be a little bit better. The elite teams don't get affected by matchups. I should say they don't get affects as much. If you look at Michigan State, once in a while, you're going to get hit.
Q. You've mentioned a couple times about wanting to represent the Big East, how you felt you let the Big East down as a conference last year. I was wondering, what's the root of your pride as far as the Big East goes? And do you feel like the conference as a whole can get back to the glory years?
JAY WRIGHT: I don't think any conference is going to get back to the glory years. I think the days when the ACC was a basketball conference and it was Tobacco Road, they were the glory years, when the Big East had Syracuse and UConn, they were the glory years, and St. John's. I don't think anybody -- I think college football has eliminated that.
What we have is still really, really special and exciting. And the root of my pride in the Big East is, I think, in terms of a basketball conference, we're authentic. I think there are a lot of conferences -- we all know this. There are a lot of conferences that are put together for football, and they are producing very good basketball conferences that were formed to be football conferences. And they happen to be good basketball conferences also. But they're not traditional, like we all know.
We are a basketball conference. We are an outlier. We're there for one reason. Just like those football conferences were built for football, we're built for basketball, and we take great pride in that. And it's the biggest sport on our campuses. We don't hide behind that, anything but that, and it means the most to our alumni. They're all in Metropolitan areas where the game started, and we just take great pride in that.
We want to see how good can we be? We're new. We're growing. We're getting better every year. And we want to see how good we can be.
Q. Circling back to Andrew Francis, I think he worked for you for two years. What do you remember that attracted him to you in the first place and kind of why you recommended him and what you've seen in his growth.
JAY WRIGHT: He was a businessman that was already had a good job and was making good money, and he was a friend of Eddie Pinkney, who was on our staff, and Eddie brought him to me and said, this guy wants to quit his job and come coach. He started as a video intern making no money, and I was just so impressed how a grown man who had a good job really loved ball and had a great deal of humility and would take the lowest job on the staff and have great enthusiasm about it.
The longer he worked for us, I saw his character. I saw his intelligence, his basketball IQ, his ability to relate to players, and I knew he'd be a superstar. No one else could know that when you're a video guy. You don't see him on the road. But when I told Fran that, I think he trusted me on that, and I think Fran's seen what a great coach Andrew has become. I think he'll be a great head coach one day.
Q. Not that you guys don't play games with short turnarounds during the regular season, but obviously, it's amped up now. What is the biggest key for you when you prepare for the quick turnaround in the second game of the weekend?
JAY WRIGHT: The later in the season you play the quick turnaround games, the easier it is to prepare X and O-wise, the harder it is to stay fresh mentally and physically.
So we just finished our practice, and I thought, if I did -- I always evaluate after a practice. If I did anything poorly, I might have gone through a little bit too much mentally. Physically, I think they're in good shape. They're fresh. But that's our key, is just make sure they're playing Sunday with just fresh legs, fresh mind, aggressive, and free wheeling.
Q. You mentioned -- the comment was made about the Big East comment you made during the tournament about feeling like you let the Big East down last year. You talked about the pressure constantly. It's going on all season dealing with this game tomorrow. How do you prevent from that becoming overwhelming and cracking 19, 20, 21-year-old kids?
JAY WRIGHT: We have talked about that. As I said, we talked about it during the season that we can't let that affect our ability to enjoy the season. I thought the guys did a great job of that. And as we talked about it, we said, guys, if we ever get to that point, then when we get to that point, then we're going to have to deal with that at a higher level. So we've actually talked about, if we ever got to this point, I said, then we'll deal with it. So we dealt with it.
I said to the guys, you know what, we've been here before, and we've given great efforts, and we failed, and it didn't kill us. So let's put all our -- this isn't going to kill us. So let's go put all our effort into playing the best we can, enjoying the hell out of it, and getting after it. It's like you look at what's the worst outcome. We know what it is. We've already done that. We've lived through it. So let's go have fun putting all our effort into the best outcome. That's how we're approaching it.
Q. Two years ago, you played Iowa in the Bahamas right after you beat Kansas, a very talented Kansas team on a last-second shot. Then you guys kind of slugged it out, I think eight different lead changes, a lot of big runs. What do you recall from that game specifically against Iowa? And how can you apply it because their personnel is a little bit different today than it was two years ago.
JAY WRIGHT: Watching film of that game -- getting prepared for Iowa, we watched that game too obviously. What I can't get out of my head is all those guys who are seniors now were playing in that game as freshmen. Freshmen or sophomores, whatever they were, they were young, and they looked young in that game. And you look at them now, they're men. They are thick, strong, tough men.
So I can't imagine that's an advantage for us. Those guys remember that game. It was a slugfest. Great credit to Iowa's strength staff because you look at the bodies of those guys from that game and their bodies now -- Uthoff especially. He was a skinny, wiry kid. I think he got his head cut in that game. That was a really tough, physical game.
So they've got a lot of experienced guys. Most of the guys we have were not in that game. That's my recollection of that.
Q. I just wanted to circle back on that question with Peter Jok. He barely played in that game, and now he's become a sharp shooting, all Big Ten superstar. How do you -- what have you seen on film from him, and how do you look to contain him?
JAY WRIGHT: Uthoff and those guys would have been sophomores. Jok was a freshman in that game. Again, I think it speaks to the talent of their staff and how these guys have developed. That's really what hits me is just -- Marble was on that team. They had some good older guys. These guys were playing, and they were good. Where they are now compared to where they were then is a significant improvement in basketball IQ and in execution and in confidence.
Q. I'm interested in maybe the maturation process of some of your older guys. Josh Hart, for instance, quality guy, our first experience with him. What can you tell us about him as a person to go along with all his prowess on the court?
JAY WRIGHT: He's a really humble kid, and he's a joy to coach in that he came in as one of the best players in Washington, D.C. He battled Kris Jenkins for Player of the Year and came in second. Did everything we asked him to do.
He went to Sidwell Friends, he's bright. He's an inside player in high school, really worked on his perimeter jump shooting. In certain games, we asked him to be more of a defensive player, stop, or he's got to stop somebody, and he'll do that. Certainly games, you've got to be our leading rebounder. He'll do that. He's such a great winner, and he was the most upset when we lost the Big East Tournament. He's just such a team player, and he just plays the game to win. You can't have a better teammate.
Q. Jay, you always talk about the NCAA being overwhelming, especially for kids doing it for the first time or early on. Did you keep a special eye a little bit on Bridges and Brunson and maybe a little bit Booth in the game yesterday?
JAY WRIGHT: I really did, and I was really impressed. We actually -- Mikal Bridges, I thought, was outstanding, and really in that area because that's what I look for. He's playing with enough upper classmen, if he got in there and didn't make mistakes, he'd be okay, but he went in there and made plays. He really made plays. He was aggressive.
I worried a little bit about Daryl Reynolds because he really hadn't played in any. I thought he did a really good job. Brunson, I don't worry about really. He's such an old soul. Some of the high school games I've seen him play in, the place is sold out to see him individually play against the best high school team in Chicago. I've just seen him handle everything.
And Booth really, significant playing time first time. I thought he did a really good job too. That was one of the things I was most pleased with in that game because we need those guys if we're going to be able to compete with a team like Iowa, and I think they're ready to go.
Q. Jay, what kind of problems could Iowa's length present you?
JAY WRIGHT: Both ends of the floor. Uthoff -- like we don't have a body like that. I don't know if many teams -- actually, Temple did a pretty good job because Enechionyia had a good matchup with him, did a good job, and bond was strong and length. We don't have a guy that's has that length and strong enough. Mikal is long, but he's real thin. If he takes us up and posts us up at the basket, he's going to cause real trouble.
On the other end, it's difficult to post him up, but Jok is so long, they intelligently have mobility to play on the perimeter and contest threes. Those kinds of teams give us trouble.
Woodbury, he's 7'1", man. The guy's big. He made a difference in that game last night at the end. Temple outrebounded them overall, but with the game on the line, when they run their sets at the end, Fran is a very intelligent coach. They're running their sets for the guys, but he's on that weak side block, and that's part of the play. He's tapping that ball back. They actually won the game on him being in that spot. When Gesell drove the ball, if he doesn't go to the weak side block, he's not getting that. So his length around the basket is going to be a problem for us too.
Q. What's your take so far on the tournament? I'm sure you're locked in on what you're doing, but you probably are looking around going, wow. I think 13 lower seeded teams won over the first two days. Have you seen a year like this? And is there any way you can compare it to the big picture of college basketball? More parity or what is it?
JAY WRIGHT: I hesitate to say this. I don't mean this as an excuse. It's why I don't get overly upset about us not getting past the second round recently, like we've played some really good teams. And when you see a Michigan State get beat, you see Cal get beat, the parity in college basketball is such that, given an NCAA Tournament atmosphere and pressure and the talent of mid-majors, if you want to call them that anymore, every game is so difficult.
It's also the beauty of the game. Like we went into that game against Asheville knowing, right before halftime, it was a two, four-point game. We made a little run. We were ready for a two-point game. We weren't going to be surprised by it. I just think the parity in college basketball is such that anybody can be -- look at Duke and UNC Wilmington. That was a great game. South Dakota State -- all these teams. It's not a surprise to anybody anymore. I think that's great for college basketball.
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