As the Elon University men's basketball team finished preparing for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament on campus, head coach Matt Matheny sat down with the Elon News Network for a quick Q&A before heading to North Charleston.
ENN: What is the state of the team as you look ahead to Charleston?
Matheny: There’s a ton of excitement, because the conference tournament is next on the agenda. I like the fact that our guys have ingrained in them to narrow your focus, but you can tell there’s an eye toward, ‘Here it comes. Here’s what we’ve been working for.’ That can be good, but it also leads to a little bit of lack of focus, at times. As a coach, it’s something you battle against, but there’s an excitement level.
ENN: To see the progression over the season in practice, where is this team’s level of play right now?
Matheny: We’re better. We’re better than we were in October. We’re a lot better than we were even in November or December. The big thing we’ve talked about all year is how we’ve changed our defense, and I think our defense has evolved not only in how we’ve been played, but in how we’ve coached it. We’ve tinkered with it all year as players and coaches, and it’s evolved over time. Our players are beginning to understand it, and I felt that in the month of February, and even in late January, they were really getting it and the adjustments we made in-season. I think we’re a better team.
ENN: Has the Thursday-Saturday CAA schedule prepared your team for the CAA Tournament?
Matheny: I think that what’s good about our league is that everybody does the same thing. Physically, from that perception, everybody’s in the same boat. I don’t think Thursday-Saturday is the best for the league and for the player as it goes through January and February and leads to March, because I think the wear-and-tear that’s created by not resting between games is not good, but that’s another subject. With our team this year, I like where we are with our conditioning. I think our guys have really done the best job we’ve ever done individually of taking care of our bodies. I haven’t noticed much fatigue being a factor in games — there’s some Saturdays, particularly Saturday afternoon games — but I think we’re in very good shape. I think the experience we had at Northern Illinois, playing three games in four days, is going to help us. I like where we are in the way we’re conditioned right now.
ENN: Does knowing you won at Northern Illinois in a tournament-style setup give you more confidence that you can do it again?
Matheny: That definitely gave us confidence back in November. It’s something that, if we are fortunate enough to win the first round, we can reference. I’m sure our guys will get strength from that, but it’s not something we’ll talk about going into the tournament because the only thing that matters is if we can win the first game. That’s really the only thing that matters. That being said, we gained confidence from playing in that tournament and having success in that tournament.
ENN: What have you seen in the scouting report of William & Mary that might be different from when you played them? They were one of the first teams you finished with.
Matheny: They’re really, really good offensively. They’re good defensively, but they’re really good offensively. Their numbers are gaudy — for them to shoot 50-plus percent from the field in 18 games, that’s equivalent to Joe Montana completing 70-percent of his passes in the regular season. It’s incredibly gaudy. They’re incredible — very difficult to guard. They’ve been able to score and put up big numbers against everybody in the league. The number of games they have 20-plus assists is extraordinary. I think they’ve gotten better as the year’s progressed. I look at some of their film and it’s just incredible. And they’re veteran players, and they’ve gotten better as the year’s gone.
ENN: Do the two close-fought games you’ve played against them already make you think that this next one will be close, too?
Matheny: You can never predict, but it wouldn’t surprise them or us if it’s a close game. Tournament play is so different, and you never know how people are going to react under the crucible of tournament play. We’re a little younger than they are, and when you think about the experience they’ve had and the success of their seniors, who have been in the final games a couple of times. But it’s a new city, a new building, a new year, so you just don’t know. I think our guys are excited, but also prepared and ready to play.