March 16, 2022
Buffalo, New York, USA
Q. Maybe Ben can take this and then Ryan. Arkansas has been a pretty good three-point defensive team the last part of the season, but they weren't very good in the last game against A&M, I know you guys are shooting the ball real well from three.
What do you think of their three-point defense and what do you think of you all as a three-point shooting team?
BEN SHUNGU: Yeah, I think Arkansas definitely prides itself on their defensive end. I think they force teams to try to make it tough and take tough shots on the offensive end, but with the game plan that we have and how well we shoot and how well we move the ball, I think we'll be able to generate good shots, especially from three, but also into the paint and finishing that in it too.
RYAN DAVIS: I think right now we're playing with a lot of confidence and we're shooting the ball real well. Like Ben said, Arkansas does pose a threat because they're very long, athletic. And so a lot of shots can be erased at the rim, but just being able to play outside and kind of doing what we do and find the open man is something that we pride ourselves on.
Q. Ben, this question is for you. What experience did you take from the 2019 tournament that will help you in this year's tournament coming up?
BEN SHUNGU: I think just staying loose, just enjoying the moment. Obviously, it's a great deal to be here, but just to really stay loose, be with the guys, and just enjoying the moment.
Last time we lost, obviously, but I think the energy that we got right now and the momentum that we're carrying over from winning the championship is definitely different from the past years, and so just hopefully we can get a win tomorrow.
Q. This is for Ben. What's it mean to you -- or how validating is it that your decision to come back to play this graduate season, and what's kind of unique with this tournament where there's a lot of players with additional -- an additional year of experience? How is that unique to you, and what's that mean to you?
BEN SHUNGU: It's definitely unique. I don't think anybody saw this coming, so with the extra year, to me, it's been helpful. Came back to win the championship, conference championship, and we did that, but now the next goal is to win a couple of games in the tournament. We've all said it before. Whoever we play, we like our match-up, and going into the game, we're pretty confident with what we can do and how we can execute and win the game.
Q. Ryan, we talked a little bit in the last couple of days about the differences between this Arkansas team and maybe the Florida State team, the Purdue team that Vermont has played against in the tournament before in that they don't have the overwhelming size disadvantage that you guys are dealing with.
What are some of the things, though, that you guys have noticed just now that you've had some time to look at film and kind of figure out the way they play that you guys need to be prepared for tomorrow?
RYAN DAVIS: I think we definitely have to be prepared for how well they play in transition and how fast they play, especially with their size and their length and their ability to get to the rim and also crash the board is something that we need to be prepared for and be ready for the fight in that sense. But like I said earlier, it's not a team that has overwhelming size at the rim, so there will be opportunities to play and kind of finish down there as well.
Q. Ryan, a lot of teams -- a lot of experts around the country had this game circled as a potential upset. How are you handling that notoriety and pressure?
RYAN DAVIS: I think there's no pressure. I think we've just got to go out there and execute to the best of our ability and just play and do what we've done all year, and I think it's going to give us a good chance to win.
BEN SHUNGU: Like what Ry said. I don't think there's necessarily pressure on us. We know what we're capable of. We know the type of team that we are, and we also know that we can beat these teams that's in the tournament right now. We are all confident, and now we just got to stick to our game plan and execute tomorrow.
Q. I know you guys probably scout a lot off numbers. Maybe more than names. Ben, I would like to ask you about J.D. Notae, number 1. He has gotten a couple of small American third team all SEC, and then maybe after Ben answers, Ryan on number 10, Jaylin Williams for them. You are right, they don't have a ton of size, but he is 6'10", and he does a lot of things. He has drawn 49 charges, pretty amazing. Maybe, Ben, about Notae, number 1, and then Ryan on Jaylin Williams, number 10.
BEN SHUNGU: Yeah, he is a great player. He can score on all three levels. He is definitely one of the key players that is on our scout. We're just about to try to make it tough on him, trying to get it out of his hands, but then just guard as a team. We pride ourselves with being able to guard people -- well, other teams as well as certain people with the whole team, not just one player. Props to him for being a good player.
RYAN DAVIS: Then on Williams, I think he is a very unique skill set and someone that is his size, that's unique in the sense that he can stretch it out and also play off the dribble and stuff, very skilled, big, but also kind of makes him unique on defense, like you said. His ability to take charges as well as erase shots with his blocking ability, and that's something that is unique to him and something credit for him for being able to do that.
Q. Ryan, this question is for you. Can you talk about some of the things that Coach Becker has done to elevate your game, help you elevate your game, some of the conversations that he has had with you?
RYAN DAVIS: Yeah, I think with all the coaching staff, just the continuous work throughout my time here has been something that I greatly appreciate and being able to put me in spots where I'm able to you succeed. Along with that, having great teammates, like Ben, like others that just find me in those spots and allow me to kind of take it from there.
Q. You guys have an all senior starting line-up, and beyond four years in some of y'all's cases. A lot of experience. I know you have a couple of transfers, but you guys have been together a long time. How valuable do you think that is to have an all senior starting line-up?
BEN SHUNGU: I think it's definitely -- it's an advantage to us for sure being able to be in the program for as long. And so now we know the ins and outs of what we want to do offensively and defensively, and so having a veteran group definitely helps, and then also we just carry along the couple of the transfers and the young guys, freshmen and whatnot. It makes it easier on them, too, to kind of just not take a long time to really learn our system, but also with just being in close games too, I think being able to have that veteran group and sticking together has helped us this season, and just it's definitely a good thing for sure.
RYAN DAVIS: I think in general teams are older this year obviously because of the COVID year, and we were able to return Ben, Justin, and other guys. It's definitely an advantage to us, and it allows us to, like Ben said, you know, we have a lot of guys that have been in the system for a long time and know what to do, so it's definitely an advantage to us, especially this late in the year.
Q. When you guys are successful, it's usually you and Ryan having a good game and a third piece coming along. Who and why do you think -- do you feel good about stepping up in this first round? Who and why do you think will step up with you and Ryan in this round from your teammates?
BEN SHUNGU: It's kind of hard to pinpoint certain individuals. Just knowing our team and knowing how much work we put in, you know, from the summer until now, anybody really can step up, and I think our coach and our coaching staff does a good job with picking out certain people and adding them to our roster and being able to just contribute at any point in the game and just staying ready really. You know, I think I don't have a specific answer for you, but I think we all play well.
Q. They say everything is fresh in Vermont. Can you tell us some of the fresh perspectives that you are giving people that's younger than you and want to be like you and Ryan?
BEN SHUNGU: Vermont is a great place, by the way. I think just especially with this team and kind of how we do things, we're like a blue-collar team, and nothing is really given to you. You got to earn it, and so to the kids out there who are trying to be like us or look up to us, hard work pays off, and being dedicated to your sport or anything you do in life really, you know, you'll definitely see some gains from that. Just sticking true to yourself too. Sticking true to yourself and believing in yourself too kind of has been the aura at Vermont.
Q. Ben, this is for you. As a Vermont native, what does it mean to represent UVM and Vermont at the NCAA tournament?
BEN SHUNGU: It means a lot. I grew up in Vermont, obviously, and this is my third NCAA tournament appearance, and so it's definitely nice to be able to represent your state and represent your team and come in here with a lot of confidence and coming into this building and this tournament, going out there and trying to get a win. It's a blessing to be here, and it's a blessing to be able to play basketball and excited.
Q. For Ben first and Ryan. Coach Becker, you look at his record, pretty impressive. I'm sure people in this part of the county know about him. He is not probably a guy that people know about in the South and the West and all that. What do you think has made him such a good coach for so long?
BEN SHUNGU: Like Ryan said earlier, he knows how to make everyone on the team successful and put people in certain positions, our whole staff really. Obviously, he is the head of it, but he just knows how to game plan in certain situations and knows how to put together a play or just come up with a game plan before the game and be able to execute it really. And then on top of that, the trust that he has in us too. It's everything as a player. You want your Coach, your head coach, to really trust you and be able to be out there on the court and kind of just do your own thing, so the relationship that he has with one of his players is special.
Q. You want to add to that?
RYAN DAVIS: I think something that he is really proud of himself is his toughness and the demanding out of the players, that kind of holds us to a higher standard than maybe you can even see for yourself. So when you come into the program, you might not see the exact same thing that he sees in my view, but he has this picture of you, and he really demands and tries to get the most out of you. I would just say that.
Q. Ryan, Finn Sullivan and Justin Mazzulla are both upper classmen, but it's their first NCAA tournament appearance because they're transfers. What advice do you have for them? They are in an interesting spot because they are upper classmen with the same class as you guys, but it's their first time in the big dance.
RYAN DAVIS: I think it's just to be loose and confident like we've been saying. Just go out there, have fun, enjoy the moment, but also we're here to win at the end of the day, so being able to go out there loose and confident like we have all year is something that we have to be able to do.
Q. What about you, Ben?
BEN SHUNGU: Just like what Ryan said really. You know, it's tough, obviously, coming from a mid- major school. You know you don't have, I guess, the chances to get to the tournament. It's definitely a harder road, but when you do get here, you do have to really just enjoy the moment. We're here to win. Don't get me wrong. We're here to win. It is pretty cool to be here, so enjoy the moment for sure.
Q. Ben and then Ryan. Benny, has it kind of struck you yet that however long this ride goes that kind of the long winding road to get here is kind of coming to a close within the next couple of weeks or whatever it is here?
BEN SHUNGU: No, it hasn't struck me yet. I'm here to play basketball, man. Just can't wait until tomorrow, and then when that comes -- it will come at some point, but just trying to enjoy the moment and stay in the moment, so ...
Q. Then, Ryan, same question for you.
RYAN DAVIS: Same answer as Ben. That's all I've got.
JOHN BECKER: Had an incredible run through the conference tournament. Winning by I think 36.5 points and coming in really confidently, but know we have our hands full against one of the best teams in the country against Arkansas. We've had a couple of good days of practice, and we look forward to tomorrow night.
Q. About the tournament run that you had, how do you put that into perspective knowing that games, winning games by 39 points isn't generally something that happens in the NCAA tournament?
JOHN BECKER: Yes, we understand that, and it was unexpected to a degree, but we put the tape out of Arkansas, and we calibrate our guys pretty quickly.
Q. I know you guys operate more on numbers. Arkansas has a couple of older guys, seniors who are transfers getting to play in the NCAAs for the first time. Umude, 0, and Toney, 5. Wondering what your take is on those guys?
JOHN BECKER: Umude can really shoot it, and he has been great for them, and Toney might be one of the best cutters off the ball that we'll face this year, so they are a big part of their team and pose problems and have unique skill set. They're really good players.
Q. (Off microphone)
JOHN BECKER: Defensively they're just big and athletic and strong, and like their whole team. They're the best defensive team in the Southeast Conference, and that's going to be a big challenge for us tomorrow is not turning the ball over, shots, not turnovers, and those guys can really get into it and be physical and athletic and block shots at the rim, and so we're going to have to make great decisions tomorrow.
Q. Finn Sullivan and Justin Mazzulla both in your starting line-up, upper classmen, but they're transfers that haven't played in the tournament yet. In that interesting position, what advice do you have for them?
JOHN BECKER: I was more worried about them in the championship game, you know, the pressure that that game has to it in a one-bid league where you got to win that game to get to here. So I think there's some pressure taken off of them at this point. We want to just continue. We're here to compete, and they've been really, really good, and the way they played in that championship game gives me confidence that they'll be fine tomorrow night.
Q. My question for you is, what makes this team different from the 2019 team that you had?
JOHN BECKER: I mean, this is the best offensive team I've had. We continue to be great defensively and rebounding and toughness, the things that are the cornerstones of our program. This team offensively plays with the best pace. We've shot the ball the best from an efficiency number. It's the best we've been.
So we're bigger at the guard spot. We look more like a high major team more than ever just because of the athleticism and the size of our players. Every year hopefully we're getting a little bit better, and I think we've gotten a little bit better maybe from that 2019 team that was obviously really good too.
Q. You mentioned Arkansas's defense, and it has been really good for the most part for 20 plus games, but Eric wasn't very happy against Texas A&M. I'm sure you watched that SEC tournament and A&M hit 8 out of 15, and Eric said that was kind of a relapse to earlier in the year when they were struggling. You have great three-point numbers. How do you see their three-point defense against your three-point shooting?
JOHN BECKER: I think if we can take care of the ball initially, you know, early in the clock if we can handle their pressure in the full court and up -- pressing up into us at half court. If we can handle that initial part of the shot clock and then kind of get into our offense, I think we'll have an opportunity to generate some good offense, but we'll see. I mean, that's the thing. You just don't know, and you have to get into the game and feel the game a little bit and feel their athleticism and their size and things like that, and so -- but they're going to be really, really good defense.
I competed against Coach Musselman's team when he was at Nevada 2016. I think it was in the semifinals of the CBI. We were both in the CBI that year, and we played out there, and they beat the heck out of us, and they played a similar, aggressive, athletic style. We're going to have our hands full tomorrow night.
Q. J.B., you guys have had a lot of kind of close games against power conference competition, and most of the time haven't been able to kind of get over the hump and get the win. The last time that you were able to do it was against St. John's, and obviously, Coach Anderson, Coach Musselman maybe run a similar style. Is that something that you have thought about at all kind of trying to figure out how to attack, making sure that you are keeping --
JOHN BECKER: Not really, but that does give our player -- it does give our program confidence that we can, like you said, finish off a game against a high major team, and we played Providence and Maryland this year to ten-point games essentially, and we've gone back to review those games just to see how we responded to that high major, you know, athleticism and size. We've drawn a little bit from that, but we're a veteran group, and we've played a lot of these big games. Most of our guys have played in the tournament, and we've competed pretty well, and so we're going to have to play really, really well.
We know we're going to have to play really, really well in order to pull off an upset, and so we're going to have to make threes. We're going to have to take care of the ball and rebound, and then to give ourselves a chance.
Q. When you guys are most successful, the big two between Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu who are doing good things, and then typically there's a third person in that game. Who and why do you like going into this game for you guys?
JOHN BECKER: That's a good question. I was encouraged -- you know, Finn started off great in the -- earlier in the year and then kind of struggled a little bit offensively. He has been great defensively all year, but he was great on both sides of the ball I thought in the championship game.
Isaiah has been that third guy for most of the year, maybe not scoring. He handles the ball a lot. He is our leading rebounder, leading assist guy. He is going to have to play well. Then Justin in a game like this with his cutting ability, I think is he going to have opportunities. He is kind of our heart beat.
Q. When did you realize that things started to snap into focus that your offense was legit and it wasn't just a short trend?
JOHN BECKER: Yeah, probably at the start of conference play when we were I think -- we were averaging over 80 points. We pushed up against close to 100. I think we had 98 a couple of times, and things started clicking, and then it just continued. Then we clinched a lead with five games to go, and then it got a little squirrely there for a couple of games, but then right back to it in the playoffs.
I thought we played really good offense in the nonconference against really good competition, mostly on the road, and we shot -- we were shooting 29% from three, and we were generating wide open shots. We couldn't make them. Then after the holidays we come back, and then we were making everything, and so -- and that's pretty much continued through for the rest of the year, and guys have gotten confidence now. It all starts on that end with Benny and Ryan. Our offensive game plans are built around how teams are going to guard them, and they've been consistently great all year.
Q. J.D. Notae, number 1 for them for Arkansas, he has gotten some all American third team recognition in sporting news. What's your take on him?
JOHN BECKER: He is a terrific player. A mid-major kid that transferred up, first team all league in the SEC, which we all know is one of the best conferences in the country. Just kind of relentless offensively. It's hard to keep in front, can finish around the rim. He is a good passer. Will make the right play.
He is playing downhill, and you got to deal with him and the Williams kid. You got to deal with those two guys and their involvement on early ball screen action and you got to be really, really sharp with that to have a chance to kind of guard them in half court.
Q. You've been in this position a number of times now being in the mid-major team the lower seed the night before you take on the higher seed in the NCAA tournament. What are the emotions of the day before for you?
JOHN BECKER: Obviously, excitement. It's great to have huge travel party and the experience for our players. At all levels, but at the mid-major level and having to win your conference tournament, like this is what you work for all year, and so I feel really good for the players and the people that get to come to this and my staff.
It's the best tournament in the world, the best sporting event in the world, and to be able to be part of it, it never gets old. It's really awesome. I'm nervous. I feel like a day before any game, you know, where we have expectations that we're here to win, and the nerves of making sure that we're prepared enough and that we have the right game plan put together. And in past years, I've been a little looser and just kind of happy to be here. I don't feel like that this year.
Q. Hey, Coach, I know a lot of people think about the one-and-done guys and the young guys, but you all start an all senior line-up. Arkansas starts four seniors, and some of them are transfers. You got some transfers too. What do you think about a match-up with nine senior starters? That sounds kind of old school.
JOHN BECKER: Yeah, it does. I think college basketball in general is older, and it's probably why the product has been so good this year. There's just -- everyone is old because of the COVID year, and so it's going to be good basketball. It's going to be -- I mean, I think this tournament is going to be incredible, and it gives everybody -- it's just going to -- I think there's going to be upsets. I think it levels the playing field a little bit, and, yeah, with nine senior starters tomorrow, it's going to be -- hopefully it's a good basketball game.
Q. What is it about your coaching staff that makes these athletes actually want to stay at Vermont?
JOHN BECKER: Thank you for asking that. That's one thing I'm really proud of is that we don't -- I can count on one hand probably the guys that have transferred out of this program, and we've obviously been really good because we have really good players, and I think it speaks to the experience that our players are having from my coaching staff and the job that they do and the relationships they build to the respectful nature, I hope that we have, that I know we have as far as how they're being treated.
They're being coached the right way. They trust us. They believe what we're telling them. We win a lot. That's a big part of it too, and so there's great academic university. It's a community that loves the basketball team and cares about basketball and supports us in an incredible way, and I think hopefully you'll see that tomorrow with the turnout of Vermont fans hopefully that will be here, so it's a combination of things, but something that I'm probably most proud of is that guys stay here. And a lot of our guys have a lot of options and a lot of people pulling. Not a lot of people, but people pulling them in other directions, and they choose to stay here and play for ultimately play for me. I don't take that lightly.
Q. (Off microphone)
It's kind of a fun one. I don't know if you know this, Finn, I know you know you came from San Diego. That's where Eric played, and Eric said that his youngest son, Matthew, he doesn't play, but he goes to San Diego, and he said they had a class together a couple of years ago. I guess that's kind of one of those small-world things. Just wondering if you had any thoughts on that?
JOHN BECKER: No, I didn't know that, but that's part of the thing when you have transfers that play on other teams with other guys. I have seen some of our guys do know some other guys on other teams, but, yeah, that's cool.
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