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March 16, 2023

John Becker

Columbus, Ohio, USA

Nationwide Arena

Vermont Catamounts

Media Conference

COACH BECKER: It's great to be here in Columbus and really excited for another opportunity in the NCAA Tournament against a really good Marquette team. And just really proud of this group and what we've been able to accomplish this year.

And seven new players, it's the biggest turnover I've had with a team. And to make it back here after starting out 2-7 is a credit to the players and my incredible staff. We're really proud of what we've done and excited for the opportunity.

Q. You guys have a unique advantage of starting four fifth-year seniors. Marquette, on the other hand, a little bit of a younger team. I'm just curious, in this sort of one-and-done format, what does that do for you guys, not only having those guys, but also Nick and A.D. and guys coming off the bench that have had this experience as well?

COACH BECKER: Yeah, we're hoping that it pays dividends. Like you said, we're experienced, especially at the guard spot, against a Marquette team that pressures teams and tries to turn you over.

It should help us in this game having experienced guards that have not only played a lot of games but played in the NCAA Tournament. So we're hoping that pays dividends.

Q. Want to ask about Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro, a unique opportunity to go against them, two of Marquette's primary ball handlers. How do you try to handle that defensively when Kolek is more than a facilitator and Ighodaro is 6'9", and Marquette trusts the ball in his hands a lot of the times?

COACH BECKER: They're both very good players. I've known Tyler a long time. A New England kid. We recruited him a little bit out of high school and seen him play a lot. And he's a terrific player. And he's an incredible story, and we have a lot of respect for him.

And he's a handful. I mean, ball's in his hands quite a bit with both those guys and ball screens and different actions. And that's going to be one of the keys trying to control him because some teams try to make him a scorer because he's such a good passer, and he's able to beat you that way.

As a facilitator, he's as good as it gets. Really, really can pass the ball and make people better.

And so both those guys are the key to the scouting report obviously, and make them, go so to speak. They're an elite offensive team. So those guys will be, are the focus for us defensively.

Q. You mentioned the 2-7 start to the season. What did your team learn during that stretch that you think started that 15-game win streak but also has prepared them for this moment now?

COACH BECKER: I mean, I think anytime you face adversity, and we played a top-30 non-conference schedule, had seven new players, played most of those games on the road. We only had two home games.

And so facing adversity reveals who you are. And so we had a lot of new players. I was playing a lot more guys at that time, trying to figure out what we had, playing really good teams on the road.

And so I learned that I probably shouldn't schedule that hard of a schedule with seven new players. I think that's the main thing I learned.

Q. She mentioned the 15-game win streak. Does that momentum carry into the tournament, or do things reset once this gets started?

COACH BECKER: We're a confident group for sure, winning 15 straight. And we've had a lot of these 10-game winning streaks throughout my career, but this year just with an older group, it just feels like we haven't really talked about a 15-game winning streak. It doesn't feel like that. It's just kind of business as usual. Sort of like just we're just playing the next game, preparing. This group is really motivated.

It's been a really fun team to coach as a coaching staff. It's just kind of come up with a game plan, get the game plan installed, collaborate with our players, make sure everyone's comfortable with what we're doing, and they've been able to go out there and execute the game plan.

We are a confident group. But it just feels like we're just going out there executing game plans and trying to win the game in front of us. And that's how, more than any other time I've been here, it just feels like another game. And that's a good feeling as a coach.

Q. How important is a fast start in this tournament setting?

COACH BECKER: It's something we've talked about more as a staff than the players, but Marquette has jumped on teams this year. And that's something we've got to keep control of the game early. I think their pressure can startle some teams. And that kind of jump starts their offense where they're able to get going on that end of the court and make some 3s and so forth.

Yeah, we've got to come out. We have to have a good start because, look at the Big East championship game and things like that. They can jump on you.

Q. You mentioned some new transfers that came in this year, few guys relatively local, Dylan Penn, coming from Bellarmine which is wild, to not only get in the tournament this year but somewhere his family can watch it, how special is that?

COACH BECKER: That stuff is out of your control. But that's one thing, when we found out we're going to Columbus for Robin and Dylan, who are both from Evansville, and Kam Gibson, who is from Cincinnati, to have the opportunity to play relatively close where there's going to be a lot of people for both -- for all three of those players to be able to come out, where it's harder to get to Burlington for their families.

Yeah, it just seems -- like for Dylan, how often does the story, the fairytale, the story book ending happen, where he transfers one year, comes here to try to make the NCAA Tournament and actually does it? And he's a big reason why we do it.

And so I'm really happy for those three guys to have the opportunity for their families and friends and communities that they grew up in have an opportunity to come out and experience this with them.

Q. That tough start you had, you had those three tough games on the road -- Saint Mary's, Cal State, SC. Did you schedule them to make your team tournament tough? And although you may not have won those games what did that do for your guys' confidence?

COACH BECKER: Scheduling is the most challenging part of being a successful mid-major program. So I always want to philosophically schedule a tough non-conference schedule to make sure we face adversity and really figure out who we are and what we need to do to get better before the conference season starts.

This year, I thought we overscheduled with seven new players to play a top-30 non-conference schedule, to play them all on the road. When you travel across the country it's really difficult. You don't know the referees. You don't know the surroundings. And to play three tournament teams from last year when we went to California.

And at the time we're sitting 2-7, I had wondered if I had worried about losing the guys a little bit in the sense of killing their confidence. But in hindsight, maybe it did do exactly what we hoped it would and expose us for the things that we weren't and face some adversity and toughen us up.

So like when you get to a game like this, one thing that we shouldn't be is just the moment is not going to be too big for us.

We've been through every type of environment. We've been in every type of environment. We have an experienced team, guys that have played in this game. Now sitting here at the NCAA Tournament, yeah, I look like a genius, I guess, with the schedule.

Q. Much has been made about the Marquette offense but what can you tell us about the defense that's come on strong here especially in the Big East Tournament?

COACH BECKER: Shaka Smart, the VCU, the havoc, he was known as a defensive coach. And this year it's probably his best offensive team he's had.

But they're still really aggressive defensive team that's going to pressure you all over the court. It may not be the havoc or the extending it 94 feet. But they do do that.

It just looks a little bit different. But they're going to put a lot of pressure on you. And when the ball hits the paint, they're going to fly to the ball and really -- we've got to take care of the ball. We've got to have shots, not turnovers. I think they're an underrated defensive team.

Q. You talk about a fast start earlier. How important is it for you to have or how important, rather, is it to have a guy like A.D. off the bench? You talked about his role, how he's embraced it and thrived in it. How important is it to have it in your back pocket? And he's sparked runs for you all season.

COACH BECKER: Aaron has been a big part of our program for two years, two consecutive years he's been sixth-man of the year, which is very unique. He started earlier in the year. But I just think we're better with him off the bench.

I've always believed that if you're fortunate enough to have enough good players, to have some of your best players to come off the bench, is really important. If you get off to a slow start, you have guys that you can put in the game that will make you better or there's no drop-off, so to speak.

So Aaron's willingly gone to the bench and he's had a great year for us.

And last year in this game, against Arkansas, I think he was 0-for-7 and had a lot of good opportunities, just couldn't cash in on those. But he's had a better year this year than he did last year. And him playing well is going to be really important for us.

Q. Compared to 2022 and 2019, some of these tournament teams you've had in the last couple of years, how is this one both similar and/or different? And does that affect how you actually prep for the week and coach in game?

COACH BECKER: Yeah, I mean, this one's the most unlikely of the recent ones that we've had just because of the start, just because of the newness of the players, and new players playing important roles, and you don't know how they're going to respond in a tournament where our conference tournament, a one-bid league where it's one-and-done, the pressure is immense.

And to win a conference tournament in a one-bid league is the hardest thing to do in college basketball in my opinion. And you don't know how those guys are going to react in that type of situation. But they responded really, really well.

So we're really tough at this point, and I really have a lot of confidence in the guys. So in that sense any team from the America East or any of my teams that have made it through the conference tournament and got to the tournament are really good, tough teams because they've won that tournament.

And so it's similar in that sense that I have a lot of confidence in this group and they've passed a lot of tests, so to speak.

Each team is different. We've had some dominant players on past teams. And this year it's a little bit more by committee. But it's similar in that we're a tough, hard-playing, defensive-minded team that can really shoot the ball.

In this tournament, the last couple times we've played we've made 18, 16 3s. And I think that's been something that's enabled us to stay in games and really scare some of these higher seeds. So we're hoping that this is the year we break through.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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