Less than 24 hours after pulling off the biggest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, the BYU Cougars were in Louisville, preparing for their Second Round meeting with Marquette.
"All of us are excited to be here," said center Brandon Davies at an afternoon press conference preceding the team's practice at the KFC Yum! Center. "We're excited for a chance to play another game and do our best to get another win."
Head coach Dave Rose was asked little about last night's comeback from down 25 points to defeat Iona in Dayton's "First Four," but acknowledged that "the turnaround is quick."
At the same time, he said, "it's exciting for our players. It's what you want to be doing at this time of year. You want to be preparing for the next team, advancing in the tournament."
The fact BYU advanced after falling behind 49-24 last night impressed Marquette players and coaches, who marveled at the feat during their afternoon media sessions.
"I've never seen anything like it in all my life," said head coach Buzz Williams, a former assistant at Colorado State. "I had never seen an NCAA Tournament game like that...I thought it was a great game. Great game."
Golden Eagles forward Jae Crowder said "it was a great way to start the tournament. Of course, it was a great win. You saw both teams hit their ceiling. I think Iona hit their ceiling a little earlier than BYU did. BYU had to fight back...I think they adjusted well and came out with the victory."
Crowder hinted that Marquette would stick to a pressure-based defense that has resulted in top 20 rankings in steal and defensive turnover percentages. "I think defensively we can really distract them and take away a lot of things from them," said Crowder. "When they can see the floor and they can make decisions and run their offense, they're pretty good. But when you take that away from them and try to deny it, get in the passing lanes and deny the ball from them, I think they'll struggle a little bit."
"Great team," said BYU's Brock Zylstra about the Golden Eagles. "Really physical. Just a Big East team that you would think, when you think of the Big East conference, they're just real physical, want to get a lot of rebounds, play tough."
Williams and Rose got to know each other when both were serving as assistants in the Mountain West Conference; with Williams at Colorado State and Rose at BYU. The two coaches and their wives have maintained a friendship over the years, and now find themselves facing off for the first time. Williams spoke admiringly of Rose during his podium session.
"I have the utmost respect for who Dave is as a human being, the utmost," said Williams. "Our relationship obviously has blossomed since (first meeting him)."
"Man, you talk about his story, junior college head coach, assistant coach, Phi Slama Jama (as a player at Houston). Cancer survivor. Just who he is, his beliefs, his morals, I stand at attention in respect for who he and Cheryl are."
"Then you look at his head coaching record. I think he's got to be one of the top two or three most unheralded head coaches in the country. He's won 78 percent of his games, been coach of the year in the league three years in a row in the Mountain West, a league that I'm familiar with. Been to the NCAA Tournament every single year (except for one seasons in 2005-06), had coached the player of the year at BYU--had that ever happened before? I mean, I just‑‑ I stand at attention for who he is as a person and as a professional."
While Marquette is making its 2012 tourney debut tomorrow afternoon (tipoff at approx. 12:45pm MT), the Cougars already have a win in the books, a topic that both sides addressed in Louisville.
"We feel it's advantageous for us," said Zylstra, "because we know the feelings, especially we got a lot of young guys on the team. So we know the feelings that come from playing in a situation like this, an atmosphere like this."
"So we take it as an advantage for us as we have already got our legs under us after a long layoff, especially for us, a week off or even more off. We're happy that we're able to play and come into this next game already having a game under our belt."
Marquette guard Darius Johnson-Odom said "it's a plus for them, but I don't think it's going to hurt us, by any means."
"We have a couple guys who have played in the NCAA Tournament, and I think everybody knows the stage of this environment. You have to be ready. You have to be prepared for teams like that, like BYU. When you dissect a team like BYU, you just can't look at them and say, well, guys from the west coast, you wouldn't think they would be able to run as fast as they are. I think we've just got to do a good job of being focused and mentally prepared."
Style points: both BYU and Marquette play fast; the Cougars are ranked 5th nationally in tempo and the Golden Eagles are 15th. Williams notes that "BYU's not near as slow as you would think, and it's hard, unless you watch Iona, to explain how fast they are. But BYU's offensive numbers are very comparable to Iona's from an efficiency standpoint, from an effectiveness standpoint."
Both teams are ranked highly (kenpom.com) in defensive efficiency, with Marquette 21st and BYU 22nd.
Both teams have forwards at the focal point of their offense: Noah Hartsock (BYU's leading scorer) and Crowder (Big East Player of the Year) will spend a lot of time in each other's personal space tomorrow, and it makes for an interesting matchup.
"I think I will guard him," said Crowder. "I would like to do that. I know it's a challenge because he's a great offensive player. He has a great midrange game. He can shoot the ball pretty well. I think he's the key for them to victory, just like he showed last night. I think, if you take him out, they struggle. I'm willing to take on that challenge, but he's a great player."
Williams was effusive in his praise of Hartsock, noting that "if you were to look at his effectiveness not in the paint and not behind the three‑point line, I haven't seen a guy in a long time as effective as he is. He's not a post. He's not a perimeter player. He's a really good player. What he has meant to their team speaks for itself."
"I wouldn't necessarily classify him as an athlete, but if you look at a lot of their teams, a lot of their games, a lot of times the most athletic guy is trying to guard him to disrupt him because he's so efficient in what he does. So I think he's really, really good, and I think we'll have our hands full with him and Davies. I think the combination of those two guys in the frontcourt are maybe as good as there is in the country."
Davies, on Crowder: "We know he's a great player... Player of the Year. It's going to take a lot to get him stopped. We're going to throw a lot at him and just make sure we give him our best effort to get him stopped. It's not just him. They have a lot of other guys on their team that are serious weapons and serious threats. So he's a great player, but he's surrounded by a bunch of them as well."
Numbers and Notes:
BYU and Marquette are two of only 11 teams nationally with consecutive-year NCAA Tournament streaks of six years or longer; BYU is playing in a sixth straight tourney, while Marquette is making its seventh consecutive appearance.
Forward Charles Abouo last night established new BYU career records for games played (140) and wins played in (113), surpassing both records previously held by Jimmer Fredette.
BYU will not hold a secondary practice this evening, as it did on the eve of its "First Four" meeting with Iona. the players will instead meet and rest up in preparation for tomorrow's early afternoon affair.
BYU guard Damarcus Harrison told me in the locker room that he has determined what he plans to do after his freshman season: "I'm planning on going on a mission; I'm trying to get out some time in the summer; maybe late summer."
Harrison's brother is currently serving an LDS mission in Illinois; he returns home in December. You can hear Harrison's entire pregame interiew tomorrow on KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM and 1160 AM; our broadcast begins at noon.
BYU's game will be called on TV by the CBS crew of Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery and Lesley Visser--the same group who had BYU's NCAA Tourament games in Denver last March.