RD: Who’s got the best game-day atmosphere in the CAA?
PMJ: That’s a great question. Every place has a unique style to it. Some places are large arenas and some are smaller gyms. It also depends on when you play. Because of the geography of some of the schools, the Wednesday night crowd isn’t as great as the Saturday crowd in some place. If I had to pick one, I would say Drexel. They have a small gym but they pack it and their students do a tremendous job of coming out in droves and making as much noise as they can. They are also our main rival in the league so they bring a little extra juice to that game.
RD: Speaking of atmosphere, how was it going down to Durham and playing Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium?
PMJ: It was an incredible experience. There really are very few things like it. The students are there an hour and a half before the game and they know every detail about every player and they are not shy about it! The closest thing I could compare to it was my senior year at St. Joe’s when we played Villanova at The Palestra and there were at least 1,000 SJU students in the building before Villanova even arrived. As their players and coaches got off the bus and walked to the locker room our students were as loud as they could possibly be in “welcoming” the Wildcats. We jumped out to a 40-9 lead in that game because of that type of intimidation long before tip off and unfortunately it was similar at Cameron this year for us. We played that game knowing that no environment we play in the rest of the year would compare and it is one of the reasons we are currently 3-1 on the road in CAA play so far.
RD: Is Ryan Kelly really that important to Duke?
PMJ: He must be of great importance given their recent dip after he got injured. It goes to show that in the day and age of “one and dones” there is no substitute for senior leadership and experience. He is a wonderful talent and has an amazing skill set for a guy his size (which he put on full display against us) but he is by no means Duke’s most talented player. Not to mention, they can replace him with any of the All-Americans and future pros on their bench. They can replace the points, rebounds, and defense but they cannot replace the 118 games played and the knowledge and poise that goes along with that. I think that is illustrated by their 2 road losses and their struggles to win at Wake Forest. You win conference road games with savvy veterans. A guy like Ryan Kelly has been through it all at the collegiate level and when you lose that it can take a team, even one as good as Duke, a little while to bounce back from that. I have a feeling though that with a boatload of talent and one of the best coaching staffs in the country they will get it figured out quickly and make a run to Atlanta for the Final Four.
We were talking as a staff last night about the success of all of our non-conference opponents. Duke is one of a handful of teams that can win the National Championship, Kansas State is in the top-20, Pitt is a top-25 team, and Virginia is in the top half of the ACC. LaSalle, Temple, Rider, and Lafayette are near the top of their league standings. I am not surprised at Virginia or any of those teams’ success. Each of those teams were tough to play and we knew that they could be NCAA Tournament teams. That is the reason we scheduled them. Many teams try to load up with “easy wins” early but we wanted to test ourselves against the toughest competition because in January and February we were going to see tough competition night in and night out as part of the CAA schedule.
To Be Continued…