The NCAA Tournament is finally here. This time of year is filled with lots of big names, but also plenty of schools that you have likely never heard of before (at least since the last time they happened to match up against a team you follow). Today, we have one of those schools in the Austin Peay Governors. To help prepare us for our opponents today, I reached out to Benjamin Miraski over at Mid-Major Madness, the SB Nation site covering the large swath of basketball teams that don’t have another site to call their own. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule and answer a few questions for us.
RCT: Austin Peay. I've only heard the name a few times (and usually someone making a joke about it), but I'm sure there is a fascinating history just a Google search away. However, I'm sure most people are just interested in the basketball portion of the school right now, so let's give them a more complete picture. Where is the school located, what's the best feature of the school, and how in the heck did they become the "Governors"?
MMM: Austin Peay is in Clarksville, Tenn., which everyone assumes is the place in the Monkees song Last Train to Clarksville, because of the nearby military base in Kentucky. The school is named for a former governor of Tennessee, who was the one who signed into law the banning of the teaching evolution, so there’s that. But he did some good things, and most people consider him the No. 1 seed if you had a bracket of Tennessee Governors. And so, that is why they are named the Governors.
RCT: Now to turn more towards the game at hand. First, what kind of system does head coach Dave Loos run at Austin Peay? According to his bio (http://letsgopeay.com/coaches.aspx?rc=448&path=mbball), he's been the coach there for 26 years, so obviously he is doing something right.
MMM: Loos has had quite a bit of success at Austin Peay, even if the last couple of years have been pretty lean, But it helps when you are your own boss, as he was also serving as AD until the beggining of this year. He finally stepped down from that so he could get back to concentrating on basketball, and getting this team back to where they were usually finishing in the Ohio Valley. It must have worked for at least the OVC Tournament.
His best teams have been very good at driving and getting the ball inside, as opposed to relying on the 3-point shot to win them ball games. He has upped the tempo over the past couple of seasons -- somewhat to help with dip in overall team strength -- although that hasn’t been working really well for him. Look for some pressure defense to try and grab some turnovers, but I don’t know if he will stay with that for long given the quality of Kansas’ team.
RCT: Even with 72 hours of furious Googling, it's difficult to replicate the insight that can be obtained from someone who has followed the team all year. Who are the main contributors on the team? What other interesting tidbits can you share about this team?
MMM: The man you need to know is Chris Horton, who is Mr. Everything for the Governors. He averaged 18.9 points and 12 rebounds per game this year, and threw in 63 blocks for the fun of it. He was a beast inside in the paint, and is one of those players that you wonder if he could have been even better had he been surrounded by some better players. He didn’t win player of the year in the Ohio Valley, but there is a strong case to be made for him, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Don’t sleep on Josh Robinson who is the second leading scorer on the team, and took 204 3-point shots this season, making 34 percent of them. Freshman Jared Savage is also a gunner from outside, where he shoots at a 41 percent clip.
RCT: Kansas is obviously a huge obstacle for this team. While there really is no pressure in this game, how should the Governors attack the Jayhawks Thursday?
MMM: Austin Peay’s best shot is to do what they do best and that is to get the ball inside to Horton. He is great at drawing contact, and getting to the line and maybe they can force Kansas into some early foul trouble. If the team is able to get the Jayhawks to concentrate on the big man in the paint, then that might open up the 3-point line and we all know that can change things very quickly in the NCAA Tournament.
Defensively, I am not sure there is much hope for the Governors to stop Kansas, so I can’t even come up with a game plan other than "Don’t foul too much, don’t let them get too far ahead".
RCT: Prediction time! With a 26 point spread, I don't think anyone is expecting this to be the first 16-over-1 game in the tournament, but how close do you think this game will be? What would you say would make for a successful tournament appearance, or is making the tournament enough for this team?
MMM: I think getting to the NCAA Tournament is a great accomplishment for this team, and as you pointed out, there is really no pressure on them to do anything. I would have liked to have seen them go to Dayton, and get to play against another of the No. 16 seeds, and potentially score a win, as we saw Holy Cross do Wednesday night. Something like that can really make a difference for a team, especially when there is a core of young guys who will be the foundation next season.
This is really a showcase game for Horton, and I think it is his opportunity to show what he can do against top talent with a lot of eyes watching, as opposed to earlier in the season when the Governors played just two good teams in Vandy and Indiana. If he can have a big game, and it isn’t a total laugher, I think this can be considered a "win" for Austin Peay.
RCT: Bonus - Last year we went on a postseason potluck picnic, and it was so great that I decided to do it again. What food item would you bring to represent your school or the region where it is located?
MMM: I feel like every time we get asked the question the best answer is BBQ. We are going to go with some BBQ chicken.
A big thanks to Benjamin for helping us out today. Don’t forget to check out all the tournament coverage that Mid-Major Madness has to offer.