It has been almost five months since Louisville was able to fend off a strong Michigan team and win the school’s third NCAA title. After a long summer away from the court we are only a few weeks away from Midnight Madness in October and the start of the regular season in November. To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel starts our season preview series by chatting with North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll about what must be considered 1 of the toughest non-conference road schedules in the entire nation.
You were an assistant to Larry Shyatt at Wyoming & Clemson. What makes Larry such a good coach, and how did it feel to hire his son Jeremy for your own staff? Larry’s passion for people is what separates him from other coaches. On the defensive side of the ball he is a mastermind at game-planning and execution. He really helped the Gators win a pair of championships in 2006 & 2007. I have known Jeremy since he was a young man, and he had a great impact on my sons. He has great credentials and a bright future, so I have tried to pay it forward by bringing him back into the fold.
In the 1999 NIT title game Geno Carlisle made a one-handed shot and then a FT with 4.7 seconds left in a 1-PT win by Cal. Where does that rank among the most devastating losses of your career? I thought it was a charge! It was a hard loss to swallow, as was the 2009 NIT title game loss.
What are your memories of the 2009 NIT title game as an assistant to Scott Drew at Baylor (Jamelle Cornley scored 18 points in a six-point win by Penn State)? We made a magical run to the title game. The Nittany Lions brought about 36 busloads of students to Madison Square Garden.
In 2009 you became head coach at North Florida. Why did you take the job? When you have a relationship with people it makes it a lot easier. Larry actually turned down the job, but after talking to him it became a no-brainer for me. Our school does not have a lot of tradition but other schools that made the leap from D-2 (like Kennesaw State) had at least some sort of tradition. I think we are a diamond in the rough that just never got a chance to shine.
Your two models for a basketball program are Gonzaga and Valparaiso. How important are redshirts, transfers, and foreign players to your team’s success? We have been blessed to get several transfers such as Parker Smith. We have not had a lot of foreign kids so far, but are trying to spread out and find some bigger guys overseas, in prep schools, and at junior colleges.
Parker Smith graduated in the spring. How will you overcome the loss of your leading scorer? He led the nation in scoring off the bench as a sophomore because he had a great gift of making difficult shots. It will have to be replacement by committee rather than depending on one guy to score 16 points per game. We lost Jerron Granberry during the year, which was difficult to overcome, and ended up losing a total of 5 seniors (including three 1000-PT scorers), which will hurt a lot. We recruited some very good shooters and have some good shooters coming back. I think we actually have more guys this year who can make threes.
Your non-conference road schedule includes trips to Florida, Ohio State, Alabama, Indiana, and Michigan State: who the heck is in charge of making your schedule?! At this level we have to raise a lot of money, and in order to do that you have to play a lot of tough teams on the road. We do not back down from anyone so we see it as a positive. We try to schedule the best teams we can, so even teams like Middle Tennessee State will be a challenge for us. We saw Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast win some big games last year, so we know that our conference is capable of beating high-majors.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? I feel really good about where we are at, but nobody can tell how teams will mesh after some lineup changes, mental challenges, putting players in different roles, etc. Our league will be good again this year, but Mercer is probably the favorite. I am excited about it because I believe in our guys, so the glass is always half-full for me.