Tourney Talk: CHD sits down with Middle Tennessee State coach Kermit Davis

On March 10th Middle Tennessee State lost to FIU in the Sun Belt conference tourney semis, but its 28-5 record was good enough to earn an at-large bid to this week’s NCAA tournament. The Blue Raiders made the NIT quarterfinals in 2012, and made the leap in 2013 to claim the school’s 1st NCAA tourney bid since 1989.  Earlier today Jon Teitel got to speak with Coach Kermit Davis about what it feels like to make the tourney for the first time since he was head coach at Idaho in 1990.

Your nickname is “Froggy”: who gave it to you, and how do you like it? I got that a long time ago when the Muppets became famous. It started with a student on campus who used it on Twitter.

You led your team to the NIT quarterfinals last year: how do you think that postseason run will help you out this time around? It will be a tremendous help: we can sure draw from that.

You had a three point win over SEC champ Mississippi in December by forcing 18 turnovers: what is your secret for playing good defense? We have two outstanding defensive point guards and the rest of our guards are all physical, we will greatly need that against St. Mary’s.

You went undefeated for two straight months before losing to FIU in the Sun Belt semis.  How nervous were you about making the tourney, and how do you get your team to bounce back from a close loss?
The biggest thing to me was how we practiced last week, as that was the only thing we could control. We went back to our October-type practices and were very physical and focused on defense and rebounding. There is always anxiety about making the tourney, but we won 28 games and had a great non-conference strength of schedule, so we had a quiet confidence during the selection show.

You lost road games to several tourney teams earlier this season (Florida/Akron/Belmont), which of them impressed you the most?
The Gators were the best team in basketball back then, they had just beaten both Wisconsin and Marquette badly.

Marcos Knight is your only player who averaged 10+ points per game this season: how crucial is he to your team’s success this week? He is a big part of it for us. He is a great finisher at the rim, and when he rebounds well we play well.

You have one assistant who won two NAIA titles as head coach (Win Case) and another assistant who won the 1974 NCAA title as a player at NC State (Monte Towe), how helpful is it to have a staff with such championship experience? It has been great.

You have had several great coaching mentors (Tim Floyd at Idaho, Larry Eustachy at Utah State, and your father at Mississippi State): which of them had the biggest influence on you, and how do you think Larry is going to do against Missouri? I think Larry will do terrific. My dad has obviously been my biggest influence, I got to sit on the bench and travel with the team to road games. Bob Boyd was my college coach at Mississippi State, who was a tremendous influence on me. I have really been lucky to work with so many great guys.

You have been named Sun Belt Coach of the Year in each of the past two years and are the winningest coach in school history.  What makes you such a good coach, and do you think that anyone will ever break your record? I am sure they will break it sometime…if they are fortunate enough to have a great administration that will let them stay there for a long time. My strength is coaching my very best players the toughest, when you have a good relationship with your stars, the whole team will follow.

You play St. Mary’s tomorrow night in Dayton.  How do you prepare for a team with only 48 hours of advance notice, and how do you like your chances? The biggest thing is that both teams have a quick turnaround, so we are just scouring the Internet to find some video, which we could not do 20-25 years ago. I love Gaels’ coach Randy Bennett, he was on our staff at Idaho with myself and Larry, so I have known him a long time. He has a great point guard in Matthew Dellavedova, and I think it will be a great game.