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January 21, 2013

ACC Teleconference: Johnson On UVA

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After a four-game losing streak, the importance of two straight wins for Virginia Tech can't be understated. The past two wins, over Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are all the more important with a rivalry game against Virginia Thursday.

Coach James Johnson talked about facing the Cavaliers and his thoughts on the ACC on today's weekly ACC teleconference. Below is the transcript, followed by the audio link.

Johnson: Our guys are coming off another good win, but all wins are good. We found a way. We didn't play great basketball for both halves, but we found a way to pull a victory out, which we've done the last couple of games. I think we're improving in spots and still have room to get better.

I don't know how much, if any tape you've looked at on Virginia at this stage and it's hardly good news that they play good defense, but 36 points on Saturday against Florida State is historically low in the shot clock era. What do you see from them defensively right now?

Johnson: Well, they're gonna keep the basketball in front of them. First of all, their transition defense is very good, so getting back, getting easy baskets on them is gonna be very difficult. Then, they protect the paint, keep the basketball in front of them, so penetrating the defense, whether it be on the dribble or the pass, is gonna be very difficult. They keep the basketball in front of them and force you to make contested jump shots.

Jontel Evans is the one most of us focus on with their defense, but it's gotta be some other guys who are effective on that end too.

Johnson: It starts with Evans and his ability to put some pressure on the basketball. He's strong, he's quick, he's athletic. It starts with him, but all those guys, they're big guards, they're strong and physical and they keep the ball in front of you and they have a lot of hands action, what we call, 'handsy.' They don't let you get a direct look at the basket or direct passes. They've got their hands up and they play with a lot of hands and a lot of size. They've got very good helpside defense also and they're gonna load to the ball. They're not gonna give up too much space on drives and then if you post, they're gonna trap and do some different things, trap the post and try to take the basketball out of the post guys' hands there.

Do you anticipate them doing much like Wake (Forest) did the other day and trying to trap Erick Green off ball screens?

Johnson: I do. Seeing that in some of the films that we've watched, so I do anticipate them trying to trap Erick Green and trying to get the basketball out of his hands.

When you decided to go to the up-tempo style when you first took over the program, do you think about at all, the contrast in styles now that these two in-state programs have? You emphasize pushing the ball and they emphasize slowing it down, but they play a more methodical style. You've been around the rivalry for a while, do you think that adds to it, the fact that you guys now have kinda adopted completely contrasting styles?

Johnson: I don't think either guy...that's something that Tony, he's played all his college coaching career and that's the way I envision playing when I became a head coach. It didn't have any thoughts about how they play up the road there. We're just playing the way I would like to play and trying to play to the strengths of what we have on this team.

In five years as an assistant coach, what were your impressions of the Virginia/Virginia Tech game?

Johnson: No matter what the records are for either team, it's gonna be a game. It's gonna be a grind it out, tough, physical, hard-fought, grind it out game. You just might as well strap it on and get ready to play, regardless of the records. Going in last year to the game up there, we hadn't won a league game and that was our first league win then they came back and beat us at our place. Throw the records out, home or away, you're gonna get the best effort from both teams.

Do you expect Marshall Wood to be cleared this week for the UVA game?

Johnson: I haven't heard. He is doing more things in practice, but haven't heard if he's gonna be ready to go or not. I would say it's a long shot, but don't know anything yet.

Considering UVA's defense and just their overall style, what do we think Thursday? The first team to 60 points wins the game? is this gonna be a tough game for the fans to watch in terms of not as entertaining?

Johnson: Both teams are gonna play their style of game, where they want the possessions low. They're gonna play great defense and they're gonna be very methodical and very smart on the offense and don't get it wrong, they'll push the ball in spots and get out and get easy baskets also. But in the half-court, they're gonna get it to a particular guy, they're gonna get it where they wanna get it, when they wanna get it and they're gonna pick the shot that they want. We're gonna try to rebound the basketball and get out and run and try to get some easy baskets like we've been trying to do all season. I think both teams are gonna try to play the way that they play.

Kind of a big-picture, two-part question. As someone who's been around the league for a couple of years, in your mind is there really anything to account for the drop in overall scoring in league play this year? There's been a couple of halftime scores in the low 20s and stuff like that this year. Second part, are you seeing more widespread parity in the league top to bottom, any team can beat any team on a given basis or is that something that's always been there in the league in your mind?

Johnson: Well, I think with college basketball in general, you have to come ready to play every single night. That's just how it is. You've got very good coaches in this league and good teams are game planning. The defenses are good and I think with the low scores, I think that's coming with the game planning and the scouting report, guys taking certain guys away and trying to make other guys beat them or force them to do things that they haven't done. I think the parity is in the league and it's early in the conference season. I think guys are feeling guys out. I think it's a young league, where we have a lot of young teams in the league, a lot of young guys. I think that has a little to do with it too. I think you'll see the scores come up a little bit as the season goes on.

Have you seen teams become more defensive-minded in the past year?

Johnson: I think the league has been a really good defensive league anyway. I think the league is young. You put a lot of young players out there on the floor and the inconsistency with certain guys. I think you can see that.

I wanted to ask you about Erick Green leading the nation in scoring, which is something nobody in the ACC has done for fifty-something years. Can you talk about the defenses he's facing? He carries so much of your offensive load, is he starting to get a lot of special or odd defensive attention?

Johnson: I don't know about special or odd defensive attention, but he's getting a lot of defensive attention and it's coming from different ways every game. Teams are scheming on him and just like in football with a quarterback, they're showing him different blitzes as they would say in football. He's seeing a lot of different defenses and like on Saturday, it took him a while to kinda recognize, see what was going on and how to handle it. I don't think it's anything he hasn't seen, he's just gotta adjust every game to the way teams are playing him. He's doing a good job of that, of picking his spots when he can score, picking his spots to get other teammates involved too.

With You've seen him mature since his freshman year when you were on the staff. What's changed with him to make him such a dynamic scorer?

Johnson: His decision-making, he knows when to use the three-ball, he knows when to get in and use the middle game, he knows when to go all the way to the basket. He's attacking a little bit more in transition, he's become a smarter player with reading defenses and that comes with watching tape and studying game film and studying opponents and studying himself. He's trusting his teammates around him a little more too, as evidenced by his almost four assists a game. I think all of that has gone into him being a much better player over the years.

CLICK HERE To listen to Johnson on the teleconference: COACH JAMES JOHNSON ACC TELECONFERENCE 1.21




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