Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey and Butler coach Chris Holtmann traded some inside information this summer, not realizing the Eagles and Bulldogs would meet in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
MILWAUKEE – Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey stressed enough about how to get the Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament that he wasn’t considering which team might be their opponent – if they even got there.
So when Kelsey reached out to Butler coach Chris Holtmann this summer to talk shop, he felt it was an innocent gathering to share some trade secrets among friends.
“He probably told me more than he wanted to tell me, and I probably told him more than I wanted to tell him, knowing what I know now,” Kelsey said at Wednesday’s press conference.
Kelsey’s No. 13 seed Eagles will face Holtmann’s fourth-seeded Bulldogs in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Milwaukee, but Kelsey doesn’t for a second regret the discussion they had a few months ago.
“This summer I was going to up to visit family in Cincinnati where I’m from and I reached out to him about a couple things (Butler does) that I liked, and I asked if I could pick (Holtmann’s) brain for 15 minutes, half hour,” Kelsey said. “We ended up talking for three or four hours.”
Kelsey said he and Holtmann developed a friendship during Kelsey’s first season at Winthrop in 2012-13, when Holtmann was still the head coach at fellow Big South program Gardner-Webb. They split the two meetings that year before Holtmann left G-W after that season to become an assistant under Brandon Miller at Butler. Holtmann has been the full-time head coach for three seasons following Miller resigning due to medical issues.
Holtmann doesn’t need inside information to know Butler’s main priority is stopping Winthrop’s dynamic 5-foot-7 guard Keon Johnson, who averaged 22.5 points while winning Big South Player of the Year. He was most impressed with Johnson’s performance in Winthrop’s 84-80 overtime win at Illinois on Nov. 21, when he scored 38 points while going 15 of 21 from the field.
“He is nearly impossible to keep in front of,” Holtmann said. “His ability to make shots makes him incredibly dynamic.
“There are many guys really like him that have his size, speed and shooting ability.”
Holtmann sounded amazed by Johnson’s overall game while praising him, but Kelsey referred to Holtmann as a “tactician.” Kelsey knows Holtmann won’t let Johnson beat Butler that easily.
“I’m sure (Holtmann) will have something cooked up to take Keon away,” Kelsey said. “Hopefully we can counter that.”