Was it a good weekend off?
Well, I don't know if it was off, but it was a good mental break for the players. We practiced Friday and Saturday just to get them in the gym and keep them sharp physically but mentally tried to get them away from it. Our whole concentration was to let them ease up mentally because it's going to be a grind here for the next three or four weeks.
If Michigan State loses at Michigan, and you beat Illinois, you're only one game out of first. Is that what you guys are looking at?
We've just got to keep going one game at a time. What we're looking at is an Illinois team that is fighting for first place and a very good RPI team – the best team as far as record and RPI that we have left in our schedule. We compare it to our Wisconsin game, in that if you get a win over a team like this, it's really going to help you late in the year. You've got to get key road wins late in the year, and you've got to get some really big home wins. This obviously falls under that home win.
Is this the biggest game that you have left this year?
No. It's the biggest up until Wednesday. Then we'll look at Saturday. From here on out you're going to be saying that. Every team that you look at, every game is huge. There's an awful lot that can happen in a two-week frame. We can go anywhere from battling for the whole thing to end up being 7-9 and not being in any of it. So, each game is huge. And this next one is obviously big for us.
Is this team a better team with all of the departures or how would you describe the team's improvement?
I'm not saying that we wouldn't be at this point or better had we had two guys in particular, Jared and Mike Henderson, and obviously what Sean gave us off of the bench. Erek is doing a very good job, and he's developing very nicely. But having that big guy, that 7-footer defensively and offensively with the talent of Jared and having a backup point guard that can really defend athletically, I'm not so sure we wouldn't be where we're at or even further down the road. But not knowing that, this team has done a terrific job of rallying the troops and not just playing each game, but trying to get better. We've gotten better. Since the first of February, we've gotten better. That's a great credit to what the guys have been doing.
Is it because all five starters are an offensive threat from all over the court?
It helps. All five guys that are in there can all shoot the three ball. They can all drive. A few of them, including the guards, can go to the post and score. In saying that, we still don't have anybody other than Erek that we're playing that's bigger than 6-7. There's a fine line there of what we can get away with and what we don't get away with. Our game has had to change a little bit. There's a lot more pressure put on our guards than before. But there's still equal pressure put on guys like Glen and Bru and Erek to make sure that we have a low-post presence. I don't think that you can play this game at a high level not having some kind of low-post presence, whether it's a guard or by a power forward like we're doing now. You've got to be able to get some easy scores.
The Illinois game was kind of Erek's breakout game. How has he improved or changed since then?
He's always been a tough kid. He's always run the floor extremely well. He's second in the Big Ten in blocked shots, and he's only played about nine Big Ten games. What he's done has been amazing through about nine games. Where he's starting to improve…if he could just knock down a shot or two, his confidence would just go out of this roof. He is skilled. He's got some very good moves down there. It's hard to block his shot because he's got such good lift on his offensive moves. For whatever reason, he hasn't had a lot of those drop. If those drop, he'll be able to take it to another level. We've told him just to relax and not worry about those things because he does things a little bit too quick. If he'll run the floor, guard and block shots, that's what we need more than we need his scoring. But what he's been asked to do under the circumstances that he's been asked to do it, there's no bigger key to us right now. If Glen gets in foul trouble, if Bru gets in foul trouble, he's got to play extended minutes. He's done a very good job when those things have happened.
Where do you want him shooting from or what kind of range does he have?
Erek can actually go out and shoot the ball. In the role he's playing, I don't need him shooting three's. We're leading the Big Ten in that area without him shooting them. I would just as soon see him tip dunk the ones that don't go in. As his career evolves, he's going to be a guy that can screen, pop and shoot the ball out to 20 feet. I don't think he's really ready for that, at least yet on this particular team. But we're not telling him to only shoot it from two feet. He knows that he's got the freedom. But shooting and scoring is not something that he needs to be burdened with right now. If it happens, it's a bonus. But the way that he guards, the way that he changes shots…for instance, Ohio State went at us early. They got in a rhythm. He's inserted. Now, Radinovic gets 12 in the first half and hardly does anything in the second half. Dials was the same way. The guy that changed that was Erek Hansen.
Did you go to Dugger to see Brody in high school?
Yeah. The thing that I've been most impressed with is just how he's evolved. He was a high school kid that had the ball in his hands a lot. Now, he's really learned to play this game without the ball. And he's learned the importance of playing defense at the other end.
When you saw a 5-11 kid, what convinced you that he could play at the Big Ten level?
One, his shooting ability; his uncanny ability to make shots. At a small school like that, it was one on four a lot of times. He very seldom gets his shot blocked. Anytime that you can get somebody that can make shots, you like that. And he ran the point a lot. We were looking at him like that a little bit out of high school. I like how he moved the ball. He pushed the ball very quickly like Jeff does.
You've said a couple of time that he's more focused on basketball than in years past. Does that imply that he was focused on other things in the past?
It's a maturation process. He comes in as a freshman and gets on a very good team that wins the Big Ten Tournament and he's the hero and could have easily been the MVP of that tournament. You're 5-10, and you're the talk of the campus. It's very easy then to become distracted. He's just done a much better job of taking a mature approach of understanding the importance of his senior year.
What would you say about his career here?
It's not over. There are some big things left. We'll talk about that when his career is actually over. I hope there's a lot of games left. He's really coming into form. Glen is coming into form. These are two guys that are playing the best basketball in their career right now. Glen is not getting into foul trouble. Glen's being a double-double guy for us. He's defending better. Glen is one of few players that's going to accumulate over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in his career. Both of these guys have had very, very solid careers. But I'm not willing to talk about them yet because some big things are going to happen down the road for them. I'd like to see how it all ends up; to see just how special a career it's going to be.
Do you put Pierre on Brown or Williams?
That's the difficulty in playing against Illinois. They're big time guards. Head hurt us in the first game. You've got some big issues there of just who you put him on. You're going to see Pierre guard a combination of Brown and Williams because you pick your poison. One game it's Brown. The next game its Williams. You just hope you don't get a game where both of them are 25 or greater. Then, you've got big time issues.
Penn State seemed to give them problems with a zone. Does that make you think about using the zone more on Wednesday?
I don't think that there are any secrets with us. Because of our depth, you're going to see man and zone. I don't necessarily think that it's going to be any more zone or more man. We've got to keep doing what we're doing. That first game, Jeff had four fouls with 14 minutes to go. Brown took it to him. Jeff will respond.
How has Illinois improved since that game?
Any time you can win six in a row in the Big Ten, you've done some good things. Three of them have been on the road. So, it's not like they've had a five-game home stand. They've done a much better job of learning Coach Webber's motion offense. Any time you get some winning, that breed's confidence. They're playing very confident right now. They're a little bit more confident, and they're playing in more of a rhythm than maybe they were the first time when they were coming off a loss at Purdue. Augustine is healthier than when we played them the first time. It takes time. Coach Webber's system is different than Coach Self's. They're buying into it much better than they were a month, two months ago. It's a game that ought to be a lot of fun for the people that will be in Carver on Wednesday. You're going to see two teams that are confident, and two teams that are going to give it everything they have to try to get a win.
Has there been another four-game stretch more important than this one since you've been here?
Boy, I don't know. Probably every year it's been like that. Now, this is the first time since Year 2 maybe that you are in distance of something. You've got four games to where if you take care of them one game at a time, you've got some chances to do some things. Hopefully, our guys can stay focused and continue to work the way that they've worked. They will. Hopefully, the ball bounces our way a little bit. You've got to get some breaks.
Do you prepare them any different for this stretch run than you have all season?
They know the importance. They know what's at stake. They know that we're not 5-7. We control our destiny to a point. Now, it's just a mindset of making plays here down the stretch.
If you finish fourth, should you be in the NCAAs?
Yes. If you finish fourth in a conference like this, you've done some things. That would be a precedent, too. I don't know that that's ever happened before where you finish fourth in the Big Ten and you don't go. That would be a first. I've been a part of firsts before. At SMS, we were 24-7 and had an RPI of 40, finished second in our league and league tournament, and didn't go. That was the first in that modern time that they had not taken a Top 40 RPI. So, you can't control that. That's really what we told our guys. What you can control is what you do game-to-game, what you do each practice. Then, you've got to see how it falls. But the more you win, the more your chances get better. That's what we've got to concentrate on.
Do you have a timeline when you might hear about Jared's redshirt?
No. That's a difficult question. All of the paper work has been filled out. Jared has done everything that he can possibly do. Now the committee that looks at those decisions has got to look at the paper work. That's what we're waiting on.
Do they not tell you when that could be?
No. That's the frustrating part for Jared.
Say you make the second round of the NCAA Tournament and he could play two or three minutes.
That's what Jared is concerned about. Jared was hurt a lot last year. He was hurt this year. He's a big time student. That's why his push is to try to get a fifth year. More importantly, he would like to have a decision if that does take place so that he knows what his scenario is. It's just a process that neither Jared nor myself have any influence on.
*Note: Jared was at practice today riding the stationary bike in his practice gear. He did not have a cast on, but walked with a very noticeable limp.
Is there a better freshman in the conference than Kris Humphries?
That is an incredibly talented individual, and someone we have problems matching up to. We're not deep there anyway. Staying out of foul trouble against that individual is going to be paramount for us to have success against Minnesota.