How do you beat a team that beat you by 30?
That's a good question. They put a hurtin' on us. Obviously, we've got to play a lot better. We didn't do very many things right in the first game and they did a lot of right things. They lit our defense up. They shot a high percentage. It's probably the most points scored against and shot better against our defense than anybody. There are a lot of adjustments that we have to be able to do in this game.
What did Minnesota do against them?
Well, Minnesota is playing very well right now. It's life on the road. It's just a difficult task. Their big three of Davis, Ager and Brown average nearly 60 points a game. They were held to 17, 18 and six, I think. That's the first thing of many things that Minnesota did well against them.
Does it start with stopping Michigan State's transaction?
You always start there with Michigan State. They're as good as anybody in the country, make or miss. I think they beat us 22-2 on turnovers in East Lansing. We want to run and get easy baskets, but we really have to do a better job with transition defense. We didn't turn it over as much in that game as take bad shots. We took a lot of bad shots.
This is your first chance to get back at a team that beat you earlier this year. Does that change the way you prepare or the way you approach this game at all?
No. I don't think so. We know that we're down to five games. We've said it all, "Do what you do. Be who you are." When we've done those things, we've been pretty good. When we've gotten out of that box, we've struggled. I don't think we change anything. What we've been doing, we need to execute better at each end and be better this time around than what we were at East Lansing.
Does Michigan State have the best talent in the league?
Ah, they're awfully good. It's hard to argue that. There are four starters returning from a Final Four team. Nobody else in our league can boast that. They were the preseason favorite to win it. They're going to come up here and try to get a win after losing in Minneapolis. We know we're going to have to play extremely well to give ourselves a chance in the end to get a win.
How do you approach this psychologically? They have to be approaching it like their backs are against the wall.
We've got to take that same approach. Any time you're on top of the thing, you've got to win to stay on top. So, by no means do we feel like our backs are not against the wall as well. We've got some big games past their game and they've got some big games past our game. It makes for a great contest on Tuesday night on ESPN. We're glad it's at home. We've already had to do our East Lansing thing. Now, hopefully we can square things up here.
Do you have to remember to play to win?
I think we've done that. We're not going to be perfect. We weren't going to be 11-0 at this stage. We weren't going to be 26-0 at this stage. We're not going to play perfect basketball and we're not going to play perfect for 40 minutes. Last week on the road, we led for 78 of 80 minutes. That's pretty good basketball. That's not playing to lose. The kids have done a lot of good things. We win by 14 in Bloomington if we make free throws. You're going to have nights like that when we don't shoot the free throw well.
Last time, Henderson played Neitzel and seems to play the point guard each game. Is there an approach or theory to that?
Of our starters, he's our best on-ball defender. So, he's usually going to be the guy that's matched up with the opponents point guard who is bringing the ball up. He and Tony usually share that responsibility.
What's the reason for that?
Neither one did a good job in East Lansing, but it's to make sure the ball doesn't penetrate early in the possession. We've got to get the ball going side to side early in possessions. If we don't have somebody that can stop the ball initially, then we're constantly helping up and helping from bigs. That causes a lot of problems with your defense. It's more controlling the ball early in the possession so that we can get our feet set and play the team defense that we want to play.
You guys got beat really bad in East Lansing. Do you use that as motivation?
I don't know. Drubbed, pounded, punked, however you want to put it, we haven't spent much time on it. We haven't talked about it. We didn't talk about it when we came back here. It hurts just as much to lose on a last-second shot. Nobody likes to get blown out, but that's what happened. We got in severe foul trouble. That's the most foul trouble we've been in all year. We had some strange combinations. We've just got to hope there's a better start to this game.
How about that this is the same team that you beat in the Big Ten Tournament in a lot of ways?
We talk about it a little. But it's two different teams. We're just trying to get better. All of those things are great, but it's Feb. 14, 2006. That's making it as simple as you can. Tuesday night, we have a chance to put the league leader two games behind us with four to play. That's going to take a monumental effort at both ends regardless of what's happened in East Lansing or in here or in the Big Ten Tournament.
What do you need from Hansen against Davis?
There was nobody bigger in the Indiana game than Erek Hansen in the second half. He's a defensive player of the year candidate in our league if we continue to do the things we're doing in the league. They're trying to get him in foul trouble and that's probably a smart thing to do because we're a different team when he's not in there. Paul Davis is probably one of the best big men in our league. But Erek probably struggles more against the guys at Penn State, the undersized guys.
What do you need to do against Neitzel?
He was the difference in the game in East Lansing. Tony and Mike struggled in keeping him in front and controlling him. That's a concern going into this game. We can't allow Neitzel to dribble around doing what he wants to do. It's hard enough trying to guard Davis, Brown and Ager.
What is your "Goal Board"?
We just have a goal board in our locker room with eight things offensively and eight things defensively that are goals for our guys to look at and try to perform well. If you reach the goal, it goes in black. If you don't, it goes in read. More times than not, if we can get eight or more of those, it usually means we're winning.
How did you come up with that?
It's the same thing that Coach Knight had at Indiana.
Do you worry about guys like Brunner and Horner making it to the finish line physically?
Everybody is beat up this time of year. I don't think our guys are playing any more minutes than anybody else. We may not be as deep as some teams. We try to rest them in practice. We're not practicing any longer than an hour or an hour and a half depending on the day. They do a great job off of the floor getting treatments and getting rest.
With all that's going on down at Indiana, do you worry about that at all distracting your team?
No. I don't think so. If I had freshmen and sophomores, maybe, but we've got a very experienced group. It's a veteran group. They've heard everything from me being fired to going there to who knows what? It's just part of college basketball. And, it's getting that time of year. It's getting late in the year where crazy things happen. This team is very focused, this staff is very focused. We're having a blast. It's been a lot of fun. This has been a fun journey for us through 25 games because of the quality of kids that we've got in that locker room. We're just excited to see where it's going to go. That's the exciting part of it, where the future is going to take use because we're on a pretty good ride now. Hopefully we stay healthy and keep performing well and make it a really special team.
What is Carlton's status?
We met (Sunday). He's just kind of evaluating what he wants to do. We'll meet again on Wednesday, but he will not be available for Tuesday's game.
Is he considering quitting the team?
Oh, I have no idea. We have team policies. You either adhere to them and want to adhere to them and you're part of the team or of you don't want to adhere to them, you're not part of the team. I gave him some things to think about over the next couple of days and then we'll meet Wednesday to decide his future.
So, he's not practicing today?
Was it the fact that he was out after hours or…?
It's a combination of a lot of things, just in-house.
What do you think of the rankings? You're in first place in what is considered by many to be the best league, yet there are team in the league ranked ahead of you.
Well, who does the ballots? (laughter)
But the coaches' poll is similar.
This is the only thing I'll say about the coaches' poll. I used to be on that thing about four or five years ago and I don't know if I ever voted (laughs). I know Duke is probably leading the ACC. I couldn't tell you who's second or third. There are probably a lot of coaches on that poll that hand it to an assistant. Rankings are a little fickle. Where we're at, I don't know. If you're atop the best league in the country, you probably should be ranked. We're a Top 25 caliber team. We're going to have to continue to play well and win to stay there, but I never thought rankings get that important until it's all said and done. Other than that, it's kind of just fun for fans.