Well, they've played well all year. Michigan State lost Trannon for the game with a broken jaw and you could see what that did to them because they really have not played small ball all year. That was probably a season high for Walton. You know, those are things that we can't control. Our players have really been pretty focused all year on these kinds of baseball series. I've been talking to Jack Dahm about it that for whatever reason once the Big Ten season hit some of the series were three-game series and some were four-games series. Our guys have won all of those that we've gone into. We're down to our last three-game series. It's a very difficult three-game series. Obviously, pressures are different because we're in a championship hunt. That game last night, we still control our own destiny, it just for Ohio State and Wisconsin and us, your margin for error just gets lessened. We know what we've got ahead of us. It's a great team we're playing Saturday with the two winningest players in the history of Illini basketball playing their senior night. So, that's not an easy game. And next week isn't going to be easy either. We've just got to continue the journey and keep getting better.
What can you do to ease the pressure on your players?
Just be constant. Our practices haven't changed. What we do in practice hasn't changed. We might see some things that we feel like we have to do to Illinois offensively or try to exploit defensively. That's normal. That's what we've been doing all year long. But I think, don't make practices longer, don't change what you're doing in practice, don't change your film sessions. We lifted on Monday. We took (Wednesday) off. We'll lift again (Thursday). That's a normal process for them. How we travel, what we do on the road, from film sessions to everything else, just keep things schedule wise for them as consistent as they've been all year. Other than that, you've got to go out and play. You've got to go out and coach. Our guys are pretty excited knowing that it's pressure but it's a different kind of pressure. This time last year it was a pressure of making the tournament. It feels good for our locker room and our group of guys to have to be in this kind of pressure of trying to win a championship.
Can you talk about winning to help your seed in the tournament?
It's the best RPI league in the country. If you win that league or finish high in that league, it's not going to do anything but help your seeding for the national tournament. The Big Ten Tournament is going to be fun. If you look what's happening with our league now and what will probably take place from now until next Sunday, there are probably going to be 11 teams going to that Big Ten Tournament really thinking they've got a good chance. We knew that at Halloween. Most of the coaches knew that parity-wise, this was as good as it gets. Now, you get everybody on a neutral site. It's going to be an awful competitive tournament.
Is the week off helping to re-charge?
You never know, but I think it hit us at a good time. We hadn't had a break in a while. We would have like to have won that game (Minnesota). They're playing extremely well. I'm very close to Dan. I know Dan is going to shoot me straight. I heard the same comment from him that I heard from Coach Izzo when we played in East Lansing – "That's the best we've played all year." You probably never like to hear that. It doesn't really make you feel any better. But after watching the tape, they executed. They played extremely well. When a home team in this league plays that well, it's going to be a tall order. We did some things that hurt us. We missed a couple of key foul shots. We didn't execute. We didn't defend in the last five minutes like you have to do on the road. Just the bumps and the bruises, but more than anything mentally the bye week helped our guys. We got away from basketball on Sunday. We got away from basketball again on Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday were outstanding, very, very competitive practices. In fact, we got some bumps and bruises in those two practices. We'll easy up here Thursday and Friday and do a lot more 5-0 stuff than live stuff.
How has Illinois changed since you played them? It's been a while.
Yeah, I don't know. Both teams, hopefully, have gotten better. I've seen that tape probably three times this week. They didn't play particularly well, and to be honest with you. I don't think we played particularly well. Each of us did some good things. They had some good stretches defensively. We had some good stretches defensively. Neither one of us executed offensively very well. Both of us are probably playing a little bit better at that end now. Personnel wise, nothing has really changed. We got Augustine in foul trouble. That helps. That's probably a little bit harder to do in their building.
Who is the most valuable player in the league this year?
That's a great question. You have to wait and see what happens this week. I've always been a firm believer that the MVP goes to the league champ. So, with a bunch of teams bunched together, we have to wait until the end of the season to see how all of that shakes out.
Who would be your candidate off of your team?
That's another good question. We've had a lot. Bru has probably been the most consistent and done a lot of good things. Jeff has battled injury and come back. I'm really appreciative of him just going through a very difficult year health wise. Adam has been a little up and down in his shooting but he's grown a lot as a player. You look at most improved what Erek has done has been phenomenal. Guys like Mike and Tony and Alex and Doug, you don't think of them as MVPs of the league but they've obviously been very important to what we've been able to do this year.
If you win or tie for the title, would you be OK with Brunner and Horner sharing it?
Oh yeah, that would be the ideal situation. I don't know if that's going to happen, but that would be a good fitting to a good story.
What is your injury situation?
I think we're fine. I haven't seen them since (Tuesday). But the injury report that I received (Thursday) everybody should be fine and healthy and ready to practice today.
Prior to the OSU-MSU game on Wednesday, we're you thinking that if you went 2-1 . protected home, that you could probably tie for the title but are now thinking that you have to go 3-0?
Going into every game, we're trying to win. Going 3-0 makes it no ifs, ands or buts. That's what we control. That's our mission. What (Wednesday) night did was lessen the margin for error. It will go down to the Sunday game with Ohio State and Purdue. You'll go to the final hour until you know who the champs are.
Did Penn State winning at Illinois give you guys encouragement?
I hope the encouragement is that our guys have grown and matured. We're taking a lot of juniors and seniors in there that have played well in there. We have great respect for them. It's a very difficult place to play. But at least somebody went in there and did what nobody else was able to do. But I'm glad we're taking an experienced group into there.
Do you buy what Bruce Weber said about the pressure being on you guys?
I don't know how there is any more pressure on us than them. If they're trying to win a league championship, they have to win our and hope three teams gets beat. To me, that's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of pressure on us just because we're on the road at a very difficult place to play.