What's this week been like?
Well, it's just the typical finals week. It's a lot on the guys. They've got a lot on their minds. The practices get a little from the tension of them performing in finals academically. But we've got some good stuff done. We just need to have two good days here.
Are you tempted to go to a more shorter lineup now going against a pressing team like Drake?
No, I don't think so. We're going to be who we are. You're going to run into some problems when all of sudden because who you play you start going to different things. Now, with that said, does that mean we won't go four-guard lineup. No, you'll some four-guard lineup. Now that Mike is getting back healthy, we're definitely going to look at a four-guard lineup. But that doesn't mean we want guys like Seth and Kurt losing minutes.
Villanova seemed to press you more in the half court. Is the press you're going to see on Saturday more fullcourt?
If you look at Drake and Tom's system, he's going to go to the 1-2-1-1 fullcourt or he's going to go to the 2-2-1 kind of three-quarter court. He's (using the) 1-3-1 a little bit more this year at the halfcourt than what he's done in the past. So, they're really mixing up their presses and mixing up their zones. And then they throw man-to-man at you, too, from box-and-one to triangle-and-two to diamond-and-one. So, there are a lot of things defensively that they're trying to do to you.
Does Mike's experience become more valuable in a situation like this?
Well, I hope so because we need experience. They've got four seniors in their starting lineup. This is last year's team plus Korver. So, it's a much better team. They're healthy. They're loaded with confidence right now. They've won five in a row just about every way that you can think about winning. It's a very confident group we're going to be playing on Saturday. We can't go into the game and start thinking about things. Regardless of what they're doing offensively or defensively, we have to just instinctively go play the game.
You don't play another road game until the Big Ten. Does that make it more critical to get a road win under your belt?
Well, it would be nice before you start trying to get road wins in the Big Ten. We had one at Arizona State and let it get away. We didn't play particularly well for 40 minutes at Virginia Tech. We just really need to put together a really solid 40 minutes to see what that can get us.
What does Korver add to the mix?
A guy that can shoot it from the parking lot and do it very consistently. He can play guard or forward, but that line of Korvers, they know how to shoot the basketball. He's no different. He's got a great stroke and he can do it from deep range. And. He gives them experience. He gives them another guy that really understands how to play the game that maybe they were missing last year. He extends defenses. He's a guy that when he's at guard, you have to know where he's at. When he plays as a big, you have to know where he's at. He adds a lot to what they do.
Do you have an advantage inside?
Well, we're the taller team. It's about getting the ball inside. We have to do a good job of getting to the basket. The last game we did a little bit better job of attacking a little bit more, getting to the free throw line, getting to the basket. When you play teams like this, you can't get into a lot of quick shooting, especially from 20 feet. All that does is fuel their transition game, which they're very good at. They're a very good rebounding team, which is a big concern for us. They've got a plus-10 rebounding advantage right now. That has been our Achilles' heal defensively. We got to do a very solid job of defending them, finishing with block outs, finishing possessions, and then we have to be able to take care of the basketball. We've been able to do that in recent games. We're going to have to continue to do that. Irvine had a good game plan and did some good things against them, but gave up about 15 turnovers in the second half. When you do that, you set yourself up for giving up big leads. That's what happened in that game.
Does playing a team that hasn't beat you since 19878 put a little extra burden on you?
Ah, no, and we didn't really think about that with Northern. Northern had never won down here. So, no, it's more about trying to get better. You try to take a step forward from where you're at. I've coached against Drake for a long time, whether I was at Missouri State or here, and I've had pretty good success against them. I don't know if that really means anything for this game. It's a different Drake team. It's obviously a different Iowa team. Each year presents its different obstacles. We just have to be who we are and hope that who we are is better than what they're trying to do.
Why does Iowa have such a long streak against them? What are the factors involved there?
I don't know. To be honest with you, it's a pretty impressive streak. When you have to play an intrastate rival every other year in their building, especially a Missouri Valley opponent, it's very difficult to get long streaks.
Last year, they lost a lot of close games. This year they're winning those. What's the big difference?
Well, you go from juniors to seniors. You add a Korver. Then, you get some success. Once you get some success, then you just keep believing. That's what this team is doing. I've watched that tape twice now. They were down 18 a couple of times. You just don't see a team ready to quit or feeling like they're going to lose. That's a good mindset to have. When you have good experience and now a lot of confidence, they don't think they're going to lose. They haven't lost at home. Their losses are in Alaska when everybody was asleep at home anyways. I've been to that tournament and it's dark all but four hours. I took a team to that tournament and I was excited because I was going to see Alaska. I was there a week and I still didn't see Alaska. But they've done a really nice job and they're very confident right now. And that's really my biggest concern from a coaching standpoint. We're playing a very confident team that expects to win. I don't know if that's always been there at Drake. Coach Davis has done a good job of changing that mindset.
With a week off are you worried that any momentum you might have built up from the Iowa State game has kind of cooled?
We just hope we had good momentum going through finals and do a good job with that momentum with academics. Tony Freeman left here Saturday with four game tapes in his hand. I said, "What are you doing. You have finals." He said, "I know, but yours in the toughest class I've got." We know we have a tough class because of who we play and what we expect. It's a tough test. They're going through finals right now and they're going to get another final on Saturday. That's just as difficult to pass as any of the others are.
Coach, you talked about being patient with this team. It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Do you think fans are being patient with this team?
I haven't gotten a vibe one way or the other. I spent more of time getting the pulse of our team. The pulse has been very good. We've got good confidence for a team that's 5-5. It's been up and down, but a lot of that has been who we've played, where we've played them., and then just not having an awful key part in what we're doing in Henderson. We had no idea at the start that we were going to play without him for the better part of 10 games. He hasn't played a 20-minute game yet. Hopefully getting him back will help. It doesn't always equate to wins, but we hope to get to the Big Ten season and be at full strength. We've got four more (non-conference) games. We need to get some momentum going here in these four games before we get into Big Ten play.
What is it about your team that makes you feel they can handle a pressure defense on the road better than it did in the Virgin Islands?
Well, I like how we're guarding. And anytime you're playing somebody that wants to do something to you defensively, it's a little bit harder if you're doing a good job of keeping them from scoring. Their press is really, really good if they're scoring. Any press takes a hit if you're not scoring. So, first and foremost, it's what we do defensively. We have to continue being a team that's hard to play against. Our streak was broken at home when a team scored 57 points and shot 38 percent. We did some good things defensively, maybe not in the last four minutes, but for the better part of that game we guarded pretty well. How we take care of the basketball, how we defend, and board play is a part of defending, are going to be big keys on whether we're going to be successful in this game.
Are these games against Tom Davis still a little awkward considering what he did here?
Nah, not really, because before I ever got here I had great respect for Coach Davis. My respect for Coach Davis has just grown since being in Iowa for the better part of eight years now, hearing about him, seeing him at more golf courses, and getting to spend some time with him. I had great respect for him when I got here, and that's only grown since being here. As far as it being awkward, I don't think it's any more awkward than going against the other individuals in state that I have to compete against.
How has he treated you?
He's been unbelievable. He's been nothing but first class all of the way. And that's how he is. He's always been a first-class individual. He's always been very generous to me. He's played in our golf outings whenever he's has a chance to play, which has always meant a lot to me because we always want former coaches or former players coming back and being a part of a program they helped establish.
Do you have any sense that this will be the last time you'll coach against him, that this will be his last year at Drake?
No, I haven't sensed any of that. And he's got to be pretty excited about this team. When you get that kind of excitement going in this profession, that's kind of hard to walk away from. I'm sure he and his son are having a lot of fun now. Dad and I have been in that situation before. Those are tough times to walk away from. The father-son thing is a lot of fun. I miss that, so I'm sure the Davis' are having a lot of fun with it, too.
They seem to get 3-pointers out of their press a lot. You've seemed to struggle defending the three at times. What have your guys learned from that?
Well, we have to do a good job. They're shooting about 33 percent. Their opponents are shooting a lot more and making a lot more. That's an indication that you're settling for threes after breaking their press and going against their zone. That's dangerous. Cal-Irvine made a bucket load of threes in that game and still lost. You have to get some easy baskets and to the free throw line. And one of the things that the press back into a zone does is it eliminates the free throw line. We can't allow that to take away out aggression and how we go about things offensively. A lot of time they have four and five guards in there. We're going to have to ask our guards to step out there on the floor and play a little bit. With that said, our help defense is going to be crucial.
Are you surprised how good the Valley has become in the last few years?
No, because I was in it. I have incredible respect for the players and coaches in that league. It was a great time of my life being in that league. Doug Elgin, the commissioner, does a tremendous job. It's not surprising at all, but that league is unbelievable this year. Wichita has won at Syracuse and LUS. That's amazing. The only loss for Wisconsin is Missouri State. Northern Iowa has already won at our place. They've beaten Iowa State. You can just go on and on. That's going to be a fun league to watch once January rolls around. It's like the Big Ten in that you start beating up on one another. All of those credentials look great until you have to start playing one another and somebody has got to lose. There are going to be some really good teams tack on some losses.
How much healthier has Mike gotten in the last week?
I hope well. He's practiced well. He's had no problems at all with the hand or finger or anything. The Iowa State gave him a lot of confidence because he had success in that game. Defending he helped us. We've really seen that in our practices this week. Hopefully he can have another couple of good days here because he's pretty important to what we're doing.
Are you really looking to him to lead this team against the zone and the press Saturday night?
Well, he's one of them. It's not all on Mike. He could play with no turnovers, but if we've four or five other guys throwing it all over the Knapp Center, that's not going to help us either. It's going to take a team effort of how we handle the press and how we guard. It's going to be a team effort, but obviously Mike is a big part of it.
You have a bunch of new guys exposed to a much higher level of academics for the first time. Are you confident you'll have the whole roster next semester?
I'm confident, but it's a stressful week for coaches as well. A lot of our finals were last week when we were playing two in-state opponents. That doesn't make it any easier. Bu that's why they're student-athletes. You've got to be able to perform both ways. That's what is expected of you. Hopefully our guys are doing a good job with that.
You've talked about possibly going to Lubbock to see a couple of Coach Knight's games as he nears the milestone. When you were playing for him, did you think he would stay in coaching this long?
Yeah, but I was naïve. I thought that coach would coach as long as basketball was around. I kind of cheated. My dad was a coach so I got to go to his camps before anybody else got to go. It was kind of the treat of being a coach's son. I can remember going in the third grade and another coach's kid was there and we were there for five days and I don't think we spoke to one another. Both of us were scared to death about being away from home and mom not being around. We were with Coach Knight and our dads. That was kind of scary. But I never thought about this. I never thought about him being the all-time winningest coach. I probably thought that he was already the all-time winningest coach when I was in elementary school. It's really coming at a special time in his career. His son is going to be the head coach there one day. That's already in place for him. I know that's very important to him. Pat's ready. Pat is ready to be the coach of his own team. It's neat for them to be able to go through this as father and son. Tim is in the marketing department at Texas Tech. For the whole family to be there and be a part of this is going to be a lot of fun. I've got a lot of interest in the Arkansas game on Saturday because that puts in motion when you think he's going to get it done. The 28th and first work out well for me. I'd love to have the opportunity to be there when the milestone happened.
What do you think about that number?
It's unbelievable. As a player, you don't think about it. Once you get into this profession, you have a really good appreciation of what that's like and how much pressure and stress and dealing with young people and how tough it is to be in this business so long. To be successful on top of it, that's not easy to do.
How long do you think Coach Knight will coach?
Oh, I don't know. I don't speak for Coach Knight. I learned that a long time ago.
You're up to 296.
(Laughs) That's getting up there, isn't it? It's been a hard 296 (still laughing).
You talked a lot about Coach Knight and your respect for him. How did you survive those four years with someone with the locker room tirades and some of the rough language?
Because I always had respect for the man and because of his style I never took things personal. He had a great respect for his players, his program, his institution and the game. That's what drives coach crazy. Some of the things that happen from an NCAA standpoint, some of those things with the NABC with how our game has evolved, some of those things eat at him because he's always been about the respect of the game. Coach (Dean) Smith is the same way. You've had great ambassadors to our game when you think of the Top 3 of Coach Rupp, Coach Smith, Coach Knight. Those are individuals that respected the game. I just always felt that way. I always knew after watching tape that if I saw 20 defensive mistakes that I really screwed up about 50 times. I always had a good mindset going into practice of I'm going to probably be the brunt of today's practice. A lot of times players get in trouble with coach because he wants them to be better than they want to be. That's a great trait in a coach if you can play for somebody that isn't going to tell you what you want to hear. They're going to sit there and tell you, hey, you can be better than what you are.
That might be easier to realize now, but when you're 18 or 19 did you ever think, hey, it might be time to call Denny Crum?
(Laughs). No, I never thought about leaving. Obviously, there were phone calls to mom. I always thought that maybe mom could give me the sympathy that maybe I was wanting in that 2-minute phone call. When I had to sit home for the Kentucky game, that hurt. When I got benched at Illinois during an ABC game, that hurt. But there were always messages that made sense. There were messages that maybe I didn't always understand as a player, but I became better because of it. He told me at the Illinois game that he benched Isaiah, Buckner and May, and I can bench you. He was right. He always had a way of going about it that made a lot of sense even if I didn't like it or didn't appreciate it at the time. As time goes by you appreciate it more.
Does he get a bad rap?
I don't think he worries about his rap. He wants to prepare his team the best he can prepare it and to make his institution a very positive place, not just for his players but for everybody involved. He cares about other programs. And at the end of the day, when that's all done, he wants to get his birds. He wants to hunt. He wants to fish. He wants to golf. He really has a levelheaded (attitude). I've really tried to take from that. As a young coach, the losses really stick with you. I hope that I've gotten better with that. Losing to Northern Iowa last Tuesday, if that had been 10 years ago, I might have been to mid January before I could past that to get my team ready for another game. It doesn't mean it takes the hurt away anymore, but you've got to be able to move on and get your team ready for the next contest. I've learned a lot of that from him, and nobody takes losses any harder than he does.
Has he mellowed with age?
I don't think so. (laughs) I would do all current players and former players an injustice if I say he's mellowed. That's not a word to describe coach.