Everybody get through the weekend OK?
Yeah, everybody was really good. The time we got for rest for the players, I hope, anyway, you never know, we got some very good rest. That was a key because we're banged up a little bit. We seem to be really healthy, so we have to have two really good days of practice here and hopefully get ready for the stretch.
If you finish third or tied for third in the Big Ten should it be automatic that you get an NCAA spot?
Yeah, I'm bias, but I think so. I don't know when the last time a Big Ten team finished in third place didn't make it. There hasn't been a lot of talk about that yet. We're hoping that by the work that we do this week that we can get that talk generated. But to finish third in this league and the two top teams are two Top 5 teams (Nationally). If you finish next in that league, that's a pretty good job of what you've done during the course of the season.
How does it work with the NCAA Selection Committee? How do you get to make your case in terms of injuries or whatnot?
There's usually a representative from each league. As we get closer, we've got to make sure we've got all of our stuff together. We're compiling that stuff now. Our schedule strength in the Big Ten might be third or fourth. It's ahead of I think Wisconsin's schedule strength. I saw a game on TV the other day where it had us 144, which is just not true. We've just got to make sure that word gets out to the right people of exactly what our stats are; what record is since having Mike back full. We're 8-6 and if you put those last three in the non-league, it looks like we're probably 11-6. If we finish the next two, we'd be 13-6 with Mike back healthy. Getting another road win on the resume wouldn't hurt either. That's why this one on Wednesday is so big.
You can only control what you do, but do you look at other games in the league this week and see how that might affect you?
We really control our own destiny. As long as we take care of ourselves, Indiana and Michigan State are the only two teams that can tie us for third place. Michigan State has got a tough road at Michigan and at Wisconsin. If we get into any ties, we want it to be 10-6, not 9-7. Nine and seven ties don't help us a whole lot for the big picture just because we don't have as many overall wins as some of these other teams do.
Does it trouble you that a lot of the bubble talk right now doesn't include you guys?
Yeah, I know we've got work to do, but teams they're talking about have work to do. Some of these teams that are just banking on having 20 wins, you have to look at the quality of wins. For instance, of all the Big Ten teams, nobody has played more Top 50 teams than we have. Nobody. We've played 12 games against Top 50 opponents. There are some that have played four and five games against Top 50 opponents. That was the case last year. That's why our seeding got a little bit higher towards the end of the year. Going into the last week of the Big Ten season last year, we were probably a 5, 6 seed. By the time those two weeks ended, we moved all the way up to a three seed. That's what this team has got to try to learn to do. We're not really being talked about a lot now, but at the conclusion of this week, the conclusion of next week, we've got to make sure they're doing more than talking about us. We control that. But for whatever reason, we're not being talked about. Whether they're not getting the right information or what, it's odd to see. Seeing that on TV is discouraging when they have our schedule strength as 144. There's just not any truth to it. We have a Top 50 schedule strength.
When you see that, do you keep in the back of your mind that you've played so well in the conference tournament and that's there.
We didn't win a conference championship and we're going into the Big Ten Tournament with that being our mindset. With that said, if we're able to win the last two games, we're going to be no better than the four seed. That means you're playing the five seed, which is going to be one of these other teams that's bunched together. You have to go head to head with them again. We've beaten Purdue head to head. We've beaten Michigan head to head. We've split with Indiana. We've split with Michigan State. We've got to win Saturday to say that we've split with Illinois. None of those teams in the bunch can say they've got an edge over us as far as head to head competition if we can take care of business this week.
What would you think if you guys do finish third? What kind of accomplishment would it be this year?
It's a tremendous accomplishment if we get to 10-6. We were 11-5 last year. We lost three starters; and if you look at what Doug did off of the bench and what Justin meant to us from a leadership standpoint. We lost four of our top seven from last year's team and were picked ninth. If we could somehow find a way to get in that third position, it's an unbelievable season for our guys to date. We want to do more. There are a lot of implications. It helps us with the NCAA. It keeps us away from the Thursday game in the Big Ten Tournament. There are a lot of things that we're playing for here this week, but I'm sure the rest of the teams in the league that are in this bunch are saying the same things.
In retrospect, did you think third was possible coming into the Big Ten season?
Coming in, we're thinking first. That's the thing that we've got our sights on. With Mike's injury, it really slowed what we were doing. In the last two weeks, we've seen the resurgence of Mike. He's doing so many goods things for us. What we thought would be taking place at the beginning of the season is taking place now. That injury really shook his confidence going into the Big Ten season. He didn't get that opportunity to play without Horner against teams like Alabama and Villanova and Virginia Tech. Those are the type of quality teams you see in the Big Ten. Mike would tell you that he's a lot more comfortable right now than he was even a month ago just with his self confidence and comfortable he is with playing the game.
Penn State has some injuries. Does that affect how you guys prepare?
No. Luber didn't score a point our first game. If he'd scored 20, you'd have to talk about it. The guy that's been playing the best for them over the last seven games has been Jackson. He's shooting 50 percent from the field over the last seven games. All this means is more minutes for a guy that's playing very, very well. It's a lot more pressure on us. It's a road game for us. It's Jackson and Luber's last time to play in there. That's never easy. This is still more about us. It's going to take a good 40-minute effort before we can think about getting to the weekend.
It will be Adam and Mike's Senior Day on Saturday. Can you talk about what it will be like for those two players?
Mike has done a very good job of persevering through some tough times. He's on pace to graduate. He's on pace to do the things he was supposed to do when he got here. He's on pace to graduate in four years and really have a respectable career. He's has a chance to win one Big Ten championship. He's played in some post-season tournaments. The thing about Adam and Mike together they've already went through the best three years in Carver that anybody has ever seen, the best home record ever win or lose on Saturday. Adam has started 126 straight games. That's the most in Division I basketball right now. There are 330 teams out there and nobody has started more consecutive games than Adam. And I don't foresee benching him anytime soon. (laughter) That's a heck of s streak. It speaks volumes. I would think he's going to be a shoe-in for his second trip as an academic all-American. We've had very few two-academic all-Americans here. He's doing some things that are remarkable. I couldn't say thank you enough to these two individuals. They've gotten to the same spot a little differently. Adam has been somebody that we call on all the time, whether it's community service, whether it's children at a hospital, whether it's speaking on behalf of our team. Seeing how he's grown has been amazing. One of the big question marks we had at the beginning of the year was what our leadership would be on the floor losing Jeff and Bru and Erek and Doug and Justin. Adam has done a tremendous job in that regard.
Has this team made even greater strides than other teams you've had here?
We've had a steady growth. We've had teams that have kind of gone up and down and kind of had some roller-coaster growth. But this team has had a very steady growth. To see what Cyrus Tate is now versus what he was two months ago, Tony Freeman from where he was two months ago, Justin Johnson, even where Adam was two months ago as a leader versus today. Tyler Smith with his consistency as a freshman, what our bigs did against Purdue, we couldn't have done that two months ago. If we played Landry two months ago, we don't guard him the way we did a week ago. Any time Cyrus has had a really solid, big game, we taken our game to a whole other level. So, he's kind of been that X-factor. To put that on the shoulders of a sophomore isn't easy. A lot of these guys are inexperienced. I've just appreciated how they've grown.
Could Adam play at the next level?
There's no question when you shoot it like he can shoot it and you've got that type of athleticism. He's got a very strong body. We're starting to get a lot of calls. It's all about your finish and he's got to continue to finish well. He's had an incredible career. He's had a great year. He'll get a lot of attention at that next level.
Has he been a first-team all-Big Ten player in your mind?
Oh, there's no question. Across the league, you have a lot of young guys that fit in there, but here's a senior that done what he's been asked to do. He's been on a winning team. If we were 2-10, it would be different. There's no question in my mind that he's all-Big Ten first team.
If you're up or down 20 with two minutes to do this week, would you leave him in to get the scoring title?
No, I don't think so. That's not a big thing to Adam nor is it a big thing to us from a program standpoint. Individual honors come with what you do as a team. I'm not going to sacrifice a game for an individual honor and I'm not going to sacrifice the integrity of the game. If we're up 20 with two minutes to go, the game is over. I'm not going to do something that's disrespectful to Penn State. That's not fair to them or the game.
Penn State is a team people expected to win. You get the feeling they're going to get somebody. You're their last shot.
Yeah, we're very fearful of that. Getting road wins is very difficult in this league. We know that. They were down 40-17 against Ohio State and had a three to win it. They're a scary team. There's probably nobody, outside of Wisconsin, that had played Ohio State better than Penn State has. We know what we're up against. It's an experienced group. They don't have near the pressure. They're playing in their last home game. They're trying to get some momentum going into the Big Ten Tournament. The pressure solely lies on us. With our inexperience, that's a concern.