As I was thinking about this year, the two years in the league and what people have said about the Big Ten, the thing that strikes me is that the coaches in this league are so highly competitive. I know coaches are competitive by nature in every league in every sport. But in this league, it transfers to their players, the way they approach it and it makes for challenging and competitive games. Sometimes, what we consider to be highlights are not as readily available. What I think as highlights, charges, diving on the ball, making the extra pass, playing the game at a high competitive level is what is emphasized and what is appreciated. It really makes coaching in this league something special. I guess I want to praise the other coaches. We are not where we want to be, but if you can get to where you want to be, it sure will be satisfying because of the challenges and the enjoyment of it.
The second part is that I have been a part of some special teams and games through the years and I am thankful for those. I have to think that Saturday is one of those, because of our guys just determined, perseverance and team approach. I think the character of our guys has shown over and over. They have just responded to the next game with competitive spirit. I think you would be hard pressed to say there were many games in this regular season where these guys haven't given a great effort. I think that is a step in the right direction. We have to continue to grow and improve; we are moving in the right direction. The other day, Jake set a great example for his teammates. It was a game day decision. Not only did he play, he played a lot of minutes and was very effective. He was not alone; Cyrus played a lot of minutes and he was sore. Matt Gatens and Devan Balwinkel played 50 minutes, which to be quite honest with you, it would take me about four or five games to play that much in my career. But I would have liked to have played that in a game.
It has been a great approach and we have had people contribute that don't see the floor during the games, but they have been instrumental in our preparation. I think it's a step in the right direction as far as what we want to establish as a team and a culture. Now we have a new season in front of us and a new opportunity. I think we will prepare well and we will have to compete at an incredibly high level. That is what you should want to do at this time in your career.
Q: What were your thoughts on Tate and Cole on the floor at the same time?
Todd Lickliter: I felt it was effective in this game. They had two bigs most of the time on the floor that we could guard. The way their offense was geared, both of those guys could be in to defend. They switched a lot of on balls and it gave us an advantage in the post at times, so we were able to balance. Their alignment in their schemes, we were able to counter. There are sometimes where that is not effective for us. But on that given night, it worked. They played well together, our guys did a good job with it. We tried it a few other times, too. To be quite honest, it's one of the few times in the last few years they have both been close to healthy.
Q: Will they both be on the floor together Thursday?
Lickliter: We will have to see. A lot of it is match ups. They are going to play four perimeter players a lot. That puts you in a tough spot as far as which one of those guys will be on the floor.
Q: Does your team take confidence into Thursday that they have been competitive against every team in this league this year?
Lickliter: Not only that, but when you look at where we are at 10th, look at 9th, 8th, 7th…they have to all feel like they can compete with one another. I think we have been competitive. As you said, the first Michigan game, we were not competitive. We didn't challenge them. We were competitive the second time. I know they will look and try to do more of what they did the first game and we will try to counter some of that and try to do some things in this game that enabled us to be successful the second time around. I do feel like we have challenged and have been competitive. You have to look at it from that standpoint and say that a few possessions here and there and maybe we wouldn't be in 10th. At the same time, you have to realize that is where we are, we did not win those games and we will have to play very well if we have any chance to be successful.
Q: Do you anticipate minutes for Jeff Peterson on Thursday?
Lickliter: I haven't seen him. But that is what we had talked about a few days ago when we were together. Could he play some? He was hopeful that he could play on Saturday. On Friday, it just got sore and we knew he couldn't go. But he is making progress. We are hoping that is the case.
Q: Michigan seems to have two of the best athletes in Harris and Sims. What challenges do they pose?
Lickliter: They are good athletes, but they go beyond that. They are skilled players, they are good athletes, they have been very good in this system. I have thought all along that those two guys are as good as any two teammates in the league. They present real problems. Manny Harris can score in multiple ways and Sims can score with his back to the basket and facing. He presents problems for post players. It's the same situation; I don't think you want to be isolated with either one of them. I think we will have to give good support, but you can't over-help because the other guys shoot it so well. It's the same situation where, and I have said this, not only are they skilled players, but in their system, if you don't help appropriately they will take advantage of it. Under-help, and there are isolations for the individual. Over-help, and they will find their teammate and they put them in spots where they can make baskets.
Q: Were you surprised that Harris didn't play against you in the overtime session?
Lickliter: I am so focused on our guys and our matchups that I let our assistants do the matchups and make sure that we understand who we are guarding. But I don't concern myself too much as to who they don't have in. I am concerned with who is in.
Q: It's rare to win four games in four days. Do you look at other situations where that has happened and draw on that?
Lickliter: When you go into the NCAA tournament, and I saw this years ago somewhere and we have incorporated it in our approach over the years, is that you don't focus on six games. You don't focus on a title. When you go into the tournament, you focus on the task at hand. What we would say is that you have a first round tournament, you have a Sweet 16 tournament and a national tournament. In this case, there is no natural breakdown, so if you have any hope of playing on Friday then Thursday better get your full attention. If you love the game and you are at this level, you want to play in Conseco Fieldhouse, or anywhere, every chance you get. If you win Thursday you get to play Friday, what a thrill that is and you take care of the next. I am not saying that winning is very doable, but playing four days and being effective is doable. I believe it has been done here.
Q: Going back to Indy, home area and playing there in front of people you know.
Lickliter: I am probably partial to Indianapolis. I have watched it grow. I remember when they said it was the amateur sports capital of the world, and I was in agreement with that. I think Conseco Fieldhouse is the nicest venue that I have been in. I have gotten to coach in a couple of great ones; Carver Hawkeye is special, Hinkel Fieldhouse is special. I think Conseco has that Fieldhouse feel, with all of the modern amenities. Plus it's got things on the wall that I can relate to through the years. It's a great location and it's nice to have family and friends around. What they want to see is us win; they don't care about us coming back home. If they could watch us win in Anchorage, my friends would be thrilled. They just want the Hawkeyes to win.
Q: Were you concerned in the game on Saturday about Jake and if he could keep playing due to his illness?
Lickliter: I was concerned just with Jake's health. The medical team was sitting there. I told them I was going to focus on the game, and for them to keep an eye on Jake and to let me know. They did that, and I checked with them and I asked Jake. Do you feel OK? We tried to position our timeouts in such a way where we could rest guys. He wasn't the only one playing a lot of minutes, but he was under the weather. He was playing well. After we called the timeout to start the second half, he seemed to have a recovery at that point. He seemed OK. I talked to John Streif later that night and he said he thought he was feeling better and I called him yesterday. He is still in a recovery mode. I am sure by Thursday he will be ready to go. He is a guy who just loves to play basketball and compete. That makes it a lot of fun.
Q: Cyrus and Cole have been getting better; and Andrew Brommer's minutes have fallen off. Is that why? What do you see in his future?
Lickliter: I haven't really thought about that at all.
Q: We haven't see him, just wondering.
Lickliter: That will be up to him. That is the way that works. Everybody has the same opportunities. No different than any other line of work or any endeavor. It's up to us. We are all limited to some degree, but you have to make the most of the opportunity you have been given and what you have been given as far as skills and talents. Andrew has all the potential that he needs. He is very capable. It will strictly be up to him. Not a whole lot different than anyone else. When this season is over, our guys need to dedicate themselves to the weight room. Really thrive and really make a commitment to being in there and set some goals and see how strong they can get.
Q: Is strength the biggest thing for him?
Lickliter: I think it's the biggest thing for all of us, especially in the off season. That is where you need to spend your time. I also think that you really have to embrace the competitive nature of this. That goes for everybody. The joy of playing at this level is the challenge of competition. This isn't a fine arts performance. There is someone out there trying to stop you from doing what you want to do. There is a battle of wills going on and you had better embrace and enjoy that and get a bit thrill out of the opportunity to see who wins that challenge.
Q: Had Cole been healthy early in the year, would you have redshirted him?
Lickliter: I don't know. I guess that would be speculation. I don't know. But I really was pleased with Andrew's ability to pick up what we were trying to do. He is playing behind a sophomore that has recovered pretty close to full health and who started most of his freshman year and Cyrus who played all of the Big Ten last year. It doesn't mean because you have done that you get a position, but I do think that it's harder to come in and claim a position from someone who already has the experience.
Q: With Cole and Tate are healthier, is that why Palmer has disappeared?
Lickliter: I have said this a lot; you only have so many minutes. You can only play guys that have matching skill sets so many minutes. We are fighting; we were just fighting the other night to compete and get the win. It's fun to be a part of. They have really earned that opportunity to compete all the way down. I wasn't going to change anything. If you put someone in, then someone else is sitting out. Then we would have to ask why isn't this guy playing? Opportunity.