Sam Webb: Take me back to last week. I want to talk about your big fellow, Jordan Morgan. Coach Beilein talked about he is very concerned about Cameron Ridley and J-Mo said, ‘I got it’. He went in the game and he got it.”
Bacari Alexander: “His focus level has been tremendous. Jordan all season long has been probably the stabilizer for this team in the sense that he not only knows how to prepare for an opponent, but he locks in on their tendencies. He is able to do his job and allow others through is communication do theirs as well.”
Sam Webb: Talk to me about the process of getting to this leadership point. I remember two or three months ago asking Coach Beilein, ‘who is the guy in times adversity that your team looks to? Not to score a basket or to make the big pass, but emotionally that rallying guy? He said, ‘it needs to be Jon (Horford) and Jordan.’ Talking to him late in the season, talking to him after the Big Ten Tournament, it really seems like Jordan is that guy.
Bacari Alexander: “Jordan has really evolved in terms of his leadership on two fronts. I talked a moment ago about the preparations. He is a big time preparer. I think the second part of things is the hourglass effect. As a senior when time is starting to dwindle down, I think he is not only exercised his leadership from the standpoint of having a sense of urgency, but also from know how. Jordan has been through so many battles throughout the Big Ten race, previous NCAA tournaments. So he almost has the credibility of the locker room to not only express himself but organize guys in game moments.”
Sam Webb: Aside from just that… I’ve notice a presence about him. After the two seed was announced, they said, you guys got a tough bracket. He said, ‘Well they’ve got to play us too.’ Just like the same thing when he played Cameron Ridley, he said, ‘I’ve got him.’ He just seems to have a different presence about him that even goes beyond the leadership. It is a confidence factor for him.
Bacari Alexander: “When you go back to when Mitch McGary elected to have the procedure for his back condition. The minutes that Jordan Morgan was afforded in that timeframe and the chemistry that was developed as a result of that has spiked his confidence. When you talk about the confidence that comes from those types of opportunities, the whole idea about not looking over your shoulder, it gives you that comfort level to not only get settled into your role. But also gives you the comfort level for you to speak up when you need to speak up because you’re out there producing at a level that allows you respect in the clubhouse if you well.”
Sam Webb: I feel like you guys as a staff set the tone for life without Mitch. Was that a process? Did you ever notice the team being down, or was that just kind of him being on the same page with you guys from the get go? ‘Let us go out there and get it without him.’
Bacari Alexander: “What happens is, this particular team, team 98 here at Michigan thrives off feeling slighted. Let us talk about that for a second because the whole idea behind that is anchored into the notion that no matter what, they can’t do it without this. Trey (Burke) and Tim (Hardaway) are gone, they can’t do it without them. That whole idea of playing with a chip on the shoulder has been the catapult or the catalyst to get our group rising to the occasion and that’s been the whole deal. Coach Beilein sets that tone at the top with how he has handled the situation and we follow his lead. He did not flinch for one second in the midst of departing players and injuries throughout the course of the season.”
Sam Webb: Let us talk about the other metamorphosis if you will. Glenn Robinson down the stretch this season, the last four or five weeks… he went from a player who was really deferential in the clutch, deferential in that moment… to a guy that is assertive in that moment. I think that last game against Texas when the closed it to within six, he made two big plays, five quick points and he said (afterward) ‘I wanted the ball.!’ That is a clear difference in Glenn Robinson’s mindset.
Bacari Alexander: “Yeah and that speaks again, similar to Jordan Morgan that confidence that happens when time and time again. If I take you back to the situation where Glenn Robinson was playing a tough Stanford group, foul trouble ensued for our bigs. He had to play the center position if you will and only the drive down the alley for a winning layup. I thought that was the genesis of Glenn Robinson’s confidence. Then when you fast forward now to this day, he has shown big shot toughness in the sense of whether it be corner jumpers against Indiana for the Big Ten outright title. Whether it is a corner jumper against a Wofford or a Texas, it is that kind of confidence that comes from making those big plays and that trust that his teammates have shown him by putting him in those positions to be successful as well.”
Sam Webb: So you guys dealt with a behemoth of a big guy last week. He was wider than he was taller. You’ve got two guys like that this week. Philosophically is this a game where you want to push tempo, a game where you certainly want to try and make those big men guard away from the basket? I don’t want you to get very specific on your game plan but are those more generally some of the things that you focus on when you face a front line like this?
Bacari Alexander: “I think when you get into the NCAA tournament you’re dealing with teams that are trying to dictate their styles. Tennessee on one-hand has a particular style where in a half court set, they’ll bump and grind, create second opportunities off the glass. Where as Michigan has more of a free flowing style. We like to get out in transition, play in space and things of that nature. With those contrast in styles, you’ll see a battle of wills. One team trying to impose his style and his pace on his opponent while Michigan is trying to instill its pace on the opponent. It is going to be interesting those first five to ten minutes of the game, which team gets to set those rules early.”
Sam Webb: A lot of that is point guard play. The maturation process for that position has been a joy to watch. Certainly you’ve seen flashes of brilliance from Derrick Walton and then you’ve seen the steadying hand of Spike Albrecht come in there. You guys have kind of massaged that a great deal of playing both of those guys. Talk about those guys in this game.
Bacari Alexander: “Role definition is so critical. As you go further in the tournament, the stakes are raised even higher. The concentration and the content out there on what you’re trying to accomplish is in abundance for teams to prepare for. I think it is critically import that guys not only settle into their role but embrace it. What it does is gets you in a comfort level where your teammates know what to expect, the staff knows what to expect and you get into a flow state. So whether you talk about Derrick Walton playing the bulk of the minutes and then Spike Albrecht coming in as a pitching closer if you will, it has been the perfect chemistry and perfect mix that has allowed us to enjoy the success that we’ve had.”
Sam Webb: You guys have been offensively brilliant for stretches. But if you look at the Texas game, you look at the Illinois game in particular, they came out in the second half and throw some zone at you. I think you guys got the shots you wanted and the looks you wanted but didn’t execute. Is that more a credit to the defense or is that just some examples where you guys missed shots that you wanted and you must missed shots in that zone?
Bacari Alexander: “It is a credit to both. When you look at defensively, a team that changes their defense, what Texas had did to us that was awfully unique, they played a match up zone. So as cutters were going through, they were escorting cutters, so you weren’t getting as good of looks as you would have liked. I think once we made the adjustment to run some of our man sets against that match up zone, it put our players in a little bit more of a comfort level given the type of defense they were playing. I think the other part of things is that when you talk about the ebb and flow of an offensive team, when a team is playing man-to-man, you can get settled into their tendencies, which allows you to know the type of shot you’re going to get. When they switch to zone, sometimes you may not get those same type of looks. So you have to be patient and figure out their slides, bumps and movements that are in it, so that you can get a comfort level and make shots. Derrick Walton stepped up big in that regard.”
Sam Webb: You guys on the defensive end of the floor. That has been a process, a process that is ongoing even as we speak. Have you guys made the kind of strides there that you would have liked to have seen after looking at the film?
Bacari Alexander: “Oh without question. I think when you talk about getting to your 106th practice, which I think will fall today for us. The by product of defense also comes with experience. We’ve got a young team that is getting settled in on our principles, things that we expect, different type of tendencies, absolutes if you will that you try to entrench into their mindset while learning how to play a team defensive scheme. It is something that is a process oriented thing. We’ve seen great dividends in guys getting locked into those principles. As a result, the defensive numbers have been marvelous.”