KU Basketball Prepares For Michigan State In Indianapolis

March 26, 2009

– Tournament Central
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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Following a morning practice at Conseco Fieldhouse, home of the Indiana Pacers, the Kansas men’s basketball team went through media obligations and a public practice at the Lucas Oil Stadium Thursday in preparation for its NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game against Michigan State Friday at approximately 8:45 p.m. (Central).

No. 3 seed Kansas takes a 27-7 record into the contest. The Jayhawks won the Big 12 Conference regular-season title – their fifth straight, ninth Big 12 and 52nd overall – with a 14-2 league record. No. 2 seed Michigan State is 28-6 on the season and won its 11th Big Ten Championship with a 15-3 conference record. This is also a regular-season rematch as MSU defeated KU 75-62 on Jan. 10 in East Lansing, Mich.

Here are quotes from Kansas players Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor and head coach Bill Self from Thursday’s media session.

BILL BENNER (moderator): We’re joined by Coach Bill Self, University of Kansas. We’ll take questions for Coach Self.

Q. I wanted to ask you a little bit about the game in ’86 when you were a grad assistant, the last time you played Michigan State. What do you remember about that game? It’s always called the clock game, things of that nature. Have you talked to Tom Izzo ever about that?

COACH SELF: No, I don’t think so. I think in that particular evening or afternoon, I was probably sitting about 20 rows up, worrying about the concession stand or whatever. I didn’t have many responsibilities back then.

But I do remember the clock ‘malfunction’ whatever it was. I remember Coach Heathcote not being very pleased during that stretch.

But the thing about Michigan State that I most remember is they had a guy, Skiles, that was — Scott was unbelievable, hard to guard. We were very fortunate to win that game. They were really good.

Q. Can you talk about Cole, usually true 7-footers are, in his case, he hasn’t measured himself in a couple years, true 6 foot 11s take a while to develop. Are you surprised with his development? Can you compare him to other seven-footers?

COACH SELF: I can’t compare him to anybody I’ve coached. I had a guy at Illinois that Michigan State fans will remember, not an unbelievable college player, Robert Archibald, that really progressed. Being a double-figure scorer for us, really had a great junior and senior year.

But I haven’t had anybody like Cole that’s come this far this fast. The thing about Cole is, he’s not even strong yet. He still needs a ton of lower body leg strength. He’s just developing. His offensive repertoire, his game. He hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling. It’s exciting. I’ve only been around one other true big guy, true big guy, that could impact the college game like him, and that was Big Country at Oklahoma State. Certainly he was a fabulous college player.

But Cole has a chance to be the best big guy I’ve ever been around that it is a true center.

Q. Can you talk about the level of play fans will see over this weekend, eight championships, 30 something Final Fours among all the four teams.

COACH SELF: Yeah, I hadn’t thought about it like that. But when you talk about the four teams that are here, the history and tradition of all of them, it’s pretty remarkable.

I think the level of play will continually get better and better in all the regionals. Guys, players, just have a knack for raising their level of play the more it matters. Of course, we’re at the stage now where it matters as much as it possibly could, except for next weekend.

I know with our team last year, our team probably performed as well in the Final Four and in the regional. We didn’t play great against Davidson, but even the regional against Villanova, we played at a level consistently we haven’t played all year long. I hope that’s the thing with one team, the team that has Kansas on their chests.

Q. Last year’s team was so balanced, you never knew who was going to step up. This one seems to be pretty top-heavy. Which style fits you better? Is this a team that’s more dangerous?

COACH SELF: You know, last year, knock on us, if we had a knock, was we didn’t have a true go-to guy. This year we need more go-to guys because we show Sherron or Cole is going to take the majority of shots for us.

I would say you’re hard to guard if you have to really equally concentrate on all five spots. I’ve always thought that. I think balance is good. And when we’re playing our best ball, we are pretty balanced. Sherron doesn’t have to score 20, or Cole scored 20 when we’re playing our best ball. In Minneapolis we leaned on those guys pretty heavily because we didn’t have great balance. It’s going to be very important for any success that we have here in Indianapolis that we get production out of our other guys so that we do become harder to guard.

Q. Last week USC was fairly effective on keeping some Michigan State guys in check. Then a guy like Travis Walton comes up and burns them. What do you tell your kids about who to stop or what to watch with Michigan State?

COACH SELF: Well, I think going back to the previous question, I think they’re a team that has balance. Lucas obviously led them in scoring this year. But how do you not worry about Suton or Morgan or Walton or whoever? I mean, they got guys they can put out there that can get production. Even if guys don’t get 18, they’ve got several guys that can get 8 to 12 in a game. And that’s how you separate yourself from your opponent, with that kind of balance, a lot like we had last year.

I’ve never been one to say, against a team like Michigan State, okay, we got to stop him, we got to stop him. I’ve been one, This is how we guard their team. We’ll have a strategy on how we’re going to guard their team. But none of it’s going be, we’re going to let guys shoot. We don’t play like that. And you certainly can’t play like that with them. If you give guys open looks, they’re going to make you pay, as Walton did last week. That shouldn’t come to a surprise to people who follow Michigan State because he’s always been a great midrange shooter. Some games they need that and some games they don’t.

Q. You played in January. How has your team progressed and developed since then? When you look at film of Michigan State, how might they be different?

COACH SELF: Well, I think speaking of Michigan State, I can’t speak for their team because I don’t know their team in and out, but it’s hard to play your best when continuity does not exist. We played them the first time, if I remember right, they were a pretty healthy ballclub. Suton had come back, gotten into rhythm, Raymar had not gotten sick yet. So now they’re getting to that point where they’re healthy again, all those things.

I’ll say that from a chemistry standpoint, continuity, we’re going to play a similar type team we played in January. Back when we played them in January, we weren’t quite whole yet. Mario Little was just getting back in the fray, it was his first or second game back. We were just kind of growing into our roles and things like that.

So I think you’re going see two relatively healthy ball clubs that are probably playing the best ball they played. I hope we’re playing the best ball we played all year this weekend ’cause it will certainly take that. I would think that Michigan State, based on how they played against SC, they were really good against a good SC team. I say they’re playing well right now in large part because they got all their pieces back together.

Q. At Illinois and Kansas, you’re 16-4 in games that you play against a team you lost to earlier in the year. Talk about what the dynamics are of playing a team a second time in a year, especially if they’ve beaten you.

COACH SELF: Never thought about that. Usually, at least in our situation, if you lost to a team that you’re going play twice that year, it’s usually happened because you played in their building and the return game is in your building, so you should have an advantage.

But I don’t know. There’s not going be anything that we do with Michigan State that’s going to, Well, they came up with something out of the blue. I mean, that’s not who we are. We’re not going to change how we play, just like Michigan State I don’t think will in a three-day practice week. We’re not going to change how we play. We’ll approach things the same way. We may do ball screenings differently, guard the post a little bit definitely, but it will all be within the scheme of what we’re trying to do. I’m sure Tom will do the exact same thing.

What we need to do is execute better and certainly we got to rebound the basketball. That was something that they whipped us pretty good on the first time.

Q. The last couple weeks you’ve said a lot that one of Sherron’s best qualities is whenever you challenge him or tell him he can’t do something, that’s when he does it. Is there an example that illustrates that best in your mind?

COACH SELF: I think the best illustration I have is last year when we were playing Memphis. The day before we played Memphis, I asked Sherron, who can guard him. Who can guard Rose. He said, I can. I said, No, you’re too little. He’ll post you. He said, No, I can guard him. I said, We’re going to have to probably put somebody a little bigger, stronger, tougher on him. He said, Watch, just put me on him. That’s kind of how he operates.

He actually defended him pretty well. Didn’t shut him out, but certainly for 30 minutes he defended him very, very well.

Q. With so much turnover that you had, do you view it that you are defending a National Championship?

COACH SELF: No, huh-uh. I would say I haven’t really thought of it that way, but I’ve been asked that a lot in the last two weeks. So I guess maybe there’s a part of me that thinks that. But I have never thought that we were trying to defend anything this entire year. And in large part because I think when you say ‘defend’ I think you’re talking about protecting or you’re on the defensive as opposed to taking. And our mindset is, you got to go be aggressive, you’ve got to take what you think is yours.

Really Sherron, Cole played a role in a couple games, but Sherron is really the only one you could say that about, that would be trying to do that. So this has been a whole fresh outlook and a new thought process that we hadn’t even thought about that. Maybe we should. Maybe I should use that as part of my pregame talk. But certainly that hasn’t been anything that’s come up with our guys.

Q. You mentioned rebounding a little bit. Michigan State leads the nation in rebounding margin with just over 10. What makes them so good at getting to the glass and how do you avoid it? Is it as I remember as boxing out?

COACH SELF: No, no. The boxing out is, I think, if you’re going to value what is important in rebounding, boxing out is definitely, you know, a 25 to 50% part of it. The other part is having guys that are relentless on the glass, want to, not allowing yourself to get blocked out and hitting somebody, going after every ball with two hands.

Tom over time has done the best job in America of coaching rebounding, and their stats back it up. They are relentless on the glass. We’re plus seven for the year, something like that. But I still, with them, you can’t let balls come to you, you have to go attack the ball. You got to hit and go get as opposed to hit and wait. And they’re very, very good in not allowing themselves to be blocked off, keeping balls alive.

A lot of rebounding is fundamental. Most of it’s want to, though.

Q. Coach Pitino, because of the allegations with UConn, was asked what needs to be done with this day of texting. He said the NCAA is too understaffed. It’s up to you the coaches and the schools to do a better job of patrolling.

COACH SELF: I don’t know everything that’s going on with that situation. I do think what he’s saying is true. With the way things have happened late with some rule changes since these supposed allegations have come out, you’ve eliminated texting, you’ve eliminated some things you couldn’t do.

But I think the NCAA is trying to get their arms around it. There are a lot of things going on in college basketball recruiting that isn’t necessarily university related. I mean, there are guys trying to get their hands on kids when they’re in ninth and 10th grade. Sometimes they’ve known these kids far longer than universities have when it comes to recruiting them. It’s going to be something that is going to be very difficult to get your arms around.

I’m not sure it’s 100% correctible. I think the thing that, like Rick said, at least based on what you said, I think coaches have to do a good job of policing each other. I’m not saying ratting each other out, but there’s got to be some understandings that this is how we do things, even if it’s not by the letter of the law. There are rules and there are also gray-area issues. A lot of times we do ourselves a disservice by not breaking rules, but give the appearance that there’s things going on.

I would bet that when this thing came out, there’s numerous times that it looks bad, but you when you really get down to it, there’s some things that happen where individuals made poor choices, not at the university’s direction. That’s hard to monitor, and it is in every sport.

Q. You’re close to Billy Gillespie. A lot of rumors flying around about his job security. What does it say about the profession when after two years somebody can be on the hot seat like that?

COACH SELF: You know, I don’t think it’s fair. Nobody cares what I think. You know, you’ve had a lot of coaches out there in time, over time, that struggled in their first few years on a job. One of them lives and resides in Durham, North Carolina. You know, 10 Final Fours later and three national championships later they’re probably glad they didn’t move on that. I think Billy is the same way. Billy, given time, he’ll have Kentucky competing for championships again.

But obviously in today’s time, patience is not one of our society’s virtues. It’s win and win now. It’s a quick fix on everything. Players want it when they go to schools. I want to play immediately. Fans want it. We want to give to schools, win immediately. Sometimes I think you got to step back and think big picture, what would be best over time. There’s no doubt in my mind they got the right guy at the helm. But he’s going to need a little bit of time.

BILL BENNER (moderator): Thank you, coach. We’re joined by the Kansas student-athletes. We’ll open it up for questions.

Q. How are you different as a team since the trip to East Lansing?

Tyshawn Taylor: I think we’re more mature as a team. When we played Michigan State earlier this year, it was our second away game for the season. I think we were like 11, 10 games in, still young, still going through some things, growing pains like a young team does. I feel like we’re March mature. We’ve been through a bunch of battles since then. I feel we’re going to handle the situation a little bit better than last time. Their pressure routed us. I think we’re better.

Brady Morningstar: I think we’ve grown as a team. Conference play puts a lot of experience in us. You just learn how to play on the road against tougher teams. I think it’s helped us to come to this point.

Q. After being out there, the vastness of the arena, the size out there, does it affect your shooting at all?

Tyshawn Taylor: I think we’ll be able to adjust fine. It’s different playing in this big arena because of the higher level and all the different seats, but It’s a basketball court. It’s got two rims and it’s the same length as any other basketball court. We’ll be able to adjust fine.

Brady Morningstar: I feel like playing in Detroit last year, at least being on the bench, it’s the same type of setup as that. I’ve seen it before. But I haven’t played on it. I feel if you’re a shooter, just like he said, it has two rims, you just have to put the ball in the hole, go out there and play.

Q. Tyshawn, what kind of challenges do you face given that Michigan State is so deep? Who will you be aware of most?

Tyshawn Taylor: That’s a tough question. Like you said, they are a deep team. They have great players, a great coach but I don’t think we can worry about what they have. We just have to worry about what we have to do. I think if we execute like we’re supposed to execute, we’ll be fine.

Q. Tyshawn, elaborating more on the topic of Michigan State having five scorers on the court at one time. Coach Izzo said if he was going to try to box-and-one, triangle two this team, he wouldn’t know who to box. USC tried to do it and didn’t have much success because Walton came out of nowhere. Does that worry you? How do you address that?

Tyshawn Taylor: We practice the box-and-one, we practice the triangle-and-two. Like I said, I think if we execute and handle the situation like we have to do it, I think we’ll be fine. They do have great players. They have players that can step up like Walton, against USC. Kalin Lucas is a great player, good scorer. They have guys that can score. It’s going be tough. I don’t think anybody thinks it’s going to be easy. It’s definitely going to be tough but if we do what we have to do, we should be fine.

Q. You answered what’s different about your team this time. What do you see that’s different maybe from film about Michigan State since that last meeting?

Tyshawn Taylor: We watched film, but the tape was kind of the same.

I think what’s different between them then and now is Walton stepped up, and he played good. He’s an older guy, he’s a senior. So I think it was only a matter of time before he did. They have other guys that have been playing. Who was the kid that was sick?

Brady Morningstar: Raymar Morgan.

Tyshawn Taylor: He hasn’t been playing. He’s getting healthy now. I mean, they’re a good team. They have guys that can score. They have a bunch of guys that can score 20 points any day. So we have to be aware of that.

Brady Morningstar: Just going off of what he said, Walton has definitely stepped up. He’s one of the better 18-foot jump shooters in the country, as shown against USC. He’s knocking down shots, which is huge. We just have to come out there and play ball and hopefully we’re successful.

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