Press conference: Jayhawks preview Michigan State
NCAA Second Round
Date Sunday, March 19
Time 4:15 p.m. Central
Location Tulsa, Okla.
Venue BOK Center
Link Game Notes
TULSA, Okla. – Kansas will have the opportunity to advance to its 30th NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history when facing Michigan State on Sunday evening (4:15 p.m., CBS).
The Jayhawks conducted a closed practice at BOK Center on Saturday afternoon prior to meeting with members of the media to preview the round of 32 matchup between the No. 1-seed Jayhawks and No. 9-seed Spartans.
A complete transcript of the press conference is available below.
PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT
HEAD COACH BILL SELF
#0 FRANK MASON, III, SENIOR GUARD
#4 DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, JUNIOR GUARD
Q. Frank, can you talk about on tape what you see differences in how Michigan State plays when Cassius Winston is into the point and then when Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr., is and then when they’re together?
FRANK MASON, III: I think they play really fast when Tum Tum is in. He gets the ball up the court really fast. He changes pace really good. And when Cassius is in, he’s a great passer. And he’s not as fast as Tum Tum, but he still has great vision, and they’re both really good point guards.
Q. As a follow-up, can you talk about how your style will change depending on who’s guarding you?
FRANK MASON, III: My style won’t change. Our style as a team won’t change. We just play the way Coach (Self) wants us to play, execute our plays and just really guard on the defensive end.
Q. Devonte’, in terms of getting your momentum back after the TCU loss, did the game yesterday accomplish it not just the big win but the way you guys did it with style points, so to speak?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: I think we got a lot of momentum out of that game. After a loss like that, you want to come out and play really well the first game of the tournament, and I feel like we did a good job especially on the defensive end. So I think it got us a little bit of momentum.
Q. When you were deciding to go to Kansas, how much of a determining factor did Coach Self have on your final decision? And then the second part, can you just talk a little bit about the connection he seems to have with former Kansas players from your perspective?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Coach Self had a big role in coming here. I feel like every player he had that comes here you just get a good feel from him. He’s a great coach and just being on your recruiting visit and talking with him and him talking to your family, you get a good vibe from him, and you feel like you can come here and he’ll take care of you. It’s not like he’s an act or trying to put on a show on your recruiting visit. He’s actually a real genuine guy. He cares about you and your family. He had a huge role in me coming here.
FRANK MASON, III: Yeah, same as Devonte’ said. Coach Self is a great guy. He teaches us a lot on and off the court. And we’re thankful for those things.
Other than that, the Kansas tradition and all the things he has accomplished since he’s been here and before Kansas really played a big role in me coming to Kansas. I’m just happy to be a part of this great tradition.
Q. You’ve been around long enough now. You probably have a pretty good idea of Michigan State’s reputation as somewhat of a giant killer. What do you know of what they’ve done as a lower seed against higher seeds in the tournament and how does that maybe help you prepare for facing them and getting ready?
FRANK MASON, III: Well, it’s Michigan State, you know. No matter how their season is, there’s a great tradition there. Great coaching staff. Tom Izzo is one of the best and I think he do a great job of preparing his guys for these type of moments.
I think the guys when they get to the NCAA tournament, they play their best ball and they really get up and down, and they defend. That’s when they really need to play their best ball, here in the tournament. I think they do a great job of that.
Q. Coach Self said before the tournament started that he was hoping for you guys to play free and easy, with an easy mind. But he noted that that can be a concern sometimes with young players who might be only playing one year at the school and that they may tense up in their only tournament chance. Judging by what we saw yesterday, looks like that’s not going to be a problem for Josh. But did you think that he was going to respond that way and have you been working with him on how to play free and easy like Coach wants?
FRANK MASON, III: Josh is a great player. He prepares for these moments and experiences. I think he’s handled it pretty good so far, and yesterday he did a lot of great things for us, and I don’t think he was nervous at all. I’m not sure if he had any jitters or whatever, but he did a great job and we will need that from him moving forward.
Q. What’s the toughest part of preparing for Michigan State?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: They run so many plays and got so many sets that one day of preparation, you know, you really can’t get a good feel for all the stuff they run or try to memorize a lot of their plays. But we just had practice and we just went over the scouting report kind of in depth and we’ll go back to the hotel and do the same thing. So it’s just trying to get a good feel for a lot of the sets that they run.
Q. Frank, what for your position are the keys to beating this team?
FRANK MASON, III: I would say creating easy shots for my teammates, getting them involved early, playing great defense and making them feel me every possession because it starts with the point guard and just say getting out in transition, running and trying to get easy baskets before their defense setup, showing great leadership skills and just being coachable and leading our younger guys.
Q. Frank, one of Michigan State’s point guards Cassius Winston is a young guy, sometimes struggles on ball screens and has been sort of a project defensively this year. The other guy Tum Tum is a little better. Do you notice the difference when you see him on tape? And when you get a guy like that who’s still trying to figure it out defensively, do you think I gotta take it right at them?
FRANK MASON, III: It doesn’t really matter what year a player is. I just try to have the same mindset every game, stay aggressive, stay in attack mode and drive the ball downhill. So we’ll get back and look at tape and we’re going to try to figure out a few of their weaknesses on the defensive end and try to take advantage of that.
Q. Frank, you kind of mentioned this, but for either of you, is the approach any different knowing you’re going against a coaching legend in Tom Izzo?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Nah, we approach every game the same, you know. We gotta prepare for the team that we’re facing, focus in on our scouting report and come out and be aggressive and play the same way we’ve been playing all year.
Q. When Nick Ward is on the floor and out of foul trouble, he’s really made his impact in the last few games, had 19 points just last night. A lot of teams have started to double down on him. Is that a type of strategy you guys will take into facing Nick Ward down inside?
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: It’ll probably depend on if he’s dominating us down low or not. I mean, it’s really up to Coach and what he really wants to do, but hopefully we can contain him enough and keep him off the glass and make him take tough shots.
Q. For both of you, the media has made such a big deal about the fact that you’re playing more minutes and are you well rested. Has that been overblown this year? And then second question for you both, have you noticed, in playing in the NCAA, the extended rest time with timeouts and halftime?
FRANK MASON, III: Oh, yeah. Definitely. We hear a lot of people talking about how many minutes we play. I think as athletes and competitors, it really doesn’t matter how many minutes we’re out there. Once we’re off the court, we do a great job of taking care of our bodies and getting in the hot tub, cold tub, doing recovery booths and getting with our trainers and things like that to make sure we’re feeling a lot better for the next day.
And I forgot the other question.
Q. Do you feel more rest time with extended timeouts in the tournament and longer halftime?
FRANK MASON, III: Oh, yeah. You definitely could tell. It just feels a lot longer than the normal timeout throughout the regular season, and I think it’s good for both teams.
DEVONTE’ GRAHAM: Just like he said, you can notice it in the timeouts, getting rest and stuff like that. Halftime was super long yesterday.
But as far as being tired and playing a lot of minutes, at this time of the year you can’t really get tired. The best players gotta be on the court making plays and doing whatever we can to help the team win.
Q. Jackson knows a number of these guys on Michigan State’s roster. Has he talked much about either his relationship with them or the way they play?
FRANK MASON, III: He hasn’t said much about them, but we talked about it just a little bit. I think everyone in Michigan really wanted him to go there. And we’re going to go out there tomorrow and play for him, for our families, for our school, coaches and ourselves. So we just want to really get it done for him and make sure he has the best day possible.
COACH SELF: Well, obviously a quick turnaround for everybody that has a chance to advance. And certainly looking forward to the opportunity to play a terrific Michigan State team and program and coach, and certainly one that when I saw the initial bracket and I’m seeing Michigan State in the 8-9 game, I’m going what kind of joke is this. Because when they play like they did last night, they’re playing to a very, very, very high seed. They were terrific.
Q. Bill, you’ve got a veteran All-American point guard. The guy they rely on is a true freshmen who’s had some defensive struggles. When you see that sort of matchup does that become something you really try to exploit? When you look at Cassius, what do you see?
COACH SELF: I see a guy that can really see the floor. I think he’s one of the best passers in college basketball. He’s got more assists than Frank and he’s playing 13 less minutes a game than Frank. So to me I see those positives. And granted, you know, when you scout, you look at certain things that may be an advantage for you, them over us or us over them.
But the reality of the way that Tom’s teams guard, you know, the makeup is you guard your man but they’re always in strong help and always forcing you to play around the perimeter. So they do a real good job of keeping the ball out of the paint.
Q. You talked about Michigan State playing over its seed, I guess, a little bit. What is it over the years you’ve seen other coaches that has allowed them to do that, and how does it make kick start your guys to make them a little more aware?
COACH SELF: I don’t know that there’s anything that will kick start our guys to make us more aware. I mean, it goes without saying that we’re aware. I mean, I had the chance to coach against Tom three years in the league and we play in the Champions Classic. We don’t play every year, but we probably average playing about every other year since I’ve been gone. And the thing about it, he’s a terrific coach, and I don’t know what he does the beginning of March that’s different than what most mortals do is he gets his team always ready to play. And our guys respect that and they know that, and certainly that’s not one that we have to remind our guys of because they’re very well aware of it.
Q. Going back into the matchups again, when you’ve got the Jackson against Bridges matchup, I guess, first of all, do you anticipate them matching up against each other? And secondly, when you have two guys that are friends going against each other, is there — I guess do you have to have caution for a little bit of emotional temperament?
COACH SELF: That’s a great point. I know that I’ve had that conversation with Josh. I don’t know if Tom’s had it obviously with Miles. But you know, they are close, and they are buddies based on what I’ve been told. And certainly I don’t see any way around them not being matched up against each other a lot. I’m not saying every possession the entire possession, but there’s — I really believe what’s best for both teams is that for them to guard somebody naturally they’re supposed to guard, and that’s each other. So it’ll be a fun matchup.
Q. Coach, going back to the Cassius Winston, Coach Larrañaga of Miami kind of compared him to Steve Nash. Do you see that and are there any other players on Michigan State that you can kind of draw parallels with either in the ACC or the NBA or any other level of basketball that isn’t the Big Ten?
COACH SELF: You know, I don’t know. I probably couldn’t do it in the ACC because I don’t coach in that league, but from the Big 12, I don’t know if I would say that anybody really reminds me of — you know, to me the big fellow reminds me of Zach Randolph. He probably doesn’t shoot it as often from the perimeter, but I think there’s a lot of similarities, hands and feet.
Miles is obviously a fabulous world-class athlete, so there’s a lot of guys you could probably draw comparisons to in the NBA. But I think on the perimeter — and of course, Cassius, I saw him play quite a bit in AAU ball, and the thing that does impress me is he knows how to make the hard play, but more importantly, he knows how to make the easy play. And he’s very good at it.
Q. Doesn’t have anything to do with tomorrow’s game particularly, but Brad Underwood, it was announced today has taken the Illinois job. Wanted to get your thoughts on how that changes your alma mater, and your thoughts on the Illinois job just in general.
COACH SELF: I just heard it ten minutes ago, so it shocks me. I think it would shock most people, because obviously, you know, Brad was on a roll, I thought, in Stillwater. And a lot of great things have transpired in the short time he’s been there.
So without knowing any details, I don’t know what else to say. I mean, if that’s — congratulate him, but certainly not discourage Oklahoma State from still moving forward, I mean, because certainly the program is in better shape than it was a year ago. So I’m sure that they’ll — I don’t even want to use the word recover. I’m sure they’ll respond very favorably to this. But it is a shock.
You see a lot of coaching changes across America, but very rarely do you see one after just one year. But Brad’s a really good guy and done a great job. But from the outside looking in, it looked to me like OSU and Brad fit very, very well.
Q. Find Illinois the sleeping giant maybe?
COACH SELF: Illinois is a great basketball job. I was there. There’s no other way to look at it. It’s one of the better jobs in the Big Ten. If you look at recruiting base and institution, location, exposure, budget. There’s a lot of things about it that is very, very attractive.
Q. This second round matchup is just — we don’t see this very often, and I’m sure that you and Tom when you saw this potential in the bracket you were like oh, no. Knowing him as well as you do, can you give us a coach’s scouting report on Tom Izzo and how you guys may have similar styles and maybe where you’re different?
COACH SELF: Well, I think having coached against him in the league, you know, they were the standard without question when we were in the league. I think they were No. 1 seed three years in a row, or something like that, in that time that I was in the league with him. And so they were the standard. So you always try to steal from other people that do it well.
And just in general, I mean, philosophically they’re going to take good shots. Philosophically, they’re going to try to steal extra possessions on the glass, all these things. They’re going to try to score before your defense is set and they’re really good at that. But the bottom line is they go from defense to offense historically as well as anybody in the country. And they rebound the ball offensively as well as anybody in the country historically.
And so just from a scouting report standpoint, I’m not saying anything that’s not obvious, but you’ve gotta eliminate transition and you have to do a great job on the glass.
Q. Coach, I’m kind of digging a little deep with this one but your second game at KU upset No. 3 Michigan State back in 2003, and you said you hoped at the time it would build credibility with your players. Looking back at that, what are your memories of that win and how important it might have been to setting a good tone at the time?
COACH SELF: I think that win will probably have a lot to do with how we play tomorrow, you know, 14 years ago (laughter). I can remember that. Michigan State had — I don’t remember all their guys, but Shannon Brown was a guy that was a high flier they had then. It was a great game. It was a fast-pace game.
But when I talk about credibility with players, you know, I followed a guy that was ultra successful, and that was kind of a signature win early in my career there that maybe the players could look at our staff and say, you know what, what they do also works, too. So you know, it probably was a signature win going way back, but I don’t remember enough about it to give you many details.
Q. This is a question I asked to Coach Izzo, too, but can you talk about maybe the biggest coaching mentor in your life and how humbling is it when you see your coaching tree, assistant coaches get head coach jobs?
COACH SELF: I think as a head coach it’s our responsibility to put our assistants in a position that they can do the same things you’ve been able to do, and certainly that was the case with me working for the guys that I worked for.
My biggest coaching mentor probably was Coach Sutton, and he lives right here in town. He’s a Hall of Fame coach, and I had a chance to work for him for three years, and I probably — I learned a ton, but I also learned how to run a program probably from him as much as anybody else.
And working for Coach Brown and Leonard obviously were unbelievable experiences. And with Coach Brown, I learned more ball in nine months than I have any other period of time because I knew nothing. So there was more room to learn.
But not too many guys can say they’ve been mentored by three guys that have all been National Coach of the Year, and certainly that’s been the case with me.
Q. I’m going to take you even further back on the way-back machine to 1986, the game at Kemper Arena. You were an assistant, Tom was an assistant in that game. What are your memories of that clock game?
COACH SELF: Was there a clock issue in that game? (Laughter). You know what, I was assistant, but I was so far down in seniority that I was assistant that sat in the end zone about 15 rows up. So I didn’t make the bench during the NCAA tournament in ’86. But you know, obviously Scott Skiles and company.
But I don’t really remember much about the clock. I think in Kansas they thought it was — there was no malfunction and everything was handled perfectly in Kansas, and I’m sure in the state of Michigan they thought totally otherwise. But I know it was controversial and it was an unbelievable win, obviously, for Kansas. But I really don’t remember much about it.
Q. What’s the toughest part preparing for Bridges and Ward tomorrow?
COACH SELF: You know, I think the toughest part is you can tell guys what to do, but when you play against good guys that are hard to handle, the execution isn’t always what you tell. It’s hard to simulate athletic ability.
You know, Miles is — I don’t really know him personally, but he’s an unbelievable athlete, but he’s got unbelievable feel. I mean, just making the extra pass or just knowing when to cut. And they play through him a lot. I mean they play through him probably about as much as they play through well, I guess Denzel last year, but they put the ball in his hands a lot to make decisions.
And Ward is a load that you can tell guys, you know, don’t foul, but when two big bodies are colliding all the time, obviously there’s contact. So I don’t know how you tell guys to prepare other than just scouting report like we do with everybody else.
Q. You mentioned before the tournament started that you were hoping your guys would play free and easy, and there was a potential concern with young players or potential one-and-dones that they might play tight in their only NCAA. Did yesterday ease any concerns that you might have had about Josh?
COACH SELF: I don’t think I had more concerns about Josh than I did anybody else to play free and easy. He’s played free and easy under pressure all year long. I thought he handled the situation well, but I also thought our entire team handled the situation well.
Q. I asked Josh what Tom Izzo’s best recruiting sales pitch was to him during that whole process, and now I’d like to ask what you think your best sales pitch was, because obviously you won.
COACH SELF: Well, it’s just so much warmer in Kansas than Michigan, I guess (laughter). I don’t know. You know, he would have been an unbelievable impact player wherever he went, and I do know that it was not an easy decision for him. But hey, we’ve lost enough guys to Michigan State, we should win one every now and then.
Q. And Tom’s obviously battling some size issues due to injuries. I guess, from your vantage point, how aggressive do your guards need to be in getting in and creating that contact with their bigs?
COACH SELF: Well, you can say the same thing. They’re battling some size issues, but so are we in a lot of ways. So I think it’s going to be imperative for both teams to play aggressively but also to play smart on defense. And when you have two physical teams playing against each other, there’s going to be contact, and there will be fouls. But you don’t need to add to that by making dumb fouls, and certainly that’s what we’ll talk to our guys about.
Q. Bill, you talked about playing free and easy. What is the difference in your mind between players who can and players who can’t? What are some of the things that allow guys to handle that pressure and relax?
COACH SELF: You know, I think there’s a lot of players that can play free and easy that may be under certain situations, may not at that moment. I think there’s a lot of different things going on, you know. Seniors, this is it. So you want to go out and you attack and you say you don’t wish it to happen; you go make it happen. But the bottom line is there’s no more safety net. So sometimes guys play not to lose as opposed to playing to win. I think that’s natural in any sport, anytime.
But the biggest thing is if you’re going to succeed this time of year in the basketball tournament, you gotta go take it. And the only way you can do that is being ultra aggressive and playing with confidence. And you know, I would like to say that our guys do that all the time, but I don’t know that that’s true, and I bet Tom would say the same thing, too. I certainly hope it’s true tomorrow, though.
#33 LANDEN LUCAS, SENIOR CENTER
On playing Michigan State…
“I would say that every game in the tournament, we can get excited about. When it is a team with a name like Michigan State, I think it just makes it even more special. From the tip, I think it is going to feel like every possession is the most important one.”
On the role of coaching this time of year…
“I am sure that we are going to see a very well-prepared team. They are going to understand what we do well and try to take it away. It is probably not going to be a game where a team just goes away. They are going to be there all the way until the end. They are going to be fighting and they are going to know what we like to do.”
On if it’s an advantage having Coach Self…
“It is, and it is an extension of him all the way down to the assistant coaches for getting us ready. It’s always nice to have that on your side and they definitely have the same advantage.”
On the impact of playing a big name team…
“I think so. You saw how it worked out for us last year, so we are hoping to do the same thing. I think last year was the first game that I can think of that year where we jumped on somebody defensively and set the tone. I am sure we are looking to do that again this year.”
On what he and other seniors will tell the team before the game tomorrow…
“Really treat the beginning of the game very serious, almost like it’s the last couple possessions, because it is going to matter a lot. And then, understand that it is a long game. There will be ups and downs. You saw yesterday how Michigan State got down early and came back, so take every possession seriously, no matter if you are ahead a lot or down. Try to either extend your lead or come back, whatever it is, just take each possession seriously.”
On his thoughts on Michigan State…
“They have some great size and they play very well to it. They have a lot of plays that could take advantage if you fall asleep at all or aren’t in a pretty good defensive stance and ready for someone to be ducking in on you. It’s tough, but you just have to be aware. We have faced teams that are like that, so that is an advantage that we have. It is nothing new for us.”
#2 LAGERALD VICK, SOPHOMORE GUARD
On the role your bench played in the win against UC Davis…
“Our bench was important in the win yesterday. We had players come in a play a lot of minutes and contribute on both sides of the ball. We are looking to do the same thing against MSU. We have a lot of talented players who bring different skills to the table.”
On who the team looks to for leadership on the court…
“There is not one player in particular who we look to. We all get hot on different nights and in different situations we look to different players. Some of the younger players look up to Landen and Frank, but we are all a team so we all just look to each other for leadership.”
On their confidence level going into tomorrow…
“We are very confident going into the game. We had a good practice today. So we just have to go over some stuff but we will be ready to play tomorrow.”
#11 JOSH JACKSON, FRESHMAN GUARD
On the emotions going into tomorrow’s game growing up an MSU fan…
“Well I grew up a State fan, but I believed I had a better chance of winning a national championship at Kansas. But I am here with Kansas and that’s who I play for. I love to win so I am going to go out there and do my best to win.”
On what he has seen from watching MSU…
“They are a pretty athletic team, and tough defensively. They are a young team but they have a lot of talent. ”
On how practice went today…
“Practice went good. We went over a few plays that MSU likes to run. We worked on some personnel things. We are really trying to get comfortable with who we are playing tomorrow.”
On putting in a strong effort for tomorrow…
“Remain focus, and we really need to play good defense. Michigan State runs a lot of different plays. Staying focused.”
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