BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -
Head Coach Tom Crean, along with Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford, met with the media today to talk about Sunday's tilt with Michigan State at 1 p.m. on CBS. Below is a partial transcript of what they had to say.
"Our guys have a lot of energy and they are excited to play. The most nerve-wracking thing about this game, it seems, is how excited Michigan State is. I am used to the Tom Izzo that is "gloom and doom" and the sky is falling and is only happy when he is miserable. In reading some of the comments coming out of Michigan State today, those guys are really excited to play. That is nerve-wracking. When he is really looking forward to a game and says his team is in a great frame of mind. So we are really going to have to play well.
"They are the first place team (in the Big Ten) and they are road tested. They are clicking in a lot of really good ways. They have experienced team. (Freshman) Gary Harris has been phenomenal for them. Keith Appling is a complete guard, in the sense that he can score, deliver the ball and he is a nightmare in transition. They are getting deep, they are a pretty deep team, depending how many guys he wants to play. There is no doubt that it is going to be a great environment, a tremendous atmosphere and they are coming in with a great frame of mind, it appears. Our guys have had a very focused couple of days and they are excited to play. It will be here before we know it."
On whether he enjoys coaching against Tom Izzo:
"I look at it two different ways. I don't enjoy going against someone that I have that much of a friendship with and have that much history with. But I do enjoy going against great coaches, and getting your team ready to play against a team that is so good. You have to have a strategy for everything against them because you know that he does.
"In a perfect world, you wouldn't play your closest friends, but I have two brother-in-laws that are getting ready to play against each other two and that's a pretty good world. It just is what it is. I totally look at it from the point of view that we better be on top of our game in every area, because he always has his teams on top of their game."
On what has led to Michigan State taking care of the ball better in Big Ten play:
"They have been in a lot of possession games, where they have really taken care of the ball. I think that is one of the reasons that they are really road-tested. When you go on the road, you have to make shots - you have to make shots anywhere - and you have to take care of the ball. I am far more concerned about the fact that they are doing an incredible job of turning the other team's turnovers into points. They are probably doing that as well as anyone in the league right now. They average nine steals per game on the road. I think that has to be a high right now for a team to get that many on the road. They are constantly poking at the ball and they are constantly coming off their help and attacking the ball. As a result, they are turning those steals into baskets. At the same time, it is reflective that they are not giving up many of those.
"We have to really take care of the ball, but at the same time, be aggressive and make them work on offense, in the sense of changing the passing angles and not letting them just throw the ball through us. We have to make them throw it over us or around us. And we can't let them come down and run comfortable offense all the time. We will see how it turns out."
On how Keith Appling has developed as a leader for Michigan State this year:
"He is the guy that beat us last year in East Lansing. He is tremendous. He is the kind of guy that you can't just guard for 32 or 34 minutes during the game. You have to guard him for 40 of the 40, because he can turn it on at any point. He has some great strengths. He is excellent in transition. He wants to get to the foul line or the basket for his pull-up jumper. He is getting 30 percent of his points in Big Ten play from the free throw line, so he is getting fouled. He is delivering the ball and getting to the rim. He is just creating a lot of havoc for the opponent and he is a very good defender. I think it is a matter of maturing as a player and he has been at it now for three years and been a mainstay in the Big Ten. So he has a great understanding of what it takes."
On having a point guard Kevin (Yogi) Ferrell that can matchup with Appling:
"I am not sure. I think there will be a lot of different mixtures of defenses. You cannot look at this team and think `this is a great matchup and that's where we will go the entire time.' I don't think that is when we are at our best. The bottom line for us, with the way that we mix defenses and matchups, is to make sure that everybody is aware of what he wants to do. We did a better job of that a year ago and we have to do a great job of that tomorrow.
"But its like any good team, they are not in first place because they are a really good one- or two-man team. They are really good in all areas. Gary Harris is playing like a true veteran and playing extremely well. He is making his foul shots and shooting an excellent percentage from the 3-point line. He is playing a lot of minutes and seems to have a great understanding of things. (Branden) Dawson appears to be very healthy and can be a dominating factor on the boards.
"And Adreian Payne is as improved as any player in this league. We would have some guys that would be up for that award, there is no doubt about that, but Payne would be too. The second half that he had against Penn State ... I can only hope that everything goes well at the hotel tonight so he doesn't get that fire lit under him because what he did at Penn State was amazing. (Now when you write that, make sure you say that I'm joking because I am joking). But he was at another level in the Penn State game, goodness gracious. He was scoring at the rim, on the pull-up, making 3-pointers and playing with great energy.
"And Derrick Nix is a mainstay. He is a very, very hard guy to deal with. And a healthy (Travis) Trice helps them a lot too."
On the challenge of going against a pair of formidable players (Payne and Nix) in the post:
"I think it causes issues. I don't think there is any question that it causes issues and they know it does. When you look at some of the quotes in the paper today, they are really looking at how people matchup with them. I am not sure this is a conventional matchup game for us.
"You cannot let that team get comfortable. You just can't let them come down and say we are going to run this play or that play and we are going to get this on the break and we are going to get that on the break. That is when they are at their best and we just can't let them come down and do that."
On playing against a big, physical front line:
"We know we have to do our work early on them and try to make their catches tough. We have to try to deny them as much as possible and make everything difficult for them and keep them off the glass."
On dealing with their physical defense:
"We have to get movement. Our offense is designed with a lot of movement so once we get out and try to run a little bit and maybe wear them down, like we always try to do."
On trying to bring their big front line out away from the basket:
"It is an advantage for us, but we will see once we get in the game. We will see what their schemes are and what they are going to do defensively."
On blocking out bigger guys:
"We won't do it one-on-one, it will definitely be a team effort on the offensive glass and defensive glass. We feel like when we get five guys in there to rebound, we will be alright. We feel like we will get a majority of the 50-50 balls in that situation so we will be alright."
On what makes Michigan State a tough opponent each time:
"They are always a tough, physical team to play against. They are well-coached and they play hard so we know we have to do a lot of good things during the game like take care of the ball and get back in transition."
On why Michigan State is limiting their turnovers in Big Ten play and what can be done to change that:
"We can get out in the passing lanes and playing defense the way that we know we are capable of. Being able to play good basketball for 40 minutes is going to be huge for us and a big part of the game."
On Michigan State being more athletic this year:
"They have always been able to run, so we know that is a big part of their game. They want to run and get baskets in transition. Maybe they are a little more athletic this year, but we know that we have to play good defense."
On what impresses him with Gary Harris as a freshman for Michigan State:
"He is very athletic and likes to get to the rim. We have to a do a good job on keeping him on the perimeter and not let him get penetration. He is a very capable 3-point shooter so he can play all over the floor and we have to be aware of him."
On Keith Appling's development over the years:
"He is a lot better shooter so he has added that to his game. And he is very explosive in transition, whether its getting to the rim or shooting a pull-up. We know we have to try to contain him and keep him outside of the spots he wants to get to."