Previewing New Mexico State vs. Indiana - NCAA Tournament Second Round
March 14, 2012
PORTLAND, Ore. - Indiana head coach Tom Crean, along with juniors Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford and freshman Cody Zeller participated in press conferences heading into the Hoosiers' second round game vs. New Mexico State in the NCAA Tournament in Portland on Wednesday, March 12.
Indiana Press Conference
Q. What have you observed about New Mexico State in the time you've watched them on film?
Q. How does the Big Ten season and playing in that conference prepared you to play against a physical team like this?
Q. You've known for awhile you were going to be in the tournament. Can you talk about the reaction you've had from friends, fans, fellow students since the announcement was made on Sunday night that you guys were actually back in the tournament?
Q. I'm curious, have you all been able to get your family out here to Portland? I know that's always an issue with some guys. I know the NCAA probably ought to help family members get out here. Are all three of your family members coming out here?
Q. Can you talk about what you've seen from Wendell McKines so far, what stands out about that particular player?
Q. What's it been like for replacing Jones since he went down. What are the challenges of replacing him so far, what's that been like for you?
Q. You talked a little bit about Wendell McKines. Can you elaborate more on his physicality and rebounding, what you have to do to stop a player that moves so much and uses his muscles, so to say?
Q. Beyond McKines, how are the other different ways that New Mexico State can hurt a team?
Q. Maurice Creek has been a guy all season that as you made this run, he's watching from the sidelines. What impact has he played this season for you guys, as a player off the court and what's it been like for him, do you think?
Q. Looking at New Mexico State, they are No. 1 in free throw attempts in the country. How do you go into a match up like that to not play to their strengths and keep them out of the interior, and keeping out of foul trouble?
Q. How do you temper the excitement of being in the NCAA tournament and keeping everybody kind of focused on what they have to do just with the next game?
Q. You guys have improved a lot on the boards and have been more physical this year, how much more fit do you guys feel to play a team that is this physical and this big this year as opposed to years in the past?
Q. As a follow up to my last question, have you seen everybody taking this with a kind of serious focus that they need to?
Q. Is this about rebounding, rebounding and rebounding?
When you talk about being relentless on the backboards, we can talk about that with teams in our league, and when we start to look at Michigan State and Purdue and people of that nature, Ohio State, they take a backseat to nobody on that. They are sending three or four every time. And I think that's where they get a lot of their fouls is on second chance.
So their baskets off of offensive rebounds and their free throw attempts off of offensive rebounds have got to be as high as anybody we've seen. Verticality and making sure our positioning is right, all those things are crucial. And the rebounding and the fouling kind of go hand in hand.
Q. Now that they're out here in the building and getting ready to practice on the court, how do you keep them from being blinded by the glitter of the NCAA and focus on the next game?
I'm not real worried about that. These guys are honored to be here. You can see it. There's nobody that feels like they've arrived or that they're just happy to be here. There's nobody that's taking it lightly. And I think that's the way that this team has evolved over a period of time. They know what they've earned. They don't know what they're getting into. But the more we spend talking about that the more distracted they could be. And these guys have been great about understanding the atmosphere and the environment all year long. They've grown up watching the tournament.
If we spend a lot of time talking about all the what ifs, we'll get away from what has to happen.
Q. Can you talk about Wendell McKines. Your player talked about him that he's similar to Green. Is he also similar to Dominic Sutton, a guy you saw later in the year? Two guys that definitely go after the glass.
I don't think Wendell McKines takes a backseat to anyone. He's one of the better, undersized, but also undervalued forwards probably in the country. He can score. He can shoot the ball. When you look at his numbers over a four year period of time, incredible the rise that he has made statistically. You can tell he's a hard worker.
And he's somebody, you have to account for him every possession. Because what happens is when you lose a step on him, it's over. Whether it's a rebound, whether it's a drive to the rim, whether it's a post up.
But there again, like so many other good teams, they're far from just being a one person dominant team. When you've got a team that gets 30 free throw attempts a game, you've got an aggressive, relentless team. The way they rebound and defend.
What's impressive about them is they really look I don't know their players, but they have really good togetherness on the court. And it looks like they've got really solid leadership on that court. And I bet Wendell McKines has a lot to do with that.
Q. Three out of five returning stars from two years ago played in the NCAA tournament from New Mexico State and they took Michigan State to the last seconds. Are you concerned at all about some of that NCAA experience that those three particular senior starters have?
Marvin Menzies is an excellent coach. He's always had great respect. He's always been didn't matter what coast you are, people know who Marvin Menzies is. And when you look at that team, you see a lot of improvement. I'm sure all those players from a couple of years ago are better, obviously.
We haven't spent a lot of time I've looked at that box score, but we haven't spent a lot of time looking at something that far away. I think this team is really good.
But we can't do anything about the lack of experience we have in the tournament. There's no way around it. What we have to do is we've got to go up there and go out and take advantage of the 33 games of experience that we have this year and do the very best we can with that.
Q. You talk about the offensive rebound and free throw attempts. Can you compare them to a team that relies they're not a great 3 point shooting team. Seems like offensively they do two things really well.
We're looking at that entire team, starting Sunday night, and we've just been hammering away. And our players have done an excellent job of trying to absorb all of it, especially since Monday. And we know we're playing a really good team. Who they've played, what conference, what seed, none of that has nothing to do with how good that team is that we're getting ready to see tomorrow.
We know what they're capable of, and the thing that they're very good defensively. They make it very hard for you to score. This team is bigger, in my mind, without seeing them in person, I mean, this is they're probably bigger than 50, 60 percent of the Big Ten teams we see. So they've got a big, solid team.
I've got two brother in laws in the NFL that would probably have a lot of interest in watching these guys with the size of body and the speed they have. They look like they're full of tight ends and defensive ends when you look at them. They're a big team.
We're more concerned about that than just the two major aspects of their team, because I don't think you get 26 wins by just having a couple of things that you're good at.
Q. You talked about staying out of foul trouble. Is there one game that you've played earlier this year, one or two games that you point to and say we need you to play like you did here?
Michigan State is a team where when Draymond Green has it, when the shot goes up, you have to account for everybody on the court. Not all teams are like that. But New Mexico State is like that. You have to account for everyone.
The plus/minus of when Mullings is in the game alone right there is strong. Here's a guy that maybe doesn't take a ton of shots. And you look at him and maybe his numbers don't stand out maybe as much as some of the other ones, but when you watch him play and you see the aggressiveness of him, the way he drives it and gets it to the backboard, you know you've got to do a phenomenal job of keeping him off.
To me, I don't know if we can go back to games. I think there's a lot of games that give you the experience and the belief and the knowledge once you get into the game. But this is a game where, again, the position and the technique and the awareness have got to be outstanding.
Q. How does this road trip differ from others? I know it's an NCAA tournament, I want to hear from you how it differs. And what challenges it poses to a coach to keep your team focused?
But for this team right now, I mean, they've been great, they're mature. They've had a great opportunity to see Portland some, to do a couple of different things. They went to a movie last night. But again, it's been a pretty good dose of work, as well. And as a coach, I don't mind the rain. It keeps them in and they want to get into the film a little bit more.
Q. What have you done in Portland?
But we let them have an opportunity to kind of explore. But at the same time, they're getting a lot of rest. So it's fun to sit in the front of the bus and listen to them in the back of the bus. I may not know everything they're saying, but that laughter is universal. And those are the things that you really enjoy being a part of it.
And I think when it's all said and done, they'll remember where they went. They'll have experiences to think about, but it's the lasting, shared memories of something somebody said that was silly in the back of the bus or silly at breakfast. That's the stuff that really builds them, I think, when they come back years from now and reminisce about their time. And it's all part of that.
Q. Have you told Cody or the other two guys anything differently from this game in terms of trying to stay out of foul trouble?
We're not going to spend a lot of time putting doubts in their head. It's not about don't foul. It's more about move your feet, have verticality, be in position. We're trying to create positives by giving great reminders.
Q. I know that he can't play, but what role has Verdell played over the last couple of days, and what role tomorrow?
We miss him. There's no way around it. He's a stabilizing force. He's grown up so much as a player, and was playing such excellent defense. He had a 7 rebound game at Minnesota. Those are paramount things, especially when you're playing a team like this tomorrow.
In answer to your question, he's done a great job with the team, his spirits are excellent, not so good today when he's not feeling good, but I think he'll be good for Remy, he's been an excellent teammate. I haven't seen a change, and I think these guys have done a fantastic job of being his friend, being his teammate. There's nothing different. He's just sitting on the side right now. He's taking it in.
I was even asking him questions on Friday about the game, even like he was playing. I've done that a couple of times at practice and I plan to do it tomorrow. But these guys, they have a great bond. And I think most teams that get to this time of year they really have that. And our guys really don't take a backseat to anybody on that. And especially everything that everybody has been through and how roles have changed in our program. And those that cover us know they've really changed and they've grown.
To have the team be that close just says so much about the quality of the people and the program, the quality of the players. And that, as a coach, it's just an awesome feeling to have that.
Q. When he's sick, do you try to keep him away?
Q. In your tenure in Indiana the road hasn't been exactly kind to you guys. But you got that under control near the end of the season. How much of that has been mental, and now you're playing as far away from home as you possibly can be, is that a roadblock that you guys are over?
So again, it's like anything else. These guys are a product of their experiences. I think everybody is getting adjusted. And again, I think coming out Monday was good for this team to get adjusted. I don't sense any cabin fever or anything like that. They're doing things and we're trying to occupy time, at the same time give them a lot of free time.
So we've just really stayed focused on getting ready to play another really good team. We're coming off neutral games, just like New Mexico is, like they played in Las Vegas this last weekend. They've got the advantage maybe in they don't have to deal much with the time change or being in a different locale in the sense of where they're at in the country. Tomorrow night it's not really going to make a difference. It's who adjusts, who makes the fewest mistakes, who pays attention to the details, all those things are going to be who determines who the winner is.
Q. Coach Menzies mentioned that their team is better than a typical mid major team, but not compared to a high major team. When you look at some of the teams in these bigger conferences, how does New Mexico State's size and athleticism compare?
I think New Mexico State has done a great job, just from really studying them the last few days, they don't take possessions off. They do not take opportunities to rebound off. They don't take opportunities to run the court off of a turnover or a rebound off. They move the ball. They've got some go to guys and everybody knows it.
And I think, again, they're a big team. I haven't broken it down to the size and weight, but I would put them for sure in the upper half, well into the upper half of size, strength, body types of what we would face in the Big Ten or maybe any other power conference.
There's nothing, quote, unquote, "mid major" that you see with them. They've got star power. They've got guys that stay in their roles. And a team that looks like high level tough guys. And I know their coach is really, really good.
Q. After the Kentucky game you were getting a ton of attention nationally. And after a tough stretch, some of the national media kind of overlooked you a little bit. Is there any part of you guys that are thinking about that role, that may have been overlooked a little bit, is any of that motivation at all?
COACH CREAN: I think that is. Back to the beginning of the year, it wasn't anybody that picked us to be here, let alone 4th seed, let alone winning 25 games.
I don't think outside expectations drive us. They're like anybody else, when they're doubted, when they're criticized, I'm sure they're going to take that to heart. We'll have our times we throw that out there. We'll have our times where somebody will say something and we'll use it.
But this team right now, they're in a place where they've just got to understand what makes them successful. And anything that's said in a good way, anything that's said in a bad way, that's going to have nothing absolutely to do with it at 6:40, 6:45, whatever time we tip.
New Mexico State Press Conference
Q. You guys had some lulls in the season. Describe how the whole season's gone, and are you at a peak and do you think you guys can really make a run and surprise a lot of people in this tournament?
Q. Can you both talk about the swagger that this team seems to have. And Wendell, obviously, I think you have a big part to play in that particular confidence.
Q. What challenges does this team pose on the boards that maybe other teams that you've played haven't?
WENDELL McKINES: Also, the coaching staff has us well prepared to attack their strength, as well. And our strength is rebounding, and they're going to try to counter our strength as well. So that means we have to go even harder. They're pretty good in transition. And Zeller, he runs the floor like a deer, so our centers have to be prepared to run the floor. The three point line, as well.
That all starts with our offense taking good shots and offensively rebounding the ball, and ball pressure on defense. We'll be fine.
Q. When we talked to Indiana players and coaches, the coach talked about the team as a whole being very strong for New Mexico State. But many of the players seemed to focus in on Wendell. What does that make you feel as a player, a guy with 20 double doubles this year and this and that. And you're not going to fly under the radar with them. They know who you are. How does that feel for you and how does that go in your mindset?
Q. Having that year off, what did you learn during that time and do you feel like you, Hernst and the other senior have a chip on your shoulder trying to make a run during the tournament?
Yeah, me, Hernst and Hamidu, the other senior you were pertaining to, we have a great chemistry on and off the floor. Once we got back and start clicking and gelling, once we found our identity as a team, things started rolling for us and got us to this point.
Q. For both of you, Indiana, that's college basketball, that's the name, Hoosiers, the movie, everything. Is there any intimidation factor or does it get you guys more fired up to play a name like this?
HERNST LAROCHE: It's basketball. We've got great players. They've got great players. It's going to come down to 40 minutes. We're not worried about the name on their jerseys, we're just going to play hard.
WENDELL McKINES: Teams that are intimidated and infatuated by playing bigger name schools, those are the teams that lose by 40.
Q. You talked about maybe letting your teammates get going and then getting into the flow of the game. But in the WAC title game you came out very aggressive from the start and made a point to carry the scoring early. Was that a situation you felt like you needed to be that way or does it carry over into this game?
But as you said, it sounds like Indiana is going to focus on me. So that means my teammates are going to have a whole lot of opportunity to be successful in this game. And once they're successful, if Indiana, if they make adjustments, then I'll be free again. So it's just a team effort. I'm pretty sure I won't see any defenses I haven't seen. I know how to go about being successful.
Q. A lot of people, the Indiana coaches and players, both named Draymond Green from Michigan State when asked to compare a guy to you. You played against him in the tournament a few years ago. Is that a fair comparison to you?
Q. Wendell mentioned how Cody Zeller runs like a deer. Is there anyone you've played against like Zeller, and how important is it for your big guys to get back, especially in transition?
So very specific in lanes, quick ball screens and so forth after. So they've got some deep weapons in their arsenal there, so we've got to do a good job there.
Q. Your guys seemed really loose up here. They don't seem like there's any kind of intimidation factor. Are they as comfortable as they looked right here?
We talk a lot about their leadership and their confidence. But it has to kind of shine down on the younger guys. We need a complete group. Because we've only got the three seniors. We can't win with three guys, we're going to have to have those underclassmen, the juniors, sophomores and freshmen contribute, as well. I think what you saw was probably pretty accurate.
Q. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that, that these three seniors have tournament experience, and tournament experience where it came down to the wire against Michigan State. They've reiterated they can win. Can you talk about how important that kind of tournament experience is, especially for seniors?
When I was assistant coach at high major universities in Louisville and USC, UNLV, San Diego State, we always struggled with the quote, unquote, low majors and the mid major minuses that have senior laden teams. And that's kind of who we are. We're not a high major university, but we've got some guys that we've kept through our retention and our original paradigm that we set up when I took over the job five years ago.
We've developed some great young men and great players. And so now is our time. I think it will be important for us to rely on those guys. And I think it's necessary if you're going to be successful as a mid major.
You reference VCU and their run, having experienced guys, and Butler with their upperclassmen. I don't think either one of those teams makes it as far as they do without having some guys that know how to get after it and have been doing it for awhile.
Q. Have you noticed anything different with Indiana, the way they handle pressure, handle the ball with the loss of Jones?
He was a true floor general. Great facilitator, great defender. We watch all the other games where he was obviously a big part of what they were doing. You saw the intangibles that he brought to the table.
So I don't know how that will affect them going forward. This is a whole new season. They've got talent. They've got talent beyond the top five guys. And they've got some depth and guys that come off the bench and shoot the ball and defend. How much it affects them, I don't know. I guess that's to be seen.
Q. Have you reached out to Coach Pitino, are you planning on seeing them play? Have you seen them in person since you played them your first year?
Q. How much does Wendell's personality drive this team? He seems like a guys that's not intimidated by anything.
So right now we're more than one entity right now, which is great. We've had games where early on every season you go through your ups and downs. And I think all of our guys have learned a lot of lessons this particular season and it seems to all be coming together at the right time, Wendell included.
With that being said, without him we're a totally different team. You lose Hernst, we're a totally different team. There's a few guys like that that we need everybody healthy and focused and tuned into the scouting report and what they need to do to get it done.
Q. Wendell was pretty much in here cracking up everybody more or less. Is that more or less typical?
He's a great kid. He's just really grown up since he came to University. I don't think he wanted to say boo and just kind of, dang, I have to talk to the media. He went all the way from there to, when is the next interview?
It's been a lot here just this past few days, though. I do think now he wants to just play ball and get out on the floor and get everything started.
Check back soon