Yesterday, there was that Greg McDermott press conference about the future of his program. After the smoke had cleared, McDermott got to talk about Iowa State’s opponent in first round of the Big 12 Tournament, the Texas Longhorns. Here’s what the coach had to say in Q&A form.
How has the attitude and the feel around the team changed since the Kansas State win? Do the players have a little more confidence?
GM: I think so. We had a walkthrough in practice this morning and there was good energy. I made this comment after the game. What some people lose site of is that the teams that lose over the course of the season, invest every bit as much as the teams that win. Only, it is much harder for the teams that lose to get up the next morning and do it again. Our guys have done that. It was so gratifying to be in that locker room and see them celebrate with a smile on their face again. They have been rewarded for the fact that they have stuck with one another. I think that gives us some confidence going into the Big 12 Tournament that we probably wouldn’t have had without that victory because we had been close the last five or six but haven’t been able to punch that ticket except for two games against Nebraska and Kansas State. They have remained confident and we’ve gone into every game believing that we could win.
The last time you met Texas, they were the top ranked team in America. What has changed about that squad?
GM: The biggest thing that has changed in the last six games is the injury to Dogus Balbay. People don’t understand, when you lose an important part of your team, how that impacts everything. It has a huge impact. Balbay was playing the majority of the minutes at point guard for them and now they are using Mason there some. They are using Brown there some. Those are two guys who when we played them, weren’t playing many minutes at that position. Coach Barnes has had to retool what he is doing in his lineup. I think that is a confidence thing. They had a swagger about them when they were here. They were 16-0 or 17-0 and ranked number one. When you lose a few, you are going to lose part of that swagger. I think that obviously they are still a very talented team. They are the same guys in the same uniforms that we saw come in here, minus Balbay. I think that the start of the game in that regard is very important to us and that we are able to punch them in the mouth first, before it happens to us.
I think that Diante Garrett is the reason that you beat Kansas State. What clicked for him?
GM: Diante managed the game very well, against some pretty high-pressure defense. Unfortunately sometimes, you are judged by whether your shot does go in or doesn’t go in. Diante drives in the lane late in the game and throws it high off the glass and it goes in. If it doesn’t go in, everybody is talking about what a terrible decision he made to go to the basket. Sometimes things bounce your way and sometimes they don’t. What I liked about Diante’s game are the decisions that he made. He picked the right times to go to the basket and the right times to pitch the basketball and the right times to dump it to Craig or Ham as they were dumping to the basket. He just made the right reads and I think that the more you are in that situation, the more comfortable you are going to become with that. His leadership on the floor, especially when Craig fouled out, was remarkable. That is what you would expect from someone who has been in your program for a few years.
How is your team approaching the tournament?
GM: We certainly aren’t talking about the struggles that we have had. We are going to talk about the good things that we have done and in particular, the 45 minutes of good basketball that we played in Manhattan, in which we led all but six or seven of them. It wasn’t like we come from nowhere to hit a bunch of threes and win that game. It was a game that we controlled for most of the game. Those are the things that we are going to attempt to build on as well get ready for Wednesday.
Texas really played some pressure defense against you guys the first time you met. How do you react to that better this time around?
GM: The problems were early in the second half. I believe that we led at halftime or were tied at halftime. They went on a run to start the second half with some full-court pressure. Just some really foolish reads on our part that we will take a hard look at and make sure that when the guys see them again, that there is a way to play against that pressure. In some ways, playing against Kansas State right before you play Texas, that’s a good team to play against because you see a lot of the same pressure. Sometimes it is hard to make a pass to get you into your offense. Double-teams are coming and you have to read the floor to find out who is open and who to attack. We did a good job of attacking against Kansas State when they brought the pressure. That is something that we’ll need to do against Texas as well.
Will any changes be made regarding how you defend Damion James?
GM: We need to defend him better. He hit a couple of huge 3-point shots against us the first time and obviously, you have to respect that part of the game. I just think that a critical piece of the game is to get those guys off of the backboards. He and Pittman and Gary Johnson are so aggressive going to the offensive glass that, I think that is where they can really turn the tables on you, if you allow that to happen. We were able to for the most part, keep a really good Kansas State team off of the backboards. That is something that will need to happen on Wednesday as well.