Prior to Marquette Game
Dec. 15, 2004
With Marquette, we’re going to have, maybe, our most difficult challenge of this year. They are 9-0. They defend very well. Opponents have shot 38 percent from the field, so they really get after you defensively. They really did a great job against us last year.
They force a lot of errors on people with their defense. They are primarily a man-to-man team. They played man-to-man the entire game against Wisconsin (Dec. 11) in their most recent win, but they have also played a 1-2-2 match-up at different times, so we expect that will be something that will be used against us. The more we can face that, the better off we will be in league play.
They have a great guard in Travis Diener. I think he may be as good a point guard as there is in the country. He doesn’t get the publicity that other guys get, but he is a great shooter...almost 90 percent from the line and 46.3 percent from three-point (range). He gives the ball up well, as you can see by his number of assists. He has more than three times what anyone else on the team. He is very quick. He reminds me of a lot of Luke Ridnour of Oregon. He gets the ball down court very quickly and goes left and right equally as well. He does a good job of creating space to get his shot off by fading back against bigger people. He’s even a better shooter than Ridnour was.
They are very aggressive to the offensive board as a team. You can see that from the stats. They have an outstanding perimeter in Steve Novak, who is 6-foot-10, and shoots the three-pointer at 56 percent and is 86 percent from the line. He’s a difficult match-up because at 6-foot-10 if you try to guard him with a smaller, quicker guy, they get him inside and post him up to use his size advantage.
They have good, solid depth. I don’t see any real weaknesses with this team. It’s going to be a wild day with the game being a television game (ESPN2). It will be a great opportunity for us to play in a tough place against a really good team.
What do they do so well to get Diener and Novak open?
Well, they do a lot of on-the-ball screens. Their big guys will set on-ball screens with the perimeter guys, and if you switch it, you have a big guy on a little guy and a little guy on a big guy. That will be one of our challenges. We have to keep them off the offensive boards. We have to keep Diener from getting open court opportunities. They are very disciplined. They do a nice job of working to get open.
(Novak) will start at the three spot and sometimes they will move him inside to the four. The way he shoots it, it (reminds me) of Amit Tamir from Cal. You just can’t give him a look. At 6-foot-10, that’s a tough assignment.
You’ve never shied away from playing a tough schedule. Talk a bit about traveling 6,100 miles for these road games. How does that help you?
Frequent flier miles (laughs). We set it us in such a way that, one, we like to get a game on the east coast so that our players get the opportunity to be seen out there. We like to play in big arenas that will be similar to what you’d face in the NCAA Tournament, and we did that at The Pond and Madison Square Garden. We like to play good teams on their home court.
The one thing that we haven’t had yet is a couple games where there is an opportunity for the younger guys to get some minutes. We certainly won’t be getting that opportunity on Saturday.
It’s hard when you are coming in and the game is over. It’s not like playing when there is a little pressure on them and you can tell how they are going to respond. It’s also difficult if you are in for three minute and out. You really don’t get into the rhythm of the game.
Can you talk about Mustafa (Shakur) and his play to this point?
He is very quick and he is long. From a steals standpoint, there is no reason that I can think of that he shouldn’t be challenging steal records like Jason Terry. But I think that Mustafa should be someone that could challenge or beat that record depending on how long he is here.
He does a good job of finding the open man. Right now, we’d like to see him not penetrate as deeply as he does on occasion. He’s a very good board man. His leadership has really stepped up, so I think he’s making great progress. Because he started every game last year, you think of him as a veteran, but this is just the start of his sophomore year.
He’s obviously changed his shooting stroke quite a bit, but that’s not reflected in the numbers:
I think that it’s just a matter of time. He worked very hard on his shot. We’re getting good rotation, good lift and good arc on his shot. He’ll be fine as a shooter.
Could you talk about Bret Brielmaier and what he brings to the team?
Bret works very, very hard. He is very sound fundamentally. He is very bright. He does a really good job. There isn’t a point of the game where I wouldn’t feel comfortable with him because he’s not going to make silly mistakes. He checks out well on the glass. He’ll work very hard defensively. Offensively, he knows his role.
We have one unused scholarship and we’re going to put him on scholarship for the second semester. He’s impressed everybody, coaches and players alike, with his play. He knows his role and knows what his job is, and the job is to go in and defend like crazy and not make mistakes.
What are your thoughts on Rick Majerus taking the USC job?
Well, they’ve gotten a high-visibility guy. He is obviously a good coach who did a good job of building that program at Utah. He’ll make it difficult with recruiting in Southern California.
In a situation like that, how do you feel for Jim Saia and the current USC staff?
I think that Jim was pleased to land on his feet and have the opportunity to get back into it at USC. I don’t know what Rick will do, but I think that Jim is more salable now as an assistant coach than he was before he took over. It’s always tough when you are the interim, but I think the circumstances are such that he is very happy that he has the opportunity.