Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery and Baylor Coach Scott Drew participated in teleconferences this morning to preview Thursday’s NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden. Here is what they said:
Can you give us a comment about last night’s game and the matchup against Baylor.
COACH McCAFFERY: I think the important thing last night was the start we got off to. I thought Roy Devyn Marble was spectacular. I thought Adam Woodbury had a great game defensively against Alex Len. We spread our offense out, which has been consistent with how we’ve played all year. We had a lot of guys contribute.
I was just thrilled with the victory over a phenomenal and incredibly well‑coached Maryland team.
Obviously we recognize the challenge ahead of us with Scott Drew’s Baylor club. Pierre Jackson, as good as any guard I’ve seen on film all year long. They have a lot of other weapons as well.
We’re just excited for the opportunity to play in the championship game.
THE MODERATOR: At this time we’ll open it up for questions from the media.
Q. Coach, can you just talk a little bit more about what Marble has meant to your team and all the things he does for you guys.
COACH McCAFFERY: The impressive thing about Dev is he’s got tremendous pace to his game. He’s got tremendous size for either guard position. Obviously he starts for us at point. He’s almost 6’7″. He can get his own shot. He can post up. We move him off the ball. We did that a lot last night at the point.
He’s a guy who is a scorer, but he doesn’t hunt shots. He’s not a volume shooter. He’s a very efficient, very unselfish player. I think the rest of our team feeds off his unselfishness.
Q. Fran, you were speaking a little bit earlier about some of the things you’ve seen with Pierre so far this season. Could you elaborate a little bit further and also to some of the other collection of players that Baylor has on the team.
COACH McCAFFERY: Well, Jackson, he’s a guy that you look at, and very rarely do you have someone who averages 20 points and has 250 assists. You don’t see those kind of staggering numbers.
You think about him as a guy obviously who is tough in ball screens, scores the ball. He’s got a three‑point shooting ability, got a pull‑up game. I think the thing that impresses me the most is how quickly he gets rid of the ball, whether it’s in transition, as soon as he recognizes where the help comes from, he loads the guy up.
They’ve got tremendous length. Jefferson is really a tremendous post player. He’s got a versatile game. They’ve got shooters, they’ve got drivers, they’ve got depth. Austin is a guy that presents problems for you with his length. How many 7‑footers go out and make threes? So they got you stretched out. Heslip is a guy that stretches the defense, as well.
Walton, Franklin, they drive the ball. They can get in the lane. They can play fast. They can play controlled if they have to. They play fast, but they don’t play nuts. They share the ball.
I think when you prepare for a team like this, and you would expect it when you’re playing in a championship of this caliber, that you look for the chinks in the armor, and there’s not a lot. They’ve got so many different weapons that we have to prepare for.
Q. Can you talk about how well your defense has played this year. Looks like the stats are just really good across the board.
COACH McCAFFERY: Well, the defense has been the key to our team this year, without question. Quite honestly, it was the focal point in the off‑season last year because we were really deficient in that area last year.
We won 18 games primarily outscoring people. We were fortunate Matt Gatens had a phenomenal year offensively because we didn’t stop people. We felt like if we were going to get better, win more games, be more competitive in our league, to be able to do something like we’re doing now, we had to guard people.
I’m most impressed with the fact that we stayed true to that focus.
I think one of the things that’s helped is we’re substantially deeper, so I’m able to rotate guys, have fresher bodies out there. But it’s been a committed effort across the board both in the post, on the perimeter, at the point of attack.
It’s been a very enjoyable ride to see these guys really dig down and stay in their stance and guard people, especially with the kind of schedule that we play.
Q. You mentioned the schedule. Y’all had a bunch of tough, close losses. You turned it around and won 11 out of the last 14. How have y’all done that, do you think?
COACH McCAFFERY: Well, the impressive thing with our guys is you look back to those losses, and a good number of those were on the road. The way the schedule broke, we lost at Wisconsin in double overtime, lost at Purdue in overtime, lost at Minnesota. We were up 2 with 12 seconds, Austin shoots a three. We lost at Nebraska, they hit a three. We didn’t get the job done on the road, but we had some tough road losses.
What we had to do was bear down and come back and keep believing that, hey, we played well enough to win. So we played well enough to win. If we just do a few more things, then we can win.
We got on a little roll at home and we had a big road win at Penn State. That was a close ballgame. We got a win in the Big Ten tournament. We got some wins here in the NIT.
The thing that I think was indicative of how far we’ve come was the road win obviously at Virginia, to get a signature win like that, come into Madison Square Garden, beat a good Maryland team, shows you how far we’ve come.
Q. I’m sure you saw what happened at Rutgers the last couple days. I wanted to ask you, have you ever heard of other coaches who use that style, not necessarily to name anybody, but is that something you’ve known other coaches do? Is that maybe more widespread than we think it is?
COACH McCAFFERY: There are different ways to do it. There are different coaching styles. I haven’t seen that one, to be honest with you.
Q. That’s not something that’s whispered around that somebody is particularly abusive, only can motivate his guys by yelling at them?
COACH McCAFFERY: I think there’s a lot of guys that yell and believe that’s the way to do it. I yell, but I’m not a big yeller. I don’t yell all the time. I prefer to speak most of the time as I’m speaking to you. My job is to teach and to coach.
Occasionally through a long season you got to motivate, you got to get into somebody. You got a guy that’s losing concentration, you got a guy who is maybe not giving you effort. I challenge effort and concentration.
You recruit the right guys, typically they’ll give you everything they’ve got. I don’t expect perfection, it’s not a game of perfect. I don’t expect that, but I expect full effort.
In terms of some of the stuff you’re referring to, I think that’s a little different. That would be difficult to take, I think.
Coach Drew, start us off with an opening statement about last night’s game and tomorrow’s match-up against Iowa.
COACH DREW: I know our team is really excited and really honored to be playing in such a prestigious championship. This time of year there’s only two teams that go home happy, that’s the NCAA champ and the NIT champ. We’re hoping we can be one of those two happy teams.
THE MODERATOR: At this time if we could open it up for questions.
Q. Scott, your regular season ended with some disappointment. Could you talk about the team, how the team has changed during the course of the NIT?
COACH DREW: Talking with the coaches that were here at the banquet the other day, it was amazing with a team like each of us had, our bubble had burst, the freedom that maybe our guys just not feeling all that pressure, it seemed like each of our teams have played a lot better.
I think when you feel pressure, you feel the tightness of the moment, a lot of time your shot is what’s affected. Making free throws, making jumpers makes us a lot better team. I think each one of our teams have all played better. We’re down to two now.
I think if you look at our assist‑to‑turnover ratio, it’s been very good since we’ve been in the NIT tournament. Our shot selection has been good. We’ve made shots.
This year with our close games, I think we were 2‑8 or something with games decided by 5 or less. The common denominator we came up with when we shot over 70% from the free‑throw line, we won, and when we shot in the 50s and 60s, we lost. A lot of times it can be that simple.
You look at Iowa, who we play tomorrow, they lost a ton of close games against caliber teams like Indiana by 4 points, Michigan by 3 points, Wisconsin in double overtime by 4 points. A lot of times the little things like free throws decide those games during the regular season which show you which tournament you end up playing.
Q. Would you agree that Pierre and Devyn Marble were kind of the straws that stirred the drink for the respective teams?
COACH DREW: I have not seen enough of Iowa to know if Marble means as much as Pierre does for us. I know Pierre is the straw that stirs our drink. From the one game I’ve seen of Iowa so far, I would concur with you. After I watch four or five more games, I can maybe concur with you on that.
At the end of the season point guard play is so important, especially upperclassmen point guard. You have Pierre, A.J. that are seniors. They don’t want any of the games to be their last game, have stepped up their play and been phenomenal.
Q. Scott, can you tell me a little bit about what you see from Iowa, what you feel like their strengths are.
COACH DREW: I know statistically defensively they’ll be as good as anyone we played this year. We’ve played some great ones, Kansas comes to mind right away. But all season long they’ve held their opponents for the season under 30% from three, 38% from the field. I think they do a tremendous job in contesting shots, being very physical, making sure you don’t get easy buckets.
On the offensive end they do a good job taking care of the ball, making sure they get shots without getting a lot of turnovers. Physically they do a good job on the boards with rebounding.
I think it’s one of those games, from what I saw in one game I watched so far, I would expect it to be a very physical game. Probably come down to who takes care of the ball and doesn’t get the other one easy ones in transition.
Q. Can you also talk about how Cory has been playing in this NIT.
COACH DREW: Cory has been outstanding, starting with the Kansas game. From there on out he’s really been on a roll. Cory has had some great games during the season, but his consistency level has gone to another point in the NIT.
I think as a coaching staff we just try to get him the ball more and more because he’s been so efficient. He doesn’t take bad shots. When he gets the ball, if he’s not in a good position, he’s going to move it, not force things.
But he’s been outstanding, as good as any player in the post‑season in the NIT.
Q. Scott, would it mean something for your program to be able to go out and win this thing? No other Big 12 team’s alive either in the men’s or women’s basketball tournament right now. What would that mean to be able to finish this off and bring home the title to Waco?
COACH DREW: I think first and foremost, we haven’t won a NIT championship or NCAA championship at Baylor, so that would be outstanding. In the Big 12 we haven’t won an NIT championship. We’d love to do that.
I think there’s only two teams that can win the championship and be happy, with the NCAA as far as all summer long, the carryover, just talking about our team about not many people have an opportunity to be in a championship game.
We did that in ’09, had a great run. We got to watch Penn State celebrate afterwards. I know we’ve been focused. We’ve been making sure that everything we’ve done is to try to bring home a championship.
I think it would give us great momentum for our program and also a great way to represent our conference and Baylor University.
Q. Scott, points off turnovers, 27‑2 Iowa had. You talked a little bit about how your assist‑to‑turnover ratio has been. How key will that be to keep the ball and keep them from getting transition points like that?
COACH DREW: You hit the nail on the head. That’s why early on I said that, because Iowa is so good in the halfcourt defensively.
I think with us, you’re not going to win games in the NIT or NCAA if you’re not taking care of the ball. Against Providence we had five turnovers. Last night seven turnovers. First and foremost we need to take care of it because good teams are going to punish you on the other end by getting easy buckets.
We need to continue doing what we’ve done, which is being very fundamentally sound with the basketball. Then hopefully we can get in transition as well because their halfcourt defense is tough.
Q. Scott, how much carryover can there be from an experience like this moving forward to next season?
COACH DREW: Well, the last time we went to the NIT championship, the next year we went to the Elite 8. I don’t know if we can guarantee that kind of carryover every year, but that was pretty good.
I think playing in post‑season, especially for your younger kids, gives them the confidence and allows them to continue to improve and grow as a player and prepares them for the next time they’re in post‑season.
I know with our underclassmen, in the NIT, going to the two Elite 8s, that really paid dividends. They were able to perform at a higher level. They expected more out of themselves because that experience they garnered from making it all the way to the championship game in the NIT.
Q. Scott, Pierre seems to have followed what he’s done basically all season, maybe taking it up watching the last five or six minutes of last night. He’s a senior. How has this been as far as a punctuation over the course of his career?
COACH DREW: I think Pierre came in from Southern Idaho winning a national championship, being the national junior college player of the year. Making it last year to the Elite 8, the bigger the moment, the bigger the stage, he’s always performed at his highest level.
We needed him to play like he’s done to get us to where we are now. I mean, if you look at the Providence game, for example, 13 assists, zero turnovers. You look at Arizona State, 26 points, 16 assists, breaking the NIT, which has been around since 1938. When you’re talking about the best point guards in the country, his name has to be in that mix. We are biased, wouldn’t trade him for anybody. He’s really played at a high level.
I think if we can win this championship, I mean, how many kids go win an NIT championship? So that would be a great way for him to go out.
Q. Obviously you were very disappointed by how that game at Kansas State ended. You had the opportunity to pick things back up. Talk about the resiliency this team has shown after the way the regular season finished up.
COACH DREW: Well, I think you look at it, first four out, last four in for a couple weeks there. You lose the Kansas State game, you lose the Oklahoma State game at the buzzer. The Big 12 tournament was a heartbreaker, to come back like we did in the second half, give yourself a chance to tie the game and go to overtime, then lose at the end.
So this team, to regroup, refocus for the NIT, hats go off to the NCAA committee because they really do a great job in making this a first‑class event, something that the players will remember the rest of their lives.
I know our old team that made it to the championship game, the memories of their careers all start with the NIT championship just because they really do a great job.
I know when the brackets came out, we saw all the great teams in the NIT, it was easy to refocus our guys’ attention. But at the end of the day, coaches are only a voice. The peer pressure for 18‑ to 22‑year‑olds is far greater. The leaders, upperclassmen in the locker room, are the ones that really got everybody going, fired up, excited, wanted to make sure that they didn’t go out not giving their all and putting themselves in position to make it to New York and possibly win a championship.
The upperclassmen really, really did a great job.
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