Weekly Coach Menzies Interview :: 01/06/11 Conference play is starting and obviously your conference track record speaks for itself. Heading into conference play this year what are some things that you think your team is doing well heading into conference and what are some things that maybe concern you a little bit that you need to clean up?
Marvin Menzies: I think you can always be better both offensively and defensively. There's always things that you feel like with your talent you can do a better job. On the offensive side of the ball I feel like our timing on our screening is something we need to do a much better job of taking advantage of attacking what defenses give you. Our guys are still kind of recognizing how to take advantage of what is being given to us. On the defensive side of the ball, I think the biggest thing that we need to improve upon is our overall court awareness off the ball. We're guarding the ball pretty well for the most part but we've got to get our guys a little more alert and a little more urgent and ready to play on the weak side of the ball which lends to taking more charges and rotations. We started off doing pretty good with that, we've got to get that back. Your team had take a bit of a hit depth wise from the start of the season to now and at the beginning of the season, defensively you wanted to play an aggressive pressing style of defense and you felt you could do that because of the depth you had. Does the loss of that depth change that strategy a little bit?
MM: Yeah, I think obviously the depth isn't where it was at the beginning of the season but I still think we have enough to manage an aggressive style of play defensively. We might have to mix it up a little more, pick and choose our spots and maybe not go for a full 40 minutes, saving some of the starters' legs and things of that nature. But we can continue to do that style of play and maybe throw in a little more zone and throw in a few more looks but I still think we can achieve an aggressive defensive mindset whether we're in man or zone. Against Bakersfield you switched to the zone after they had hit three of their first four threes and then they only hit three the rest of the game. How important was the being able to stop a good three point shooting team considering that the WAC has some good three point shooting teams and some good three point shooters.
MM: Bakersfield was a tricky animal. They have six guys that could really shoot it. The zone typically wouldn't be a good defense against them when they're shooting the ball well but we felt like we need to give them a different look at the time because we were in man when they were hot and when we settled in and could identify shooters, even though they had five or six guys that could shoot it, they typically only had two or three guys on the floor at a time and we were able to get to those guys a little quicker and identify and chase them a little bit out of the zone whereas in man sometimes you can lose a guy based on the offensive set that's being run. I think it's a useful tool to be able to switch up and in conference I think it's going to bode well for us to be able to do that based off our length and athleticism. I think the zone could still be an attribute that we want to use in our arsenal along with our man-to-man. Daniel Mullings had a breakout game against Bakersfield and I thought it was reminiscent of the breakout game that Jahmar Young had at Boise State in your first year where he had been playing some minutes but when he got a chance to play a full game he broke out and it seemed like what Daniel was able to do. Yeah, you know Daniel is obviously a very talented young man and he had more minutes and more of an opportunity and took advantage of it. He's a very skilled offensive player, he's raw but he's skilled in that he has great offensive instincts. He was in a comfort zone based on his minutes and was able to get in that zone and be aggressive when they were overplaying him or climbing into him, he was able to go to his strengths and get on attack mode which is what he did and it worked out well for us and him. You take on LA Tech on Saturday. They've got a first year head coach and they really like to play an up-tempo type of game and they've found a player to build their team around in Raheem Appleby.
MM: Appleby is a very good player, he's a very good freshman much like Daniel, he can score the ball and he's given a lot of green lights and a lot of opportunities, he's taken the most shots on the team and a very good percent from the three. He's really the future of that program or at least it appears that way now. He's got some good pieces around him and Coach [White] has them playing a very aggressive style of play which is very different than what the Bulldogs played like in prior years where they were a little more set oriented. I think now they're much more aggressive defensively and they'll still run some sets but they will take advantage of the fast break opportunities when they're given to them. With two fewer games in the conference schedule this season, have you talked to your team about the importance of taking one game at a time and not looking ahead because there is a smaller margin for error?
MM: Yeah, we've talked about it. It's a tricky conference season because you have a lot of opportunities for upsets based off the parity and you've got six teams that are I think capable of beating anybody any given night and you've got a couple others that can get hot and do the same thing on their home court. The road is going to be the key. You've got to take care of the road and try to do the best you can to try to steal some games on the road because in conference typically the road games are the tough ones, just like in non-conference but even moreso in conference because of the urgency to try and win a championship. We're not going to have a bunch of at-large bids in our conference and so the conference play is heightened by that and along with that you talk about the ability to take care of the home court on the flip side. All those things come back down to the biggest game of the season being the game in front of you which is for us right now, LA Tech. We've got to approach this as though this is the conference championship in terms of our preparation, mental preparation, in terms of our mental toughness during winning time. They have to be put under a microscope and really be adhered to more than normal. You talked a little bit about how important the road is going to be and your team has been good on the road this year and you've played a lot on the road this year. How beneficial is that going to be as you get into conference play?
MM: You would hope that it would give you an advantage and it has in years past. We've had tough battles on the road and we've been battle tested every year I've been here in the non-conference. This year we've been better than we have in the past but it's still got to carry over to preparing us for the conference which is what we're starting this weekend. We've got a situation where all the lessons that you learned in the non-conference now are really put to the test. That's where we're at and we've got to do a good job.