Editor's Note: This week's interview is part of the weekly press conference. Questions were fielded from the Las Cruces Sun-News, Las Cruces Bulletin as well as bleedCrimson.net
Jason Groves: Grades are final and classes start Thursday is there any news on that front and injury-wise how are you for this weekend?
Marvin Menzies: Injury-wise we are good. Guys are a little bumped and bruised, we've got some back bruises and stuff like that but nothing that's going to keep guys out of competition. Renaldo is back after going through missing some practices and some game in trying to sort things out and deal with some personal issues. We sat and had a long talk and he's back with us practicing and will make the trip. We're happy to see that things are going well with him again.
Grades are fine, everybody should be fine. I'm not expecting any surprises. I think we're okay in that department.
JG: When did you speak with Renaldo and where his head is at?
MM: I spoke with him over the weekend. He's in a good place, he's always been in a good place, he just had some things he needed to work through and just some personal things that he had to deal with. Guys are happy to have him back, it's all good. It's a positive injection for sure in the way of depth, in the way of practice. He was sorely missed and it's good to have him back.
bleedCrimson.net: Where do you see him fitting into the rotation coming back?
MM: Any time you miss that amount of time, the famous words of 2Short out of Oakland, "You gotta get in where you fit in." He's gotta earn his stripes again so to speak but he knows the system, he hasn't been gone that long. He's just gotta get back in sync but he's not under punishment or anything like that. We're playing well right now and things are moving in the right direction. We've just gotta make sure that you keep moving in a forward direction and have him complement what we're doing right now. That's just a coaching decision to analyze that as it unfolds.
Jim Hilley: Do you anticipate sticking with a seven man rotation?
MM: You know, if we can avoid fouls, the road is a little different, wear and tear is a little different and fatigue is a little different so I'm not really sure to be honest with you. We may have to go a little deeper on the road but the guys that we have ready to roll I'm sure can step up. They'll be ready to answer the call and are salivating for an opportunity but we'll just wait and see what happens. Right now if it's not broke, as I said before, that's where you want to anticipate doing but there's always the opportunity to go a little deeper if you need to.
JG: You were tied in the first half against Utah State, you were down by two against Idaho and you just wore those two teams down. Can you do the same thing on the road? Obviously you'd like to lead the whole game.
MM: No, I understand what you're saying and I think that's the difference of being home and away. I think you can get away with it sometimes at home where on the road you might need to go a little deeper or you might have to change what you want to do a little bit strategically. We did that here. Obviously we didn't get up and full court press anybody and do a lot of those things that we had been doing earlier in the year. That's an option for us when you have a couple other guys available so we'll see how that change shakes out. I would anticipate we'll do some things a little bit differently.
bc.net: In the last four or five games your three point shooting defense, you've held all five of those teams under what their season averages were and also what their percentage of what their total score they get from the three point arc. Heading into conference play you were dead last in the league in three point field goal defense but in conference play you're in first place by 10 percentage points.
MM: It's a different season, different level of urgency, different level of intensity. When you come to conference and we've always emphasized three point shooting, challenging three point shooting defense and challenging shots but they're growing and they're getting better in that area. The teams that we faced just happened to be very good three point shooting teams so it was a major emphasis in the scouting report and the guys have done a better job of executing in those areas. With that being said, there's other areas where we haven't done as well so we've got to keep getting better in relation to those areas. We had the one good game against Utah State but we faltered against Idaho. Idaho did a good job of sagging and reading lanes but we still had a lot of unforced turnovers and there's a lot of room for growth which makes me feel optimistic that we can end up second half of conference and not just second half but right now going forward improving every game and that's the key. I've always said that any time you can get a lot of good stuff you can learn from and still get the 'W', that's the optimum coaching scenario because now you have a lot of room for growth and you still get the 'W' which at the end of the day is the most important stat of all.
bc.net: Were there any changes that you made from after the UNM game to make this more of an emphasis?
MM: Yeah there were. There were some specific things that we did a little bit differently in practice, strategically and in the scouting report and so forth. That's the ebbs and flows of a season. When a team does something really well against you, you've gotta make sure you tighten that up and UNM obviously had their best shooting performance of the year against us from the three point line and so you've gotta figure out why that happened. One, because they're good but two because we didn't do a good job defending them so we had to shore that up and fortunately the teams that we were facing right after UNM that shot the ball a lot and had high reps from the three which gave us the opportunity to keep working on it.
Teddy Feinberg: What about San Jose? You've always had success up there but they've been a thorn in the side up there.
MM: We've lost up there, I think we're 2-2 against them in the last two years. They're tough out there. We lost in overtime up there and they beat us the year before. It's the road in the WAC. It's just tough. It's tough competition. Coaches, you're going against coaches that have been there four or five years, the whole time I've been here. We're not going to do anything that spectacular, we may steal a possession or two but I know them, George knows us and now the kids, they go to war. There's something special about playing at home in college basketball and they're one of the teams in conference that does a very good job of it. You look at LA Tech, they got two losses but on paper those games probably shouldn't have been as close as they were, overtime against Idaho and four points against Utah State. It's home and you have to understand your approach to playing on the road has to be very business-like and it's not Wendell going home for a vacation to the Bay. No matter what anybody may think, I think his focus needs to be on point and he understands that. But he's also gone down there and gotten in foul trouble right away because of his passion and so you've gotta learn from your history and I think he's done that. Hopefully he'll have good focus when he goes down for this trip.
JG: Does the way you guys play physical, I think you wore down Utah State and Idaho, does that translate well to giving yourself a chance to win on the road?
MM: I think experience down the stretch of games is more critical in terms of your decision making. We didn't have a great game against Idaho, granted they caused us to play ugly at times. But when winning time came, we had really good defensive possessions and for the most part we took care of the ball in the last three or four minutes, which is when winning time usually occurs. That's where your pace of game, it comes down to a possession game and we did a pretty good job of that, having three seniors in there helps with that.
TF: UH looks like a dangerous team.
MM: They're good. UH has a big-time shooter and scorer in Zane Johnson and Joaquim, they've got talent, their freshman guard from back east is really good too and then they've got the senior too, local kid. They've got a lot of good pieces and they've got some experience. They're an admirable foe for sure and they've got a chance to compete for the WAC championship as well even though they dropped that game in Nevada. They had 'em, they had Nevada on the ropes. That shows you their talent level and what they're capable of. You've gotta worry about San Jose first but that'll be a tough game.
TF: I know every game counts but if you take care of business on the road this week you're sitting pretty coming back against a good team here. I know you don't want to look too far ahead but there is some truth to that.
MM: Yeah, you're right. We dream just like fans dream and speculate and project, "If we can get this one or we can get that one," you have those fan moments even as a coach. Obviously it would be really beneficial to get this sweep on the road and we've got talent to do it, it's just a matter of going out and doing it. Now, it wouldn't be the end of the world if we drop one either. Thinking ahead you've got to make sure your guys are focused on that one right in front of them. You can't win them all until you win the next one. We've gotta keep our eye on the target that's immediately in front of us which is San Jose and as soon as that one's over, we're already proactive in our scouting towards our preparation. We've already looked at Hawai'i and some of the things they do but we do that anyway, even if it was San Jose the second game, we would have looked at that and already practiced some of the things we were going to do so that the kids get it. We don't even talk about that Hawai'i does this, but we'll plan for it and we'll practice for it so that when we show them on that one-day turnaround on Friday, well then they already saw that on Monday and Tuesday. That's the way that you get it in their brain so that it's there.
bc.net: What have you seen different from San Jose State, obviously losing Adrian Oliver, you knew where the ball was going to go in crunch time if they needed a bucket. Who's that guy for them this year, what have they changed without having that prolific scorer?
MM: Well their system is still very similar but their style of play is obviously going to be more interior dominated with the way that Wil Carter is playing right now. I really liked him last year when I saw him, thought he would end up being a very good player in the WAC and I'm proving myself to be right because he's headed that direction right now. I would say that he would have to be the guy right now but they have other capable guys that can light it up in Shamburger and Kinney. They've got a few weapons that on any given night can get hot. So they're different in the sense that they're sharing it a little bit more and they're more system oriented this year rather than player oriented. Like last year, you knew Troy was going to get the ball and we're playing more as a team this year and then you look at last year, you knew Oliver was going to get the ball and now they're playing more as a team. If you have to make a comparison, that's what I'd say.
bc.net: You had a pretty decided advantage in the paint in the first three games, especially against Utah State but do you think that Hawai'i matches up a little bit bigger with your big guys?
MM: They may match up better. Their big is a different big than ours. He's a much more agile, up and under, Hakeem Olajuwan type player, that can really throw a lot of up and unders and pivots and our guys are not as mobile as he is. They have their strengths and he has different strengths. It's going to be interesting to see how that matchup unfolds, at the five spot especially. Luckily you play the game with five guys and we've got some other areas we've got to do a good job as well and it's not just on one position. But they will be a significant battle in the post with those guys. There's no doubt about it.
JG: It seems like Hernst and Mullings are just so much longer and athletic in the WAC, did you have a feeling that once you got to this point of the season that the schedule you played was going to have you ready?
MM: It was the strongest schedule in the conference and it's one of those deals where you hope it comes back to help you. We've done it before in the past and it's boded well for us going into conference but at the end of the day you've still got guys like Deonte Burton and Zane Johnson, there's guys there that can get it done. I think Deonte's a pro. He's an NBA player, he could be a lottery pick in a year or two and he's extremely athletic, talented offensive weapon that can sit down and guard people too. Right now to me, he's definitely a guy that matches up. Now when you start talking about tandems, then I think you could say we're right there in the mix of the conversation. That's why you play games and that's also where you have an opportunity to watch your freshmen turn into sophomores and so on and so forth. Mullings is playing really well right now.
JG: Mullings coming off of all those screens, it just seems like he did a great job for a freshman.
MM: You're looking at two teams that run some pretty efficient offense and to lock and trail guys and feed screens for 25 or 30 seconds for some possessions, that's impressive for a freshman to be able to do that.
TF: He's quick enough to outrun his mistakes too.
MM: And recover, right. His energy and his effort really helps his recovery time but he also gets a lot of help from his teammates. When we go out and challenge a three and we have a 'flyby' which is where you go by the guy, then other guys have been stepping up. There were two or three deep threes where somebody went flying at him and there was another guy right there quick to challenge the shot as well so it's been a team effort on how we've been stopping guys.
TF: I thought this past week, the last two games, it could really be a defining moment for your team. You guys played to your potential, there seemed to be a comfort level.
MM: A defining moment would be determined when some more moments happen. I think your observation is correct, especially if we continue to play well. Again, from the coaches perspective, it's all about today, we've got to have a great practice today. When we look up at the whole body of work and going into the WAC tournament, if we're sitting pretty, then you look back at that moment and say hey, that weekend at home was a pretty impressive turning point.
JH: A couple teams have thrown a 2-2-1 at you and it looked like it was designed to clog Wendell up.
MM: In the halfcourt, you mean the 1-2-2 zone, we've been hit with that a couple times, that's those teams' signature press both Idaho and Utah State, LA Tech ran it too as well. It's an attempt to play to their strength more than it's an attempt to take Wendell out of what he does because we were able to get Wendell some good looks out of that.