Courtesy ASAP Sports
Q. What have you observed about New Mexico State in the time you've watched them on film?
CODY ZELLER: They're definitely very athletic. And there's a reason why they're in the NCAA tournament. They're definitely very athletic. They like to crash the boards. We're going to have to do a nice job of getting the defensive rebounds. They're definitely a very talented team.
Q. How does the Big Ten season and playing in that conference prepared you to play against a physical team like this?
JORDAN HULLS: Helped us out a lot playing against the Michigan States and Ohio States, all of the Big Ten is a very physical conference. It really got us ready for this game because New Mexico State, they play physical. They crash the boards a lot, so we've got to do a good job of boxing out.
Q. You've known for awhile you were going to be in the tournament. Can you talk about the reaction you've had from friends, fans, fellow students since the announcement was made on Sunday night that you guys were actually back in the tournament?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: We received a lot of support from our friends and family. They've been with us throughout the whole year. It's given them something to cheer for.
Q. I'm curious, have you all been able to get your family out here to Portland? I know that's always an issue with some guys. I know the NCAA probably ought to help family members get out here. Are all three of your family members coming out here?
CODY ZELLER: My parents are going to watch Tyler in Greensboro, because he's the favorite.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: My family is on their way out here right now.
JORDAN HULLS: My parents, my aunt, my cousin and my brother are coming.
Q. Can you talk about what you've seen from Wendell McKines so far, what stands out about that particular player?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: He does it all, he's like Draymond Green from Michigan State. He can shoot the ball well, he gets the offensive glass, and we've got to keep him off the glass.
Q. What's it been like for replacing Jones since he went down. What are the challenges of replacing him so far, what's that been like for you?
JORDAN HULLS: It's hard to replace him on our team. He's a senior. Been through all the ups and downs, one of the senior leaders on the team. We had guys on the bench who were fully capable of stepping up. We've had a great week of practice. It's tough to play without Verdell, but we're adjusting the way that we need to.
Q. You talked a little bit about Wendell McKines. Can you elaborate more on his physicality and rebounding, what you have to do to stop a player that moves so much and uses his muscles, so to say?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: The main thing is you have to limit the presses. We're going to crowd him a little bit, get into him. Make him ‑‑ keep him off the glass, always have a body on him.
Q. Beyond McKines, how are the other different ways that New Mexico State can hurt a team?
CODY ZELLER: They're very big. It starts with McKines, but all the way down the line. They're one of the tallest teams in the country. They get a ton of offensive rebounds. Like I said, we're going to have to do a nice job getting all the defensive rebounds, not only blocking out McKines, but the other four guys on the court always crash the boards hard, so that will be a big key.
Q. Maurice Creek has been a guy all season that as you made this run, he's watching from the sidelines. What impact has he played this season for you guys, as a player off the court and what's it been like for him, do you think?
JORDAN HULLS: I'm sure it's pretty difficult for him. Because he obviously wants to be out on the floor playing with us. He's been vocal off the court, whether it's calling out plays the other team is running or taking a guy's side for encouragement. He does different things off the floor that go unseen to the public, but as a team we all see it happening.
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: He's been a leader off the court more than anything.
Q. Looking at New Mexico State, they are No. 1 in free throw attempts in the country. How do you go into a match‑up like that to not play to their strengths and keep them out of the interior, and keeping out of foul trouble?
CODY ZELLER: Like you said, they get to the line a lot. We can't get in foul trouble. So we've got to do our work early, keep them out of the paint. Keep them off the boards. We played against some teams that get to the line quite a bit this year. We're going to have to do all the little things it takes to win.
Q. How do you temper the excitement of being in the NCAA tournament and keeping everybody kind of focused on what they have to do just with the next game?
JORDAN HULLS: Just approaching the game the same way we have all year, same mindset we've approached it, whether it's been practice or film sessions. We're definitely honored to be here, but once we get on the court we know it's game time and we've got to keep our heads level and focus on the details of the game.
Q. You guys have improved a lot on the boards and have been more physical this year, how much more fit do you guys feel to play a team that is this physical and this big this year as opposed to years in the past?
CHRISTIAN WATFORD: I think it helps a lot, especially with as physical, how teams are in the Big Ten. We've got to put a body on them. Me and Cody will be down there the majority of the time, but we've got to get all five guys in there helping us to rebound.
Q. As a follow‑up to my last question, have you seen everybody taking this with a kind of serious focus that they need to?
JORDAN HULLS: Yeah, definitely. Like I said, practices have been great this week, and mindset is great. We're trying to look at the film and all the different things that go on in practice. As long as we stay focused on those things we'll be able to do all right.
Q. Is this about rebounding, rebounding and rebounding?
COACH CREAN: I think so. But it's also about not fouling. They average so many free throw attempts. There's no question when you watch them on film that they do a great job of creating contact.
When you talk about being relentless on the backboards, we can talk about that with teams in our league, and when we start to look at Michigan State and Purdue and people of that nature, Ohio State, they take a backseat to nobody on that. They are sending three or four every time. And I think that's where they get a lot of their fouls is on second chance.
So their baskets off of offensive rebounds and their free throw attempts off of offensive rebounds have got to be as high as anybody we've seen. Verticality and making sure our positioning is right, all those things are crucial. And the rebounding and the fouling kind of go hand in hand.
Q. Now that they're out here in the building and getting ready to practice on the court, how do you keep them from being blinded by the glitter of the NCAA and focus on the next game?
COACH CREAN: I don't know that you spend a lot of time thinking about that. The best thing we did is get out here on Monday night. Practiced at home. We had all day yesterday. We've been in the gym today. We're going to get up and down the court a little bit today, so it's not just going to be go out and shoot a couple of shots.
I'm not real worried about that. These guys are honored to be here. You can see it. There's nobody that feels like they've arrived or that they're just happy to be here. There's nobody that's taking it lightly. And I think that's the way that this team has evolved over a period of time. They know what they've earned. They don't know what they're getting into. But the more we spend talking about that the more distracted they could be. And these guys have been great about understanding the atmosphere and the environment all year long. They've grown up watching the tournament.
If we spend a lot of time talking about all the what‑ifs, we'll get away from what has to happen.
Q. Can you talk about Wendell McKines. Your player talked about him that he's similar to Green. Is he also similar to Dominic Sutton, a guy you saw later in the year? Two guys that definitely go after the glass.
COACH CREAN: That's a good preparation. When that game moved and we started to look at how their season was evolving, we were able to talk about that. Every team you face this time of year when you get in the tournament, they're more than likely going to have a pro.
I don't think Wendell McKines takes a backseat to anyone. He's one of the better, undersized, but also undervalued forwards probably in the country. He can score. He can shoot the ball. When you look at his numbers over a four‑year period of time, incredible the rise that he has made statistically. You can tell he's a hard worker.
And he's somebody, you have to account for him every possession. Because what happens is when you lose a step on him, it's over. Whether it's a rebound, whether it's a drive to the rim, whether it's a post up.
But there again, like so many other good teams, they're far from just being a one‑person dominant team. When you've got a team that gets 30 free throw attempts a game, you've got an aggressive, relentless team. The way they rebound and defend.
What's impressive about them is they really look ‑‑ I don't know their players, but they have really good togetherness on the court. And it looks like they've got really solid leadership on that court. And I bet Wendell McKines has a lot to do with that.
Q. Three out of five returning stars from two years ago played in the NCAA tournament from New Mexico State and they took Michigan State to the last seconds. Are you concerned at all about some of that NCAA experience that those three particular senior starters have?
COACH CREAN: I'm sure that factors in. We're far more concerned about the team they have right now, and especially the way they played this past weekend. They are averaging over 17 offensive rebounds alone just this past weekend. They're a really, really good team.
Marvin Menzies is an excellent coach. He's always had great respect. He's always been ‑‑ didn't matter what coast you are, people know who Marvin Menzies is. And when you look at that team, you see a lot of improvement. I'm sure all those players from a couple of years ago are better, obviously.
We haven't spent a lot of time ‑‑ I've looked at that box score, but we haven't spent a lot of time looking at something that far away. I think this team is really good.
But we can't do anything about the lack of experience we have in the tournament. There's no way around it. What we have to do is we've got to go up there and go out and take advantage of the 33 games of experience that we have this year and do the very best we can with that.
Q. You talk about the offensive rebound and free throw attempts. Can you compare them to a team that relies ‑‑ they're not a great 3‑point shooting team. Seems like offensively they do two things really well.
COACH CREAN: I think they do more than that. Those are numbers that stand out with bright, neon lights. But I think they're a very good 3‑point shooting team. They don't have a lot of guys maybe that attempt them, but they come off the bench and they shoot the ball very well. And McKines and Laroche shoot the ball very well.
We're looking at that entire team, starting Sunday night, and we've just been hammering away. And our players have done an excellent job of trying to absorb all of it, especially since Monday. And we know we're playing a really good team. Who they've played, what conference, what seed, none of that has nothing to do with how good that team is that we're getting ready to see tomorrow.
We know what they're capable of, and the thing that ‑‑ they're very good defensively. They make it very hard for you to score. This team is bigger, in my mind, without seeing them in person, I mean, this is ‑‑ they're probably bigger than 50, 60 percent of the Big Ten teams we see. So they've got a big, solid team.
I've got two brother‑in‑laws in the NFL that would probably have a lot of interest in watching these guys with the size of body and the speed they have. They look like they're full of tight ends and defensive ends when you look at them. They're a big team.
We're more concerned about that than just the two major aspects of their team, because I don't think you get 26 wins by just having a couple of things that you're good at.
Q. You talked about staying out of foul trouble. Is there one game that you've played earlier this year, one or two games that you point to and say we need you to play like you did here?
COACH CREAN: No, I think those things make them overthink. It's about positioning, technique and awareness. Those are huge. And they've got to go together.
Michigan State is a team where when Draymond Green has it, when the shot goes up, you have to account for everybody on the court. Not all teams are like that. But New Mexico State is like that. You have to account for everyone.
The plus/minus of when Mullings is in the game alone right there is strong. Here's a guy that maybe doesn't take a ton of shots. And you look at him and maybe his numbers don't stand out maybe as much as some of the other ones, but when you watch him play and you see the aggressiveness of him, the way he drives it and gets it to the backboard, you know you've got to do a phenomenal job of keeping him off.
To me, I don't know if we can go back to games. I think there's a lot of games that give you the experience and the belief and the knowledge once you get into the game. But this is a game where, again, the position and the technique and the awareness have got to be outstanding.
Q. How does this road trip differ from others? I know it's an NCAA tournament, I want to hear from you how it differs. And what challenges it poses to a coach to keep your team focused?
COACH CREAN: First off, we don't leave Monday for Thursday games, but we also don't have to travel as far as we did. We're on spring break. If we were still in school we may not have left as early, we would have stayed in school another day.
But for this team right now, I mean, they've been great, they're mature. They've had a great opportunity to see Portland some, to do a couple of different things. They went to a movie last night. But again, it's been a pretty good dose of work, as well. And as a coach, I don't mind the rain. It keeps them in and they want to get into the film a little bit more.
Q. What have you done in Portland?
COACH CREAN: We're staying downtown. We have a great location at the Nines, so they can move around down there. We've gone out to eat different places. They went to "Act of Valor" last night. And then we'll pretty much shut it down after they eat tonight.
But we let them have an opportunity to kind of explore. But at the same time, they're getting a lot of rest. So it's fun to sit in the front of the bus and listen to them in the back of the bus. I may not know everything they're saying, but that laughter is universal. And those are the things that you really enjoy being a part of it.
And I think when it's all said and done, they'll remember where they went. They'll have experiences to think about, but it's the lasting, shared memories of something somebody said that was silly in the back of the bus or silly at breakfast. That's the stuff that really builds them, I think, when they come back years from now and reminisce about their time. And it's all part of that.
Q. Have you told Cody or the other two guys anything differently from this game in terms of trying to stay out of foul trouble?
COACH CREAN: Again, it's about position, technique and awareness. And we talk about those things all the time. We've got to have great verticality. They create contact. They jump into you. And we've got to have ‑‑ this is not a situation where we can get into a wrestling contest. That's not what we're looking for. And when you're coming from the Big Ten and you have to adjust to different types of officiating in the sense of is it going to be called close or tight, players make those adjustments. We come from a great league that has excellent officials. These guys have adjusted all year long.
We're not going to spend a lot of time putting doubts in their head. It's not about don't foul. It's more about move your feet, have verticality, be in position. We're trying to create positives by giving great reminders.
Q. I know that he can't play, but what role has Verdell played over the last couple of days, and what role tomorrow?
COACH CREAN: He's been unhealthy today. He's been under the weather. His attitude has been great. We didn't practice in Indianapolis, we walked through after the Penn State game. And we did a little bit on Sunday. And it was yesterday, a little bit on Monday, but definitely yesterday you could really realize he wasn't out there. He's got a presence. We've always known what he's capable of and especially the things that he's done this year, and the way he played.
We miss him. There's no way around it. He's a stabilizing force. He's grown up so much as a player, and was playing such excellent defense. He had a 7‑rebound game at Minnesota. Those are paramount things, especially when you're playing a team like this tomorrow.
In answer to your question, he's done a great job with the team, his spirits are excellent, not so good today when he's not feeling good, but I think he'll be good for Remy, he's been an excellent teammate. I haven't seen a change, and I think these guys have done a fantastic job of being his friend, being his teammate. There's nothing different. He's just sitting on the side right now. He's taking it in.
I was even asking him questions on Friday about the game, even like he was playing. I've done that a couple of times at practice and I plan to do it tomorrow. But these guys, they have a great bond. And I think most teams that get to this time of year they really have that. And our guys really don't take a backseat to anybody on that. And especially everything that everybody has been through and how roles have changed in our program. And those that cover us know they've really changed and they've grown.
To have the team be that close just says so much about the quality of the people and the program, the quality of the players. And that, as a coach, it's just an awesome feeling to have that.
Q. When he's sick, do you try to keep him away?
COACH CREAN: Yeah, we've taken care of that. We were born at night, not last night. We've got that, moving in that direction. We can't afford anybody else down, I know that.
Q. In your tenure in Indiana the road hasn't been exactly kind to you guys. But you got that under control near the end of the season. How much of that has been mental, and now you're playing as far away from home as you possibly can be, is that a roadblock that you guys are over?
COACH CREAN: We started out the season with two road wins, at Evansville and North Carolina State. So there's been some up and down. And we're 500 this year away from home. In respect to maybe some of the better teams in the country it's not as good. In respect to where we've been the last three years, it's tremendous.
So again, it's like anything else. These guys are a product of their experiences. I think everybody is getting adjusted. And again, I think coming out Monday was good for this team to get adjusted. I don't sense any cabin fever or anything like that. They're doing things and we're trying to occupy time, at the same time give them a lot of free time.
So we've just really stayed focused on getting ready to play another really good team. We're coming off neutral games, just like New Mexico is, like they played in Las Vegas this last weekend. They've got the advantage maybe in they don't have to deal much with the time change or being in a different locale in the sense of where they're at in the country. Tomorrow night it's not really going to make a difference. It's who adjusts, who makes the fewest mistakes, who pays attention to the details, all those things are going to be who determines who the winner is.
Q. Coach Menzies mentioned that their team is better than a typical mid‑major team, but not compared to a high major team. When you look at some of the teams in these bigger conferences, how does New Mexico State's size and athleticism compare?
COACH CREAN: First off, it's not about the conferences and it's not about the mid‑major, high major anymore. Like we told our team on Sunday, congratulations on 25 and 8. This was about 4:00. You've got two more hours of that. After this, everybody is in the same room. It's not just about being 0‑0. It's who can take advantage of their experiences the best.
I think New Mexico State has done a great job, just from really studying them the last few days, they don't take possessions off. They do not take opportunities to rebound off. They don't take opportunities to run the court off of a turnover or a rebound off. They move the ball. They've got some go‑to guys and everybody knows it.
And I think, again, they're a big team. I haven't broken it down to the size and weight, but I would put them for sure in the upper half, well into the upper half of size, strength, body types of what we would face in the Big Ten or maybe any other power conference.
There's nothing, quote, unquote, "mid‑major" that you see with them. They've got star power. They've got guys that stay in their roles. And a team that looks like high‑level tough guys. And I know their coach is really, really good.
Q. After the Kentucky game you were getting a ton of attention nationally. And after a tough stretch, some of the national media kind of overlooked you a little bit. Is there any part of you guys that are thinking about that role, that may have been overlooked a little bit, is any of that motivation at all?
COACH CREAN: I think that is. Back to the beginning of the year, it wasn't anybody that picked us to be here, let alone 4th seed, let alone winning 25 games.
I don't think outside expectations drive us. They're like anybody else, when they're doubted, when they're criticized, I'm sure they're going to take that to heart. We'll have our times we throw that out there. We'll have our times where somebody will say something and we'll use it.
But this team right now, they're in a place where they've just got to understand what makes them successful. And anything that's said in a good way, anything that's said in a bad way, that's going to have nothing absolutely to do with it at 6:40, 6:45, whatever time we tip.