January 6, 2009

Princeton offense difficult to defend

MADISON, Wis. - With conference play in full swing, the Wisconsin men's basketball team is only one of two remaining teams without a blemish on its Big Ten record. After claiming wins at Michigan and at home against Penn State, UW has an opportunity to add another win when Northwestern comes to town tomorrow.

Following Monday's practice, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with assistant coach Howard Moore and discussed a variety of topics. The following is the transcript of the conversation:

With the first week of conference play in the books, did it go as according to planned? What did you learn from your team in the opening week?

Moore: We learned that we can be better defensively, I'll tell you that. The Michigan game we showed that we can get back to playing Wisconsin defense and we had a lot more examples of that in the Michigan game. Obviously in the Penn State game there were some different actions that we have to play against and we adjusted to it late. We made some mistakes (and) we made some good plays. But it shows that our guys are very resilient, they're able to make some winning plays when it comes down to it. Obviously getting off to a 2-0 start to the season is a great situation for us. Obviously us and Michigan State are the only ones that are able to do it in the first week. So we're pretty pleased about that, but we know we have a long ways to go. It's a marathon and we want to make sure we have our wind and we're ready to roll.

Just the way the Penn State game went, it was kind of a nail-biter and then when you look around the conference and a lot of teams are 1-1. Does that just speak to how good this conference is this season?

Moore: Oh it really does, it's good every year. It's amazing how the so-called experts say it's down, it's up, it's this, it's that, it's the Big Ten. You're going to have great coaching, you're going to have some very good execution in players that just want to go out and win and do it the right way. So, this year is no better than last year I think, it's just a matter of people adjusting and making sure that they're listening to their coaches. They want to do better each game they step out, so I think we just have to make sure we're taking it one game at a time as we always do. Obviously Northwestern brings another strong challenge, another improved team from top to bottom and we want to make sure that we're sharp and take care of business at home.

Would you say their offense is one of the toughest to defend in the league?

Moore: Well I think it is because of the tempo is something that you don't see every day with the Princeton offense and the Midwest. It's not a lot of teams in the Midwest that run it. As a high school player it's a big adjustment to guard those actions and the back doors and the reads. Every mistake you make, they make you pay. So you got to make sure you limit those mistakes and stay solid and make sure that you stay within the defensive principles.

With their Princeton shot clock and UW's swing offense, there is a lot of shot clock being used on each possession. Does that just raise the importance of each possession even more than in a higher tempo game?

Moore: No question about it. Every possession is important. You've got to make sure you take care of the basketball, low turnovers and get good shots, good shots at the rim. And make sure you play real sound defense. That's the only way you win these games.

Their guys are all getting older, Kevin Coble is a heck of a player, and some of their guards are older and more experienced. What have they done to have the success that they've had so far?

Moore: Well, I think they're just believing in coach Bill Carmody's system. It's a great system, it's worked obviously at Princeton and different places that the assistants have gone on to be head coaches. Coach Carmody, he's a great coach, he really knows what he wants and gets the most out of his players. Obviously they're trying to make sure that they get some more size and they've done that this year with Kyle Rowley and the other kids they've got coming in. They've done a good job with that. Obviously Juice Thompson and Craig Moore have been around a little bit and now Coble now being a veteran, they've got the pieces that they've been looking for to do what they want to do. It's going to be a great challenge for us.

Talking about Keaton Nankivil's progression so far, what have you seen from him to this point?

Moore: Well I think he's done well, he's obviously got room for improvement, we want him to make sure he understands what his role is. Obviously, first and foremost, to anchor our post defense and make sure our interior is secure and protect the rim. You know, sound rebounding on both ends of the floor, taking care of the basketball and knowing what we want to get out of each possession as well. So, I think he's trying to come along in those aspects and if he can continue to improve throughout the season, it just makes us a better team.

Those are the types of things that don't happen over night. Those take some time to develop.

Moore: It's gradual, it's gradual. But you want to see a gradual progression. You don't want to see a player get stagnant, you don't want to have them stay in one place running. You want to make sure that they're moving forward and becoming a better player every time they step on the court and I think Keaton has that potential and he's been doing that.

Just talking about the effect the bench has had on this team starting with Jon Leuer and moving all the way down not just offensively but defensively too. Tim Jarmusz comes in and does a great job and then the freshmen guards are doing a bang-up job as well. What have you been impressed with the most with the bench so far?

Moore: That they're hungry and they want to get better. They know they can help this team get better by making sure that the level of play is at least stable from when they were on the bench to start the game. Coming in you want to bring some more juice, some more fire. Obviously those guys understand that we want them to do that we want them to do that initially on the defensive end and we don't want to lose any of the intensity on that end of the floor. Offensively, to give us something that maybe they didn't see us doing before they got in so they all have an important role. Obviously the freshmen are learning everyday and trying to get better and they are doing that. Tim is a much-improved player from last year and has a better idea of what's expected of him and what coach wants to get done. Jon is a player who really can bring a lot to the table. Jon's got the ability to be a tremendous player for us on both ends. We've really been on him about rebounding and blocking out and making sure that he's more physical. He worked hard to put on 20 pounds, but now you have to put it in play and make sure that its not an issue for you to do those little things in basic fundamental situations.

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