Got back from Big East Media Day Wednesday night with plenty to talk about. For guys like me who just do writing on the side, this type of event was a great experience, as I got to meet several Big East coaches and hear their thoughts on the upcoming season. A few other familiar faces were there as well, including Jay Williams, Gene Keady, and Bill Raftery. Before I get into the MU discussion, a few other points to note:
- Every coach, whether or not this was scripted, was very high on Steve Lavin. I got the opinion of a few of the coaches on his plan to recruit nationally instead of locally, and each said they had no doubt he will do a great job recruiting at St. John's. Sure it sounds scripted, but I have to think there's some weight to it. Plenty of Big East coaches already recruit the NYC Metro area very heavily, so I think Lavin is trying to go a different route and get players to come to the big stage rather than stay in the big stage. Should be interesting to see how the program progresses, I have no doubts they'll be much better in 2-3 years.
- Pittsburgh is going to be DANGEROUS. Every coach talked about how great they are and how they're the team to beat. They've got solid talent up and down the roster and a coach who's on his way to being in the hall of fame some day. Just what I needed to hear.
- Bob Huggins was the best dressed, sporting a black pinstripe, three piece double-breasted suit. Sorry Jay Wright, even Jack Nicklaus took second place once in a while.
Now onto the important stuff. I got to talk to Buzz for about an hour and learned quite a bit about the upcoming season. Some of the bullet points below were for questions I asked, some from other reporters, but here's what I gathered about the season at hand:
- Defense across the board needs to improve. In particular, field goal defense. Buzz noted that while MU had great defense on the first field goal attempted of an opponent's possession, they were poor on second and third field goal defensive attempts. To me that sounds like a size issue, in that we're not getting enough defensive boards. Hopefully our added size inside this year will help solve that.
- I asked how he prepares the team mentally for all the close games (I think they had about 263 games decided by 5 points or less last season. Maybe it was 264). He said that everything they do from October on prepares the team for those games. The intensity of practices, repetition, everything.
- Vander Blue has looked great so far. He comes ready to work hard every practice, plays great defense, and wants to improve his game. Nothing to complain about there.
- Main strength and weakness: Weakness was defense as noted above. Buzz said he's hoping their strength is their depth. I'm hoping he's right.
- Otule looks as good as he ever has. That isn't saying much given the injury woes of last season, but it's promising.
- Davante Gardner still looks and acts like a freshman. OK, so he can get used to life in college basketball this year. We'll check back next year for real improvement.
- I asked if the increased size as a team would affect their mix of zone and man-to-man plays on defense. Buzz said not really, but it might lead to one or two more zone looks per game.
- The biggest surprise to him since he started coaching in the Big East has been the lack of margin for error. He said that in the 41 games he's coached in the Big East, total game margin has been 3.9 points.
- The toughest places to play in the Big East are West Virginia (because the fans talk like him) and Syracuse.
- I asked about shot selection and if MU would take as many 3's as they have in the last couple years. He said the key is to force rotation on the defense which creates open shots. Whether it's a 3 or a 2-pointer doesn't matter. Agreed. Enough said.
- On the topic of what he's learned to do differently in the last 2 years, he said to take better care of himself. Given his intensity and devotion as a coach, he's going to need a lot of luck with that.
- Jay Williams asked him how Marquette manages to fly under the radar year in and year out and surprise everyone. Buzz's response: "Without sounding conceited, that's just how we roll." Nice Buzz.
- 2 more stats. Since Buzz is big on stats, I asked what stats in particular he's looking for the team to improve on this year. He said getting 2 or 3 more defensive stops per game. Again, hoping the added size in the roster will force a couple more defensive boards and blocked shots to fuel that. He also said that in his first year of coaching there were 18 total years of Marquette playing experience on the roster. His second year there were 12 years. This year there are 9 years. Let's hope we grow up fast.
- When asked what the hardest part about being a D-1 coach is, he said "Trying to be the husband and father God intended me to be." Good answer Buzz. I hope Corey was listening.
Buzz was Joined by Robert Frozena, Dwight Buycks, and Joe Fulce at the table. I didn't talk much basketball with them, but I asked who they thought had the best mindset of the newcomers on the team. The unanimous vote was for Jae Crowder. Good to hear, especially since I think he'll have a starting roll very quickly on this squad.
Again, many thanks to Volvo for sending me out there. Got to meet a few of the Volvo reps at the event and they're very excited about being the official car of the Big East. After hearing everything Buzz had to say, I'm feeling pretty good about the upcoming season. The coaches picked MU to finish 8th in the conference this year, but I'm looking forward to us finishing much better than that. Get excited everyone, we're only two weeks away from another season of college basketball.