Big ‘birthday’ coming up for me

Next Tuesday I’ll be celebrating one of those “best-days-of-the-rest-of-your-life” moments.
I’ve even come to look upon Oct. 27 as my second birthday. That’s the day I had my aortic valve replaced after I had grown concerned about some angina issues and learned I had a birth defect.
At the age of 60, mind you.
Being married to a nurse had made me promise her I would never ignore chest pains, even something as insignificant as indigestion. It explains how I ended up having my gall bladder removed nearly 14 years ago (at least I think it was that long ago).
Anyway, I had never had a problem with stamina until last summer while cutting grass on a hot day, and even then it was only as I was nearly done. But then it hit me when I was walking to the stadium in Bloomington for a Maryland football game at the end of September, lugging a 30-35 pound bag packed with a laptop, media guide, digital recorders, notebooks and assorted accessories.
Since sports writers don’t qualify as big-spending boosters, I had been parked in the back of the lot, but the walk still was only about a half mile. Yet there I was stopping to catch my breath.
The last time that had happened was having to walk up the steep hill from press parking to the stadium at Clemson. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of as dozens of my sports writing comrades will attest.
Understand, I had played college soccer, coached soccer for 25 years while frequently scrimmaging with my teenage players, and had spent the past couple of decades working 50-60 hours a week while still getting in workouts at the gym. OK, maybe not as often as I should have.
Still, I’ve always handled work-related stress as well as anyone. And trust me, this job comes loaded with it.
But I didn’t know what stress was until Drs. Starrett and Wagmeister double-teamed me with the bad news after I had a heart catheterization procedure the week before I was scheduled to fly by to Columbia, S.C. for a University of South Carolina soccer reunion.
I believe it was Dr. Wags who gave me the answer I didn’t want to hear by saying that it was my decision when to have surgery, that I could go to the soccer reunion if I wanted, but I could also have a heart attack while away.
I skipped the trip and had surgery the following Monday, Oct. 27, 2014.
Best decision I ever made, by the way.
The Heart Hospital and its staff of nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and nursing aides are all top-notch. One nurse in particular, Elsie, was there when I woke up and managed to ease my fears that I could survive the trauma Wagmeister had put my body through.
My wife has had some abdominal surgeries (six in 13 months) that have had me skipping more gym sessions than I’d like over the past year, but I’m still better off physically than I had been before the surgery.
So on Tuesday, I plan to celebrate the day, maybe even with one candle on a cupcake. I’ll be 61 plus 1, after all.

Hoosiers’ collapse against Rutgers was epic

So much for that 4-0 start and dreams of a bowl bid by Indiana’s football team.
While a postseason appearance is still within reach of the Hoosiers, they made that quest much tougher by blowing a 52-27 lead at home against Rutgers last Saturday in a 55-52 loss to the Scarlet Knights.
For all of IU coach Kevin Wilson’s proclamations about having a vastly improved defense this season, the results haven’t shown on the field. At least not consistently.
Now, with a trip to No. 7 and unbeaten Michigan State, Indiana is looking at a four-game losing streak if they can’t upset the Spartans.
If that happens, Indiana would then have to win two of its next four games. That includes home games against surprising Iowa (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) on Nov. 7 after a bye week and then a date with Michigan (5-2, 2-1) on Nov. 14.
Then the Hoosiers will close out the regular season (and the month of November) with road trips to Maryland (2-4, 0-2) and Purdue (1-6, 03).
Those two games provide hope, particularly because Purdue has yet to win a Big Ten home game for Darrell Hazell during his three seasons.
But a win over Rutgers would have given IU a fifth win and a much easier path to a bowl bid.

Looking for feedback on new Major League Baseball page

Once upon a time, a sports editor wouldn’t rush to get in line for pats on the back.
Indeed, we’re usually suspicious whenever folks start lining up, figuring they’re just organizing another gauntlet of abuse. But you may have noticed earlier this week — Tuesday, to be precise — your Courier & Press sports section began including a full baseball page each day again.
In doing so, we’re pretty much bucking the trend. For instance, McClatchy newspapers, another chain, made the announcement this week that they wouldn’t run MLB boxes this season.
Newspapers across the country have been striving to make the best use of an ever shrinking news hole. That typically means more local content and less wire service stories.
And less and less national agate.
A few years ago, we quit running all MLB boxes ourselves. However, we have continued to provide our readers with the boxes from the Cardinals, Cubs, Reds and White Sox games. And that’s not bad.
Most newspapers focus on one team, or maybe two, at most.
But this season, timed with our switch from Scripps to the Journal Media Group, I decided to take advantage of the MLB page that a sister newspaper is producing each day.
If what I suspect is right — that readers in the Evansville area have been wanting us to get back to covering all the teams — then the page should be a popular addition to our section.
I’d like to hear your thoughts through comments you can leave on this blog.
I also can be reached at or 812-464-7613.

If Iggy does return, Aces should be MVC favorite

Marty Simmons swore he hadn’t even heard the rumors about Egidijus Mockevicius possibly considering either heading to Europe for a pro basketball career or beginning his grad school days at another university, taking advantage of the NCAA rule that allows players who earn a degree and still have playing eligibility to step into the starting lineup at another school.
But when Simmons was asked about the rumors on Friday, he said there had been no discussions with 6-foot-10 Mockevicius that would indicate he’s thinking about not coming back for his senior season with the Aces.
“I am confident he will be back next year,” said Simmons.
He went on to say that Mockevicius not only likes his teammates and the other friends he has made at UE but that he enjoys being in Evansville.
“I think our community recognizes how special he is,” said Simmons. “He’s obviously a great basketball talent but he’s a wonderful personality and he’s a wonderful person. I think he’s been great for the Evansville community and I think (the fans have) wrapped their arms around him as well. To see him play so well last night (Thursday night’s CIT championship game) was awesome.”
MocKevicius scored 27 points and had 12 rebounds against Northern Arizona to lead the Aces to a 71-65 win.
“He’s good. He’s made himself better. And that’s the great thing because I think he has another level,” said Simmons. “I think he can get even better.”
If the big Lithuanian does return, it would mean the Aces would have everyone back from a 24-win season except for Jaylon Moore, who was Mockevicius’ tag-team partner in the paint.
The 6-7 Moore was often instant offense at times for the Aces and had a knack for changing momentum in games.
Still, next season’s UE team will have more size with 7-1 Nebraska transfer Sergej Vucetic and 6-7 Willie Wiley, a transfer from Vincennes University, ready to play after sitting out as red shirts.
“Now that they know they are eligible, they are ready to go,” said Simmons. “I think Willie and Sergej will bring vast depth to our basketball team and athleticism and obviously some size. And then Harris Brown, the guard from Indianapolis, is a heck of a player and I think he’ll battle his way in there as well.
“There’s a lot of things that factor into it, staying healthy and so on and so forth. Our guys have to understand that we must continue to improve. We must get better in this offseason.”
The biggest pieces to the puzzle, of course, are D.J. Balentine and Mockevicus. Balentine averaged 20.0 points per game this past season and Mockevicius nearly averaged a double-double of 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds. They were both first-team All-Missouri valley Conference.
That should make them the preseason favorites to win the MVC in 2016 shouldn’t it?
After all, Northern Iowa graduates 6-8 Seth Tuttle and loses four other seniors who combined for nearly 55 percent of the Panthers’ offense.
Ditto, Wichita State loses Tekele Cotton and Darius Carter and Illinois State will have to replace leading scorer Daishon Knight.

He said it: Notre Dame coach Mike Brey after 68-66 loss to Kentucky in an Elite Eight game:

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey and players after 68-66 loss to Kentucky in a NCAA Elite Eight game in Cleveland on Saturday:
MIKE BREY’s OPENING COMMENTS: What a great college game. It was thrilling to be part of it. It lived up to the hype. We’re extremely disappointed. We really thought we had a great chance of beating them, and I thought we displayed that, but I think you’ve got to give them credit, they made some big plays, they made some timely 3-point shots at key times. And we got a little stagnant offensively, but it’s easy to get stagnant against that length. It takes its toll on you at times but I’m proud of our group, man. We emptied the tank tonight, and that’s all I asked them to do before the game.

Q. Mike, you lost the game, and I’m sure it’s still pretty raw, but how much do you think this game is testimony to the idea that there are no sure things? I think a lot of people didn’t see this kind of game coming.
Yeah, I mean, we really thought we had a great chance as the game was going on, you know, I thought we just felt we could win the game. We were very confident. The first half gave us even more confidence. We played such a great schedule and played so many hard games and good teams, I think we’re really battle tested to absorb their punches. I’m really proud of our group. We were a little tired at the end. I used a couple timeouts just to rest us. We were fatigued a little bit because our guys play a lot. Their length at times shrinks the court and it just makes it a little difficult, and it did there a couple possessions at the end of the game.

Q. Mike, I know the last play didn’t have any timeouts, what was the plan, what was discussed?
I told Jerian to try to get – can you get to the bucket, maybe you can just get to the bucket. They did such a great job kind of doubling him. He went for the win, I don’t fault him for that. He tried to get something off but I don’t think he could turn the corner. Even some of the shots he took in those possessions that were a little empty, you can say get to the basket, it’s a little harder to get to the basket against these guys, there’s not a lot of room in there. And I thought they doubled him out of bounds and they did a great job kind of riding him all the way to the end. You know, when we couldn’t get the key stop to get it to overtime, that’s where you lose the game really. You’ve got to get that stop. And it was Harrison, I think, right, that made the drive? Demetrius tried to get the charge. You don’t get a stop there, you know, you’re starting to doubt a little.

Q. Can you talk about the defensive game plan. And aside from Karl, it seemed like Kentucky’s bigs really struggled to get anything going down low?
We just didn’t want to give up too many clean looks. We felt we could absorb two point shots from their bigs. Towns was fabulous. Our two big guys, God bless them, they were on their own most of the night. The one time I go zone, Booker hits a 3, and the one time we tell to help a little bit, Ulis hits a 3. So now you’re like, the rest of the game, fellas, you’re on your own, we’ve got to hug these guys because I think we can absorb 2s. I love how we battled on the board against their size. But we have played big teams and we’ve held our own on the backboard and we did that again tonight to give ourselves a chance to win.

Q. So how do you balance the emotion then of playing as well as you did, taking down to the last possession and knowing that this is the end and you lost the way you did?
Yeah, I don’t know if it will sink in. I think I was in denial because walking down the hall, I had Auguste and Vasturia and I was talking about next season, that was my way of thinking ahead a little bit. The one thing I did tell them, I said, when we walk out of here, man, we’re champions now, we’re going to get championship rings, this group won a championship and hopefully it’s something to build on and I spent some time with Pat and Jerian, and just thanked them for what they’ve done for our program. I think it will still be a little raw here until tomorrow, but I’ve been in long enough, I’ll be abel able to look back and digest it, and my assistants will probably have some recruiting stuff for me tomorrow, knowing them.

Q. Mike, you mentioned Pat and Jerian, is that kind of the toughest part of losing in this tournament, is saying goodbye to seniors, especially two that have meant so much to you guys?
COACH BREY: Yeah, the one thing I said to them in the locker room, “You know what’s really depressing? We lost the game but we don’t get to practice tomorrow, I don’t get to be around this group.” And that includes certainly our two seniors because it was so energizing and rewarding to be with this team, it was uplifting. I was thinking, walking down the hall, that’s over, you don’t get to do that anymore. But those two guys are big-time winners, and man, have they left a mark for the young guys in our program.

Q. 34 seconds left, sorting through the loose ball. Did you care one way or the other whether it was a jump ball or your possession?
: Well, I loved that we had it. One second’s a little tough to operate with, and we tried to get something for Jerian curling. The problem is when Cauley-Stein is hot on the ball, there wasn’t a whole lot of room to get anything, and it’s too bad we at least couldn’t get a shot upright there. But I thought the ball pressure of a 7-footer, and wing span on Pat, we just couldn’t get anything. And then you’ve got to be really mentally tough. And this group, they have been all year to kind of flush that and guard to get it to overtime. We’ve done that a bunch, but we couldn’t do it tonight, and you give Kentucky credit.

Q. Coach, you joked about being the loosest coach in America. What are you telling them in the second half when you guys go on that 13-4 run, and also the final minute?
We were talking about this is what we’ve done in the second half, we’ve had runs offensively and we’ve played with great emotion and spirit and fearlessness. I wasn’t saying a whole lot. They were talking in the timeouts like, we’re up five, let’s see if we can get it to 10. All things that we talked about through the year. I mean, we gave ourselves a chance, and it’s disappointing because, you know, you really had — you had the thing, you had a great chance to win it. But our guys felt we had a great chance to win it.

Q. Looking ahead to the Final Four, what type of team, what sort of style do you think can give Kentucky the kind of —
Wisconsin, did they win? Yeah, that’s a great match-up, that’s a great match-up. Wisconsin’s a little bit like us, they’re skilled and they can spread people out a little bit. They have a little more bulk and frontline size, but they’re really skilled offensive guys, and certainly we were able to get some things tonight. But the size does get to you, over 40 minutes it can take its toll on you and I thought the defensive possessions, as good as Jerian was getting us there, getting us a couple possession lead, it kind of swallowed him a little bit a couple times. But we’ll go down with him making plays because he’s made all the plays for us all year to get us here.

They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and player Yogi Ferrell after 81-76 loss to Wichita State in NCAA tournament:

They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and player Yogi Ferrell after 81-76 loss to Wichita State in NCAA tournament:

TOM CREAN OPENING COMMENTS: … As far as for the game, hard-fought game, no question about that, both teams playing very, very hard, the 50/50 balls going both ways. Unfortunately for us the biggest difference was the points they were able to score inside of the paint. When we have been able to keep that under control this year, we have been better and when we haven’t, that’s what we have struggled. A few points off turnovers, we would like to have back, we shot the ball well, you come into a situation and shoot 50% from 3 there is no argument on that part of it but we gave up too many easy baskets and VanVleet did an excellent job of controlling the game for Wichita State. He broke us down some in our coverages, but he was also able to find the roll. They did a better job than we did of finding the roll in the pick-and-roll because we felt we could run a lot of middle offense, ball-screen-type of offense, which we did, but we had a harder time dealing with their length, finding that roll man and, again, they were able to get more points in the paint. To me, we will watch the film and see different things but bottom line is I think that’s the biggest difference in the game for us. I’m proud of our guys, the way they have persevered is a great word for us right now. I wouldn’t call it a mantra, we’re not trying to make a T-shirt, but the bottom line is that’s what our guys have done all year long. They have persevered through adversity, persevered through different trials, and they did some things that not a whole lot of people expected them to do. Unofficially picked 11th in the league and they get into the NCAA Tournament with a 10th seed as the youngest team. We’re not happy with the outcome today, certainly we could have played better, but I have zero disappointment in the way these guys battled, competed, got better and persevered throughout the season.

Q. For Yogi, even with the points you guys were giving up inside, you guys kept hitting three after three. Were you thinking for most of that second half that that was going to be enough?
No, I mean, we never knew it was going to be enough. Our offense was hitting a couple of shots at the end of the day, we should have been playing better defense. They scored so many points inside. If we could have got more stops in a row, which is what we wanted to do and knocked down a couple of shots, we could have been right there.

Q. Tom, I know it’s difficult in the moments right after a loss, but what would your expectations be for next season? You mentioned a young team. What would you think this team could do next year?
You said it all first, it’s too early to think about that, but my thing would be that we continue to build on the things that we do pretty well, and absolutely be obsessed with getting better at the things that we struggled with. We’ve got to get a lot stronger. We’ve got to have a more consistent — we just got to build consistency. We’ll leave it at that. I don’t have a lot of deep thoughts on that one yet, but we have to build consistency in all the areas and improve and stay on course, because I think they got a lot better during the year. Our record didn’t always reflect it in some of the games, but I’m with ‘em every day, so I’m going to stick with being the judge of it. And I don’t get to have an opinion and insights — I can have an opinion. I have insights into this team because I’m with them every day. I like where it’s headed, but there is no question that we’ve got to continue to improve in not only in the basketball areas, but certainly the strength areas; and being able to, I would say, the biggest thing right now is putting more multiple stops together, because when we did that, we were a pretty good team. When we didn’t, it got a little harder for us. Off the top of my head that’s where I am at. I wasn’t ready for the checklist at the end of the year.

They said it: Purdue coach Matt Painter and player A.J. Hammons after Thursday’s 66-65 loss to Cincinnati in second round of NCAA tournament:

MATT PAINTER’s opening comments: First of all, I want to congratulate Cincinnati. Obviously, they were able to hang in there when we got that lead in the last minute, and make some plays, make their free throws, and get the game into overtime. Just a hard-fought game. We had all the opportunities in the world, and that’s why it hurts as bad as it does because we knew we put ourselves in position to win and we didn’t make the necessary plays. That hurts. The guys in our locker room really battled, and they were really good on the glass. I thought we did an excellent job of attacking their zone. We simply just struggled making open shots. We had to do a better job of helping our interior players by knocking down some shots, and it just wasn’t our day. But our guys did a great job executing. They did a great job rebounding the ball. We had some breakdowns, and that cost us, but give Cincinnati a lot of credit.

Q. A.J., when their center went out, did you feel like the momentum had shifted in favor of your guys and that was something you could build on?
A.J. HAMMONS: Yeah, I felt like the momentum changed a lot. We just tried to keep pounding the middle because they only had like one big left. We just tried to keep it going in the middle. The momentum, we had the whole game. We just had to finish the game off.

Q. Coach, what have you learned about your team? What has been the big lesson?
No question about it. We’ve had these struggles during the season, just taking care of the basketball, making a free throw. The necessary things that you have to do. When you have a group of guys that have changed your culture — we had a really good culture for about a six-, seven-year period. Then took a couple steps backwards. These guys have been huge with that. Their effort was unbelievable tonight, but our execution at times was not. We’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the basketball, knocking down your free throws, and then keeping them out of rhythm on the defensive end. We weren’t able to do that, especially at the end. We had a lot of things that happened — it wasn’t a lack of effort kind of thing — that got to a point where we still could have finished the game out. Their intent was to make those plays, and we just weren’t able to do that. Hopefully, in the future we can be better, and you learn from it because we put ourselves in a good position tonight, and we didn’t capitalize.

Q. Matt, what were your thoughts when (Octavius) Ellis was ejected from the game and how your team responded to that?
I didn’t see what happened. He threw an elbow or something like that. I didn’t see it. But I thought we had an opportunity, without their leading scorer to be in the game. Any time you lose your leading scorer, I thought that kid that came in and backed him up, I thought he played great. He had some key plays, especially late in the game and overtime. He got a golden opportunity to play well, and he helped his team win. But we had that stretch right there where we had a couple of wide-open shots. We got the ball inside, and we got nothing for it. I said earlier, it’s very bizarre because all we kept doing is executing on the offensive end and getting good shots and missing. We don’t normally take that many 3s, but we just kept getting wide open and moving the basketball and just getting standstill shots. So we just continued to be positive and say, hey, we’ve got to drive the ball. We’ve got to get the ball inside. But that’s what we ended up getting a lot. They weren’t quick threes, outside of maybe a couple of them. In hindsight, you say, you shot the ball on the perimeter too much, but I thought our guys did a really good job.

Q. How would you sum up the season after the rough start from where you came?
We have great guys. We faced some adversity, and we had a couple of really good nonconference wins, and then we had a couple bad ones. Our guys didn’t hang their head. They kept fighting. We really improved on the defensive end. So I thought we had a good year. Obviously, you like to win in the NCAA Tournament after getting here, and you put yourself in a position to do so, and it hurts. But I thought we had a good year. It’s more than just that. It’s building on it, and we got a lot of the right guys in our locker room.

They said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean and players James Blackmon Jr, Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams previewing Friday’s game against Wichita State

Indiana coach Tom Crean and players discuss Friday’s game against Wichita State:

Q. Yogi, as you look at Wichita State, what are some of the things that they present that make them a difficult match for you guys? What makes them good?
One thing about their team is they’re a very solid team. They’ve got basically five solid positions, and that’s what makes them such a great team. They start junior and seniors, so they’re obviously a lot more experienced than we are. They’ve got great 3-point shooters; they’ve got great post presence. Like I said before, just a great experienced team.

Q. Seems like everyone is talking Kansas/Wichita State on Sunday. You guys hearing any of that? You feel like you’re being slighted at all?
We haven’t been paying too much attention to that. We’re just trying to read into what we can do on this game and we’re focused on Wichita State and we want to get the win and play against Kansas.
TROY WILLIAMS: We heard about it, Coach told us about it. We don’t see each other as a local team or a local act, so we’re just going to put up a great fight against them.

Q. Yogi, problems in the off-season and this season. In what ways do you think your team has grown up and become more accountable to one another?
I think one of the ways we have grown up is when we took that trip to Montreal, I felt like as a team, getting to know each other and getting to know each other better, coming together. We have had our off-the-court problems before, but I felt like we’ve came a long way from that. When I listen to all the outside really, we’re just all staying together as a team, not reading articles with our names in it, not listening to what anybody says. Just listening to our coaches and teammates. That’s the only people that really help us.

Q. Coach, when the Selection Sunday came, Bill Self says Wichita State being a 7 blows him away. Do you get that?
We looked at Wichita State as a great program. I didn’t get caught up in the seeds part of it. We just know that they’re a great team. Seeds, they’re relevant to some, but to us, they’re really not. If we spent too much time talking about seeds and all that type of thing with our guys, that would defeat the purpose. They’re excited to be here. They know the opportunity. We know what we are here for and we know that Wichita State is a great program. That’s the bottom line. No matter what they’re seeded, they’re an outstanding team, and they are deserving every year of the champions that they are, because they find a way to do that in the nonconference; they find a way to do it in the conference, they find a way to do it on the road. Again, when you have that kind of toughness, especially on the glass, I mean, you can go back to some of the close games they’ve had, and it comes down to that loose rebound, that 50/50 ball, that loose ball on the ground, the next pass, they play the game so thorough. That’s what we’re more focused on than anything else.

Q. Coach, talk about the Fred VanVleet and Yogi match-up.
I think it’s more about the Wichita State and the Indiana match-up, personally, because everybody is going to be guarding different people, and I’m not sure how they’ll match up. I’m sure Gregg wouldn’t trade Fred for anybody and I certainly wouldn’t trade Yogi for anybody, so let’s sum it up that way. Both high-character winners. I don’t know Fred; I know of him, but I know Yogi. He puts winning first, extremely tough, smart, makes his teammates better, defends at a high level and I would imagine that’s describing Fred, the one I’ve seen on film. Like I said, I can’t give you personal knowledge, but the one I’ve seen on film, that’s what he looks like to me.

Q. Tom, your players talked a little bit about the experience and Wichita State having more NCAA Tournament experience. How do you kind of approach that as a coach? Is there a way you can help them through that, if that’s a factor?
There is really nothing we can do about that. Yogi is the only one that’s played in NCAA Tournament games. Hanner was here, but he really was not a factor like he is now. So we can’t do anything about that. It’s been all year long, we’ve got to control what we can control. That’s easier said than done, it sounds like “Coach speak” but it’s really something you got to try to get out of them every day and try to help them understand that every day. And now it’s the opportunity we have to come out and play with great energy and make sure that our execution is right. They will make it hard, they will make it hard for us to score, I don’t think there is any question about that. We fully expect to be pressured, and certainly as a coach that’s a concern because I think their pressure is really good. To me, when that shot goes up, it’s not going to — we’ve got to be able to match that toughness, and they have tremendous, real toughness. There doesn’t look like there is any trepidation, any nervousness, any of that when they play. They’re a very, very confident group. And for one day we’ve got to have that same level of confidence like that. Hopefully our league and nonconference schedule and things like that prepare us for that. But they’re one of the upper-echelon programs because they have one of the great teams every year. Obviously Mark Turgeon got it rolling there, and Gregg has just built upon it in such a big way. So we have to do a great job of just matching up with them on that toughness and execution level more than anything else.

He said it: Purdue coach Matt Painter on NCAA tournament

Purdue coach Matt Painter, looking ahead to Thursday’s NCAA tournament game against Cincinnati:
Q. When you have a team that doesn’t have NCAA Tournament experience as a group, what are some of the things that you try to emphasize for them that are most important going into that first game?
I think just sticking with what our guys are – the strengths that they have going in to the game. I think, if you sit around and talk about the big picture and not talk about the actual game, you bring it into play. We have one guy with NCAA Tournament experience but not at Purdue. I would say the best thing for us is the fact that we’ve lived on the bubble here for three weeks. I think that preparation and kind of that pressure, if you want to say that, is the best thing to help us because we’re a loss, two losses away from not being here, which everybody that’s in this neck of the woods, they can say the same thing. But for us, when we don’t have that type of experience, I think that’s really helped us. But really just keeping our focus on playing to our strengths and trying to stay away from our weaknesses.

Q. Do you think that they have the right level of maturity to handle all the uniqueness that this week brings?
I hope so. You find out at tip-off. You’ve played – we’ve played a good schedule. We’ve played in Maui on a neutral court. We’ve been in the Big Ten Tournament, obviously, in two games on a neutral court. So you try to do your best to prepare your team. I like our guys. I think we have stuck together. We’ve faced some adversity. We’ve been able to battle that. We’ve been able to overcome a couple of tough losses nonconference, and we played better in conference play. I spoke on it earlier, but getting on the bubble, I think, is the best way to try to fight some of that. You know that you have to win, getting into the end of February, the beginning of March, and then you come in and get really good wins right there, I think that helps prepare you. There’s no substitute for the actual thing. We have a lot of guys outside of one that hasn’t been here. You still have to play hard. You still have to produce. You still have to do those things. But I do understand your question.

Q. Does it help, coming from the Big Ten where defense is such a premium, to play a team like Cincinnati that does so many things well, similar to you on the defensive side of the ball?
I think that’s a great point because they do have a lot of similarities to people we play. Like ourselves, defense is important. They are different when they play their matchups zone a lot. And they really make it difficult for you to get into a rhythm on the offensive end. But in terms of playing hard, playing physical, and rebounding the basketball, they are a Big Ten team, and they are a top half Big Ten team. I think it just goes all the way back to the days of Coach Huggins and obviously Coach Cronin. When you think about Cincinnati basketball, that’s what you think about. You think about hard-nosed, tough, rebounding, attack you on the offensive end. We have to be prepared for that.

He said it: Indiana coach Tom Crean after 75-69 loss to Maryland

Indiana coach Tom Crean after Indiana lost 75-69 to Maryland in Big Ten tournament quarterfinals:
COACH CREAN, opening comments:
Well, we just went toe to toe with the eighth-ranked team in the country and came down to the very end with them in the last eight minutes of the game. There were three field goals scored until our kid Max Hoetzel hit a three with two seconds to go between both teams.
First and foremost, we understand that we’ve got to play defense at a high level and energy and a hustle game at a high level, and I think we’ve come to Chicago and done that. Unfortunately we’re walking out of here without the win today, but we’re getting better. Our defense has gotten better. We got a lot of really good basketball from a lot of people. We needed to get better inside of the game in the second half, we did. The second chance points in the first half were 13-3, and we held them — we got nine in the second half, they got none, all right, that’s an improvement. We got to the foul line more in the second half.
I’m walking out of here knowing that our defense is getting better, our energy is high. No doubt we missed Hanner today, especially around the rim, and Nick Zeisloft according to the Ken Pomeroy rankings is the Number 1 ranked offense efficiency player in the country. It’s very uncommon for him not to have a good game or back-to-back good games. Offensively he didn’t, but he’s going to keep getting better. We’ve got some guys did some really good things, but unfortunately so did they, and we went against an extremely good team.
Dez Wells is not only one of the elite players in our league, he’s one of the elite players in the country, and for a lot of reasons. He can score, he can pass, he can drive it, he can defend, he can get out in transition, he’s tough, and he makes every one of his teammates better, and that’s a hard position to cover when they have as many shooters and somebody like Melo Trimble and people like that.
But I’m proud of our players. I’m proud of the way we’ve approached the week. I’m proud of the way we responded to a couple of tough games at the end, and with a team like this, the youth that they have, the fact that they’re getting better this time of year is a very encouraging thing for us.

Q. The first half was explosive. It was very– I don’t know how else to put it. And then both teams kind of slowed down. What were the adjustments you made to make that happen?
I think it slowed down on purpose. I think it was a matter of making sure– we need to get to the foul line, okay. And the other thing is we don’t have very good match-ups for Dez Wells, and so it was really we’re going to make sure we’re moving the ball, getting people in movement. If you noticed, they really weren’t guarding Troy very high at all in the first half, and they really backed up and he hit those pull ups when we went into the ball screen. So we wanted to make sure we kept the game in movement so then that we could get into things, the 15-second area, the 13-second area, but still very good running in the break running our early offense.
But I thought our pace was excellent. I thought their conditioning was excellent, our conditioning was excellent, and so it was a matter of whatever the speed of the game called for was fine. But I think at the end of the game, like I said at the beginning, in those last eight minutes, I know there’s some free throws obviously, but in the last eight minutes to have three combined field goals– I believe, I was told that number before I came in– but three field goals in the last eight minutes before a shot with two seconds says a lot about the high level of play defensively, and that’s why I’m proud of our guys. We were going toe to toe with them. They made a couple more plays than we did.
Certainly the free throw situation that hurt us, and nobody feels worse than Troy on that. That hurt us. But we tried to recover from it. But it was just a hard-fought game, and both teams probably intensified their half court defensive efforts a little bit.

Q. How would you describe the urgency that your team played with in these two games here?
I would say it was fantastic, and I’d say it was because they were reenergized. I think we really went home — we were home, I should say, but really looked at what we were not taking care of. It wasn’t about let’s follow the bubble watch and let’s read about how bad we’re playing. Let’s focus in on what we can fix, and the bottom line was the rebounding, and we had to get better at defensive rebounding the ball because we were giving up too many points on second chance points. We were getting some offensive boards, but we weren’t getting the points from it, and we had to clean up some points off turnovers, and we certainly had to do a better job of getting to the foul line.
We hit a little bit of a cold slump, and when you’ve got a lot of shooting and you don’t have that true, we’re just going to throw it down in there and command that double-team type of guy, you’ve got to make sure you’re hitting your shots. We had a couple games where we weren’t. Look at the Northwestern game; we’re flying around, doing an excellent job in the first half. We hit a 10-minute, 9-minute, 11-minute lull, whatever it was, where we just weren’t making shots we were making in the first half. So you’ve got to play through that. That’s our team. Our team has got a lot of three-point shooting, a lot of movement, and we hit a little bit of a lull on that. But we knew we could get better defensively, we knew we could get better at blocking out and rebounding the ball. We knew we could reenergize if we got some rest, and I think that’s exactly what we did, and I think– put it this way: If we’d have won the game, I would have felt great about us having a chance to go into tomorrow no matter who it was, Michigan State or Ohio State because of their confidence level, because of their urgency level, and because of their conditioning level.

Q. What’s the plan for Sunday, and have you ever been in this situation where you’ve got to watch Selection Sunday and not really be completely sure?
No, I don’t have a plan yet. I’m not sure. I’m really not. I haven’t even close to thought that far ahead. I don’t know. I’ve got to start thinking about that tonight.
Other part of your question, I don’t think so. I don’t think as an assistant or a head coach. But you know what, it is what it is. We’re getting better. I love coaching these guys. They have grown up on and off the floor. They deal with a lot, and yet the resiliency of coming in and getting better is constant. They have a closeness that’s been able to develop over the year. It’s growing. It’s growing. It’s not all the way there yet, but where they will– they have started to learn how to hold each other accountable, and they will get on one another to be better, and I saw some of that the last couple days, again, too. I love coaching them, and I’m looking forward to continuing it next week.