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December 11, 2012We all knew that the Big Ten was going to be loaded this year and it might be even better than most experts thought. Fran McCaffery has been impressed by what he has seen from some of the surprise teams in the league and talks about those squads. He also talks scheduling and he assesses the performance of freshman point guard Anthony Clemmons.
Here's the transcript of Fran McCaffery's visit to the Big Ten teleconference on Monday.
Obviously we are coming off a very big win for our program beating a very good Iowa State team. I think one of the impressive things coming out of that game was we outrebounded a team that was 4th in the country in rebounding and had really impressed me on the glass. A very experienced team and we were playing a lot of young guys and we had made a change in the starting lineup a few games ago and it has worked well for us in a couple of ways. It worked well for us because the young guys are playing well and more importantly, the experienced guys are comfortable coming off the bench and accepting and excelling in their roles. That is what you need to be a good team.
Q: Is the Big Ten even better than you expected this year with teams like Illinois and Minnesota in the Top 25?
McCAFFERY: To be truthful, I'm not that surprised at all. I think if you look at Minnesota in particular, with the development of some of their perimeter players last year, you could see it coming. They had some big wins and some tough losses, but at the end of the year, they were so consistent. Then they get Mbawake back and Williams is playing really well as a senior. I just really like the way that team has come together and Tubby has done an unbelievable job with that group. John Groce walked into a situation where nobody really knew what was going to happen and he has done an unbelievable job with that team. They have three really good seniors that are playing well and he has brought the young guys along. They are playing at a speed that we are certainly comfortable with, but they may have as much speed as anyone in the country and that is a scary thought. I look at it as every one of us thought we were going to go to the NCAA Tournament and obviously we all aren't. It will be interesting to see who gets in because we may end up beating each other up all season long.
Q: As you are putting together your non-conference schedule, how important is the strength of schedule component in getting ready to play the Big Ten schedule?
McCAFFERY: For me, it changes year to year. If you feel like you are established, you may look at it one way and stay relatively consistent. Most of the years of my career, I have been at a mid-major program and we amped it up in case we were 25 win team that needed to impressive and have RPI strength to get in. You have the RPI strength of the Big Ten, but you do need to challenge yourself outside of the league. But, I think you have to be careful. It's great to say you are going to take them all on, but it will be a function of experience and the scorers returning and how much you think they can score. Can they go on the road and be mature enough and do you think you are ready? I think you have to be careful about over scheduling, particularly with a young team. What I try to assess is where I think we are going to be. When you think about it we are scheduling a year and sometimes two years ahead, so you try to project your team and what the composition is going to look like. We figured we would have two freshman starters this year. Turns out we have three. When you start three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior, you have to be careful about taking guys on. But, at the same time, I think it is incumbent upon all of us to try to play teams that would be marquee names. It would help our RPI to play some made for TV games outside of our league. What we do is we always have the Big Ten/ACC Challenge and we always go to one prestigious exempt event. Then we always play Iowa State and Northern Iowa or Drake in-state. Little by little, what I think you will see us do is add to it and get one national TV game if possible.
Q: If you make a move like putting Clemmons in the starting lineup and replace Zach McCabe. What do you do to try and maybe massage egos and enhance confidence to accept those roles?
McCAFFERY: In Zach's case it was real simple because it doesn't affect him one way or another. I brought him in and spoke to him about it. I felt like I owed it to him. I wanted to hear if he had any reservations about it. I mean, Zach McCabe is all in. If he comes off the bench or starts, whatever I need him to do, he is going to try and help our team win. What that does is it speaks to his character. In regard to Clemmons, I didn't say anything to him. I just moved him into the starting lineup and he took it from there. I did that because it was a reflection of my confidence and my expectations for him. I don't want to have a lengthy discussion of do this or don't do that because then it looks like I have reservations about it. I felt like it would be good for our team. I have been impressed from the beginning of the year and Basabe is another guy that probably feels, hey I should be starting. The reality is both he and McCabe are going to sometimes play starters minutes and they have been part of the success we have been having and they will continue to be. If you look at the three freshmen in the starting lineup and you say, boy that is great. As you know it sometimes can't be great if the upperclassmen aren't buying in. We have great chemistry on this team and great respect for one another. We pull for one another and it really makes it pleasurable for me to coach in that environment.
Q: Did Clemmons exceed your expectations the other night with 14 points, 8 assists, and just one turnover?
McCAFFERY: It is very consistent with his personality, if you know him. He is very confident, but he doesn't get carried away with himself. He never makes it about himself. He's not going to get into a personal thing with the other team point guard. He is going to try to engineer victory for our team. The one thing in terms of expectations and your question, you don't know what you've got until they get here, especially at that position. I thought he was a really talented player. I thought he was a really intelligent person. But, can you play point guard at this level? You don't know that until you get here. He fits the game and he has great pace to his game. He doesn't panic if they are on a run and doesn't get carried away with himself if we are on a run. He has a real uncanny ability to shoot the ball when we need him to and to pass it when we need him to and an understanding of what to do when need to. Typically you don't have until later on in your career and that's been fun to watch with him.