January 20, 2009

Iowa remains dangerous even with losing record

MADISON, Wis. - Sitting at 3-2 in the conference race, the Wisconsin men's basketball team is still in position to make a run at a conference crown. Other than Michigan State, every other Big Ten team has at least two losses.

After losing a tough one to Minnesota last week, the Badgers head out on the road this week with tilts at Iowa and Illinois. Before UW leaves the comfort of the Kohl Center, BadgerBlitz.com caught up with assistant coach Greg Gard and discussed the next opponent Iowa and the importance of this week.

Iowa has a young team, but what have you seen from them defensively. At least on that side of the ball, that looks like that's their strength.

Gard: It is. It's a lot like last year in terms of it (being) a mirror of us. They play things a lot the same way. They guard in areas a lot the same way and get off and get a lot of great help making it hard for you to get stuff close to the rim. You got to be able to knock down shots. People forget that our two games with them last year were very tight. It was a tight game here, it ended up being 13 at the end, but with about seven or eight minutes to go it was tied or within two or three possessions. The game down there was that way the whole time. They led at half and we were able to catch them midway through that second half and were able to hold on there but it only ended up being a four-point game. We were able to knock down some free throws right at the end. So, I think the margin for error or the distance between teams isn't as great as maybe some people envisioned it to be.

How different are they when they don't have Cryus Tate?

Gard: Well, it's an experienced low post player that's been around the block and has been through the battles in this league. He's active, he's long, and he's quick off the floor. The left hand gives you a little something that was maybe unorthodox that you're not used to. He hits the glass as well as any guy in this league. From that standpoint, it's just been his experience and a guy that's been their calming effect. Guys that have stepped in, Jarryd Cole and David Palmer played extremely well yesterday (Sunday) and got some good experience. If Tate is ready to go, that makes them that much better and that much deeper.

In the Iowa games last year, the seniors played a big role. They were tough games and the seniors really helped get you through that.

Gard: Most of the games in the league are grinders…

Well, yeah, and that gets to the question. What do you want to see, not necessarily from the seniors, but the upperclassmen do better?

Gard: Just be solid. I mean, we didn't make any spectacular games in either game of that series last year, it's just being consistently solid. You can't take possessions, you can't have miscues on multiple possessions whether offensively or defensively. I think that's one thing as you go back and look at last year's films, we were just solid. We didn't have a wow factor to us, but we were just persistent. We were kind of like, as coaches like to say, dental work without any Novocain. That's what we were. One possession after another, we just come at you, come at you, come at you and over the course of 50, 60, 65 possessions, that takes its toll.

Their freshmen, they're getting some good contributions.

Gard: They are, I think Matt Gatens is their best player and numbers probably prove that out as well. (He's) their leading rebounding, leading scorer and shooting 55 percent from three, 60-some percent from the floor. (He's) just solid., he knows how to play and he can do it so many ways. He's on the glass, he's on the floor, he takes charges, he's knocking down threes, he's driving to the rim, and he's a complete player for them. That's not good news for the rest of the league for the next three to have to deal with him. And he's got a toughness about him. He's a lot like Joe Krabbenhoft in terms of just his grittiness and toughness. He definitely is not playing like a freshman. You would think if you just had a program or a roster in front of you would guess him to be a junior or upperclassmen if you just come in and not know who's who and watch him play.

Would you say their record is a little bit deceiving? I mean they have had three losses by three or fewer points. They could easily be 14-4 just as they are 11-7.

Gard: Exactly. That's how the margin of error in this league, as we found out, if very slim. We had close games in the non-conference, a couple of things went our way and a couple of them didn't and the same thing for them. I think they've had some. The Ohio State game, they reigned in the threes and they had a struggle at Michigan but that's the first game that Tate's out. They had chances to beat Minnesota. So Tate gets hurt. If he doesn't get hurt, does that game turn out any differently? I think the odds swing in their favor a little bit when you lose their best post player early in the game. So they have had some ups and downs, but they've battled and like I said, every game has been right there for the most part with the exception of the Purdue game and with the exception of the Michigan game. But the Michigan game they were still trying to figure out who was going to take the place of Tate here. That's how it is.

Like I mentioned before, the difference of teams in this league is not as discrepant as people may think. The margin for error is very slim from between one and 10 or 11 cause Indiana has played teams extremely tough. Coaches are going to find a way, because of the coaches that are in this league now, to make it hard for you every single night. They're going to try to find a way to make their team's competitive whether it's foul a lot, hold the ball, milk possessions, do some different things defensively, whatever it takes for their team to be competitive, that's what they're going to try to do. You throw out records for the most part when teams get together as you saw yesterday (Sunday) with Northwestern and Minnesota. You know, Northwestern had struggled and let a few slip away, but that team has improved and I think that's what this league is about. You better bring it every single night or somebody's going to get you.

Do they bring pressure at all?

Gard: I don't think that's their forte. I think it's kind of like us. You're going to be very good in areas and play percentages and force people to shoot over the top of you and just limit possessions and limit the people to one shot. For them offensively, they really put a lot of pressure on you especially with Palmer and his emergence here recently to stretch you out. A lot of ball screens, a lot of drive and kick and if you help too long or too far, they're going to find the shooters. If you don't help soon enough, they get guys who can get to the rim and make plays.

Would you expect teams that don't normally bring pressure to try to it against you guys?

Gard: I don't envision it, I mean, we always prepare for pressure whether we see it or the teams going to throw it or not. I think teams just still play true to their identity. Minnesota's a team that has pressured everybody. Sometimes it's worked, sometimes it hasn't worked. Up until the last four minutes, we were fine against it. It was just the first four minutes and the last four minutes. The other 32 minutes we were fine. I don't think that you'll see teams, you know, we haven't tried to do (that). We see a team struggle against zone, we don't all of a sudden say oh, we're going to go play zone. You still do the fundamental principles of your program.

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