After a disappointing loss to Kent State, Shaka Smart spoke with the media about what his team needs to focus on as they start Big 12 play this Friday at Kansas State.
On what he saw from the film: As a coach, the more you watch the more it bothers you. I would say when you watch it the first time it’s like ‘yeah, it’s about what we saw live.’ When you watch it the second and third, you see other things that you can control. Watching it 100 times isn’t going to change what happened. It’s about learning from what happened. We watched most of the game as a team. Took a long time, but we needed to stop and rewind and talk about some situations. Tried to get the guys talking about certain things. I think that was productive.
On if the team saw the same things he did: I know they see a lot of the things we see because we make sure to point it out. The biggest challenge right now, I think, with a lot of our guys is trying to learn how to carry over exactly what it is that goes into being successful as a team, but then also trying to reconcile that with really wanting to play well individually. I think with experience guys get better at that, but sometimes if your mind is on multiple things it can be hard to do both of those things or more than one thing at a high level. At the same time, we need to simplify what we’re trying to do in the moment down to one thing. That’s something that we have to keep getting better at.
On playing against quality opponents: It’s a very fine line. With young guys, they’re still finding themselves in terms of true confidence. I think part of what happens is, as a player, you might have a little bit of a skewed perspective relative to the rest of the country basketball-wise where you stand before the season starts. Sometimes, you get in a game like last night and it’s like ‘wow, who’s that guy? He just went out and kicked our butt and I’ve never even heard of him.’ There’s a lot of guys like that in college basketball. There’s a lot of good players that are better than maybe their name might indicate or the name on the front of the jersey might indicate. You can’t go by that. I’ve always said the opponent should be nameless and faceless. It’s not about the name or the face, it’s about what they can do. If they can offensive rebound it doesn’t matter what their name is or what their face looks like. It’s about what they can do. It’s a fine line because it can’t be ‘you’re no good.’ I don’t think that’s the case. I think the message is more if we want to win, if we want to do all the things we say we want to do, we have to do what goes into it. We have to go hit someone to keep him from getting the rebound if you want to get the rebound. We’ve got to be more consistent with doing the things that go into success.
On his team: This is my eighth year as a head coach. This year it’s just a different type of group. I think every year is, but this is definitely freshmen playing a lot more. Our three sophomores being kind of put in a role that some might say is even asking them to do too much, or more than most guys at that stage should have to do, but that’s the reality of it. Right now, just having the two seniors playing that were really in role positions before and now needing, or asking and wanting them to do more. Those guys, they just did a great job in practice. That doesn’t win you the game. It’s about carrying it over to the game and it’s about being connected around what we have to do. I think for the younger guys, it’s gaining a level of certainty. When you’ve been doing this for a while as a player, and even some of the real elite freshmen, they’re pretty sure. We don’t have a lot of guys that are sure right now, and I think there’s been moments where we’ve come across that way or we’ve had stretches where we’re that way, but we need to be a lot more consistent with that individually and as a team.
On what his team is good at: We’re really good at certain things for a time. I think there’s individual guys who have made real strides. Obviously Tevin [Mack] didn’t have a very good game last time out, but he’s become a pretty dependable scorer. Jarrett [Allen’s] made real progress. I think the last three games he’s really taken a step. Kerwin Roach, I think he’s taken real strides. All of our freshman, it’s not a linear progression. It can be up and down. We’ve had our moments where we really defend well. Our field goal percentage defense most nights has been good. Again, the thing about a game like last night is when you’re shooting the ball poorly, not only did we go 2-for-18 from three, but if you add in midrange jump shots that we took, it’s more like 2-for-24. When you shoot that poorly, your margin for error on defense is much smaller. Even though Kent State only shot 37 percent, you still have to be better on defense in a situation like that. You still have to move your feet and take away some of the layups they got coming out of the press and some of the offensive rebound they got.
On conference play: What we’re talking about is the opportunity to win. You want to go win. Any time you play a game you’re trying to go up there and win. You’re going into a hostile environment against a really, really good team (Kansas State). A team that has a lot of weapons. I think they have six guys that are averaging at double figures or really close to it. They’re not a team where you can just say ‘hey, we’re going to focus on this one guy.’ Our focus is understanding that league play starts, we’re starting on the road, and we’ve got a golden opportunity to go up there and see how good we can be. Obviously, we’re going to have to play a lot better than we did last night. Our guys know that. I know that. That’s where our focus is.
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