HE MODERATOR: We’ve been joined by Derrick Walton, Jr., D.J. Wilson and Zak Irvin.
Q. Just general thoughts when you first think of Louisville or see them play, what comes to mind, what makes them unique in your mind’s eye for all three players, please?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: They’re a really good coached team. They’re really athletic, really long. They attack the glass on the defensive and offensive side. They pose a different threat just with their length and athleticism, so we’re doing some things to make sure we keep those guys off the glass.
D.J. WILSON: They have nice guards. Their starting guards can shoot the ball well. That’s nothing different than we’re used to in the Big Ten. But I think the biggest difference is how hard they attack the offensive glass. They have a lot of athletic fours and fives that can get after it.
ZAK IRVIN: Touching on what Derrick said, they’re just very long and athletic. Also too they try to disrupt our offense with pressing and try to take things away from us.
Q. This is a Louisville team with a lot of length. How important is D.J. and what kind of impact can he make in this game?
ZAK IRVIN: I think he’s very important for us. He’s able to change the game in a various amount of ways because of his versatility, being able to play multiple positions. He’s long and athletic like they are. It will be a key part in the game for us tomorrow.
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: Just like Zak said, he can guard, defend multiple positions. He’s agile. We got a lot of confidence in him being able to match up with those guys. Looking forward to see what he does against those guys.
Q. Derrick, yesterday Rick Pitino, who has been known to exaggerate, compared you guys to the Golden State Warriors. I wonder how you reacted to that and which one of you is Steph Curry.
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: I was going to ask who is who? I didn’t take it any type of way. If it is sarcasm, I think he’s saying we’re a good team. That’s all I think of it as.
Q. You guys are obviously really good at shooting the 3-pointer. Louisville is one of the best in the country defending the 3-pointer. What are some of the keys to success when you face good 3-point defense in terms of getting shots off or making shots?
ZAK IRVIN: I think we can’t get disrupted with our offense, get in the flow early. I think it took us a little while yesterday to get settled down into our offense. That will be key. How well Derrick has been playing, he’s getting everybody in their spots. That will be key.
D.J. WILSON: The first few minutes when we see the defensive game plan, what they try to take away, we’ll get adjusted to it well after like a media time-out or whatever, once we see what they’re trying to do and how they’re trying to guard us.
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: Just like D.J. said, we just adapt to what the game gives us and pretty much just go from there, takes what the game gives us.
Q. Does Louisville look like anybody you guys have faced this year? Have you seen anything similar to what they present?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: I think you could think of SMU as far as how they attack the glass, having good length. That’s my best comparison.
D.J. WILSON: Same. SMU comes to mind just because how athletic they are and how they attack the offensive glass.
ZAK IRVIN: I’d agree with those two, SMU. They crash the glass hard. Oklahoma State yesterday crashed the glass hard. That will be key. We’ve got to get them off and out in transition.
Q. You guys started the season with a 19-11 record and then won your last six straight. Some of the elements of keys to success of why that’s happened and how much of an influence was what happened at the airport that day and how has that changed you guys?
D.J. WILSON: What happened at the airport, I don’t think that has a lot to do with how we’re performing on the court. I think we’re just clicking at the right time. Our defense is starting to click.
We’re starting to get a lot more stops. So once you combine the defense that we’ve been playing over the course of the second half of the year with our offense, then we’re dangerous.
ZAK IRVIN: Touching on what D.J. said, I think our offense has been there the whole year. It was our defense that was lacking, and we made those adjustments and want to be playing our best basketball in March and hopefully continue into April. We’re doing that right now.
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: I think to say the least, as a team, you want to get better as the year progresses. That’s pretty much what we do here, and we just get better each and every game and throughout the season and pays dividends. We’ve been able to put up some wins.
Q. You guys have talked about everything starting to click. What do you see out there that tells you it’s falling into place, it’s clicking?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: Just our communication with one another and making plays is the biggest difference at this point, having complete control over what we’re doing out there, pretty much.
D.J. WILSON: I think it’s on the other end, just defense, starting to click on that end. Like I said, the offense has always been there throughout the course of the year. It was just whether or not we were going to play defense. We have so far in the second half of the year, and hopefully we can carry that momentum on the defensive side into tomorrow.
ZAK IRVIN: At this point, player-driven teams be coach-driven teams, and we’ve done that the past two months, I’d say. Like D.J. said with our defense, the intensity has ramped up. It’s been a game changer for us.
Q. I’m just curious, not that it’s really relevant to tomorrow, but curious if you have any particular memories of the Louisville/Michigan National Championship a few years ago.
ZAK IRVIN: It was the year before Derrick and I got here. I just remember watching the game, how well Spike played. A lot of people didn’t see Spike before that point, 17 points the first half, it was incredible. Then the controversial call with Trey and I think it was Siva with the blocked call.
D.J. WILSON: Those two come to mind automatically, Spike and the call, the foul. Then, also, the Tim Hardaway, when he had that dunk in the fast break.
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: Pretty much the same. And just want to see our team succeed, though we weren’t here. I wanted to see them succeed so bad. That’s pretty much it.
Q. It’s often been said that it’s difficult to face a Pitino-coached team on very short notice because his defense is just so complex. What are some of the challenges for you guys on short notice in wheeling back around and facing a new team? Is it adjusting on the fly? What are some of the challenges?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: I think we did a great job last week. We had to play four games in four days, so adjusting will be pretty much what we do at this point. Adapting is another part of our identity. We just adapt to what the game gives us and go from there.
D.J. WILSON: Like Derrick said, playing four games in four days, that’s something that you have to kind of just adapt to as far as learning their offenses and whatnot. But at the same time, I also think that we’re hard to scout for with just a day between the games just because we’re so complex on the offensive end, and we have so many weapons.
ZAK IRVIN: Just really what they touched on. It’s not going to be easy by any means, but I think we’ll be ready for it. Everybody knows Coach B has us prepared for several things coming at us. Once the game gets going, it will be fun.
Q. Derrick, what is the key to you guys having such a low turnover rate all year? What makes that happen?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: Well, first and foremost, if we turn the ball over in practice, there’s a consequence. So our coach really values not turning the ball over and making sure we get the best possible shot each and every possession. I think as a team, our identity, that’s something we’ve came to means with it and making sure we get a shot every time down the floor and make sure we pass the ball to the guys on our team.
Q. What is the consequence of turning the ball over in practice?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: It varies, running to the top of our gym or just being taken out of the drill. It’s just one of the things that we still know we don’t want to turn the ball over.
Q. For Derrick, I don’t know if you’ve seen UCLA play, but if someone hadn’t been watching college basketball this season and said who’s the best offensive team in the country, what would be your answer?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: We played Oklahoma State yesterday, and we played UCLA, so it will be one of my top two. But I wouldn’t short change us either. I think we’ve got five or six guys on our team that’s already reached the 20-point plateau. I think you can make an argument for Michigan being one of the most offensive teams.
Q. Yesterday, you guys set a school record in the tournament for three points made in the tournament game. What was the key to your success, especially in the second half, with the 3-point shot?
ZAK IRVIN: One of the things for our team is we’re so unselfish, especially how well Derrick is leading our team on the offensive end is something special. One of us gets it going like Derrick did in the second half, it’s contagious for all of us, and we’re able to score in various ways.
D.J. WILSON: I think everybody around the court has utmost confidence in themselves and each other. When we get the ball and shoot it, we plan for it to go in. We don’t second guess ourselves.
At the same time, I think that we’re just taking what the defense was giving us. With our offense, you have to pick your poison. So they were leaving us open for three, and we were making them pay.
Q. Zak, at this stage of the tournament, how important is executing whatever the plan is, or can teams get away with sort of freelancing or relying on talent?
ZAK IRVIN: At this point in the season, I think execution is key. I think we showed that yesterday against Oklahoma State, especially those last five minutes, the game kept going back and forth. For us to be able to get stops, especially on the defensive end was huge. We had big-time players, made big-time plays.
Q. Zak, a few years ago, there was a lot of criticism in the college game, especially shooting. Obviously, you guys are a great example of how far it’s come. In your career at Michigan and watching college basketball, what do you think has changed to where there’s been a better value on shooting the basketball?
ZAK IRVIN: Like I said, I think there has been a change in shooting. I think also too, you just give credit to teams have started playing smaller basketball. With fours, especially like D.J., how he’s able to change the style of the game for us, even Mo, a five-man, being able to shoot the ball the way he does. We work on practice all time. Coach B has done a great job on working with people and their shooting forms. I think that’s been one of the reasons why we have been so successful.
Q. Speaking of the 3s, how much are you instructed in — you talked about penalties for turnovers in practice. Is there a penalty for taking a 15-footer? Are you guys told to specifically avoid that?
DERRICK WALTON, JR.: No. The main thing Coach B preaches is take the shot when you’re open. That’s all we do here. We take what the defense gives us, and there’s no penalty for shooting 15-footers.
Q. I’ll stay on the topic of shooting. Pitino’s comment, Golden State Warriors, how much are you influenced by what happens at the next level because it seems like there’s a trickle-down effect with the small ball.
D.J. WILSON: I’m not too sure how much it influences us. I just think we have a lot of pieces, and Coach B does as best as he can to kind of just control us in a way to let us have freedom while at the same time just letting us play our game.
So I don’t know if it really has much of an influence of how we play. We’re just utilizing all the tools that we have.
ZAK IRVIN: Coach B does a great job with the Xs and Os. But he says from time to time, it’s the players. It’s not the plays. Like I said, just to harp on Derrick, Derrick’s doing a great job with that and for us to be able to score the ball in various ways.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Q. Coach Pitino called you the Golden State Warriors, called your team the Golden State Warriors. I’m curious, what influence do you think teams like the Golden State Warriors and other teams at the next level have had on the college game in recent years?
COACH BEILEIN: First of all, it’s a huge exaggeration. I would not put us in that ballpark in any way.
But the style sometimes would be we resemble each other. Here’s what I love about this, there’s not too many people that are coaching as head coaches right now that were head coaches before the shot clock, before the 3-point line.
I’m one of those guys. As you watch the evolution of the game, you just embrace it. It’s incredible how the game keeps changing. Those that have made the rules 99 percent of the time, they’ve made great adjustments, and everybody keeps adjusting to it.
Then we copy the heck out of each other. So I think that if you watch the Big Ten, we’re going to have a similar style because I don’t sit at home and say Louisville’s playing tomorrow, let’s watch the Syracuse game. We don’t have time to leisurely watch games that you don’t — aren’t bearing on your life.
So I think that, obviously, the computers and the synergy and all these things have had a huge influence on people finding new ways to win besides the three-out, two-in game that we saw in the ’70s. It’s probably more like the games in the ’60s right now with Rudy T. and Calvin Murphy and Bob Lanier and Pete Maravich than it is to what we saw in some periods of the 44-42 game earlier on.
Q. John, you had a couple of very memorable tournament games against Rick Pitino, 2005 and ’13. What are the specific challenges of facing teams he coaches? Do you see the same things in this team that you saw in those?
COACH BEILEIN: Yeah. Where they have been able to really expose a weakness of ours is just getting baskets over the top or getting offensive rebounds because they usually have very talented guards.
They’re able to get downhill a little bit through a lot of great action, college action, pro action. He’s got a great mind for the game. And then while you’re either giving help or give one step to get help, if they miss, they’ve got some long-armed dude all over the top of the rim.
That’s been a big common denominator in all those games.
Q. John, Rick said yesterday you were the hardest coach to ever prepare for.
COACH BEILEIN: Rich was exaggerating a lot. This is the part before they kick your butt. They try to butter you up a little bit.
Q. We know that. Let’s check that. Why do you think he thinks that about you?
COACH BEILEIN: We played against each other in the Big East and in the tournament a few times. They are really hard for us. He’s the hardest coach that I’ve ever had to prepare for. How about that for a touché? It’s usually one-day prep. In the Big East, one time we played them where we had a two or three-day prep, and it was at West Virginia. Usually it’s one or two-day prep, and it’s really hard.
So styles may be different and just getting your kids to understand certain concepts, but he’s done pretty well prepping for us. He’s got a pretty good record in these preps.
Q. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, talk about where he’s come from where he walked in the door to where he is today now.
COACH BEILEIN: When he first came to us, he was all into working hard, but did not probably know that he’s so talented that he had another level he could develop to. He was one of my original tuxedo guys that played the game in a tuxedo.
He was fast. He was quick. But he wasn’t going to dive on the floor, wasn’t going to take a charge. He was one of those guys that just had to continue to learn that he had another level of play in him. He’ll still drift to that at times.
That’s the biggest improvement. His passing, first year, had 26 assists, the whole first year. He played a lot. Now he’s got 65 or 70. He was a 30-percent shooter. Now he’s a 40-percent shooter. I’m looking forward to what he’s still going to be able to do in this tournament.
Also looking forward to him, as he goes into the senior year, he reminds me, for the young people, Randy Smith of Buffalo State and the Buffalo Braves. He’s this elite athlete that if his full focus is on I’m going to utilize all the God-given talent, he’s got even another level for himself.
Q. Derrick said that one of your sayings is it’s the players, not the plays. I’m wondering at this stage, how much is this about execution? How much is it about players making plays?
COACH BEILEIN: Louisville is scheming against some things that we do, so you can’t say let’s go hoop, right? They’ll be sitting on things that we do. Now you have to change some angles and things like that.
With the 30-second shot clock, as we continue to evolve as a program, that’s a big focus to make sure we both recruit and teach guys to be players more than run plays. Remember, no shot clock for Coach B when he first started, and then 45 seconds, then 35 seconds, then 30 seconds.
You keep evolving. The more it evolves into the NBA type of game, the more that there’s five seconds to go, seven seconds, what are you going to do? You ain’t running another play. You’ve got to be able to have a player make a play. That’s where we’ve evolved more and more.
I saw a young man awhile ago that played for Pete Carril back before the shot clock. I said you could control the ball for three or four minutes until you got your shot. It’s so far from there right now. We’ve evolved, and we got to evolve more.
Q. Coach, is it silly to suggest what you guys went through on the plane has helped you play better basketball? Is it coincidence, a galvanizing force?
COACH BEILEIN: There are different things that happen through the season. You don’t know until the end. We hope this isn’t the end. That was one of the significant moments in the season that got us to go to another level maybe of appreciation and a sense of urgency of how your life can change quickly.
We’ve had some bad losses. They’re all close ones. I think the only team — South Carolina is the only team that really took it to us. Illinois a little bit on the road. But we look back at a play here and there, and the games we lost might have been defining moments for us.
Our Ohio State game at home, they’re a good team, don’t make any mistake about that. Our Virginia Tech loss at home, I thought that would cost us the tournament. Two home losses to two good teams, but we didn’t have the grit we needed at the end of those games to win. And I didn’t coach that grit well enough.
I think we’ve showed that. If you want to talk about maybe that one little extra step we needed, I know it was for me.
Q. John, going back to what you first touched on about shooting and scoring and the way the game is now, how has that changed what you have to do or try to do defensively, how difficult it is to defend people?
COACH BEILEIN: Every day is a new — it’s geometry. It’s not calculus, but it’s geometry because every way — what Rick is running right now, and I haven’t watched one bit, I’m one game at a time in the tournament. Saddi Washington has been watching all week. We had a guy watching Jacksonville State as well. They’re doing something we haven’t seen all year. We’ve seen parts of it. We haven’t seen it all year.
These angles and the way people keep evolving, like I said, with the advent of the old watching teams on film, it’s becoming more like football every day with the way people can move people around and give different looks and do the same thing.
Your kids have to recognize it without huddling up every 30 seconds. So it’s opened up this game, and all of a sudden, new officiating rules where you’re not plugging guys and things like that has made the game a much higher scoring game.
I like it. I think it would be very hard to play if you didn’t have shooters, though? Because everybody would plug in there, and you wouldn’t have anybody open. So we always try to recruit guys that can shoot or we think they are not far away. They just need to work a little bit more on it.
Q. Coach, you were talking about the evolution of the game and how it’s more of a players’ game now. Do you think that that may contribute to the separation of the elite Power Five schools from the mid-majors and maybe the reason there are fewer upsets in the tournament?
COACH BEILEIN: I think this year, I guess that wave of upsets is probably over right now, or it still could happen, I guess. But no, I think it’s more of an aberration than anything. Every year, it’s going to happen. You’re going to have some. You’re not going to have some. No.
I think, if anything, it will go the other way because of the attrition to the pros because of transfers. You take a whole bunch of juniors and seniors who are mid-major players and play a bunch of freshmen who have people calling them about the NBA the next day and they’re in the NCAA tournament, it’s really hard.
So you just stay tuned. This March Madness will always be March Madness. Some years, it will just be madder than others.
Q. I want to follow up on the players making plays rather than running plays. What about time and score considerations? How does that factor in on when to do something, when not to do something?
COACH BEILEIN: Well, that’s because of the shorter shot clock right now, that’s been a thing. We’ve had a couple of times where we really played out of our minds and had these 20-point leads against really good teams with ten minutes to go.
You think a coach feels good? That’s the worst time for a coach because you’re knowing you don’t want to keep just running and gunning because maybe you’re going to — two 3s, three 3s, it’s a 12-point game with 9 to go. It can happen in a blink of an eye. It’s the sweet spot, just like football again. We just don’t have as much time to think about it.
Or it’s third and three. Am I going to pass this one and get incomplete or am I going to take more time off the clock? That’s the tough thing for us because you don’t see as much pressing right now because you’re relying on that clock.
But getting those shots, when do you stop sending guys to the offensive boards and send them back to protect? You usually can hang onto the lead. But we had a game with Purdue this year, I mean, they scored two — we were up 18. They scored two old fashioned 3s and two 3-point plays in like a minute. It was six, just like that. We had had some pretty good shots, but they didn’t go in.
I think you’ve got to be very careful about when you pull the plug. People can come back so quickly.
Q. John, in your experience, when one of your teams comes off such a good shooting display, 16 3-pointers, do you figure they’ll be confident and do it again or do you worry it’s not going to be there? The other team is clued in on it. Do you worry it’s fool’s gold?
COACH BEILEIN: I worry about everything in life. That’s a bad question for me. 16, I’m not saying we’re going to go make 16 again. I’m not thinking that. I’m thinking if we get good shots, let’s go and if we can shoot 35 to 45 percent from three, we’re going to be in a lot of games.
But we’ve got to get those shots too. People take away your 3s, that is another issue. So then you’ve got to drive the ball and say we’re not doing it. We’ve got to drive it. They’re out and extending. Now we have to drive by people or run different action to get things going to the rim or passing action to the rim.
So I think, even though people will think we’re this 3-point shooting machine, I think we’re really flexible at doing what we need to do to be able to be in position to win a game.
Q. John, how far do you think we are from the college rules embracing all of the NBA rules, the 3-point line, the shot clock? At what point do you think that will happen?
COACH BEILEIN: We’re certainly trending that way, Myron, but I hope we don’t go to the 24. I think there’s a certain element there that these kids — the action is going to be more up and down, right? The NBA guys aren’t going to classes all day long, right, and they’re not getting back at 2:00 in the morning and having 8:00 calculus class or chemistry class or sociology class.
I hope we’ve got to keep the beauty of this thing. It’s in a good spot right now where it is. Because of our new strengths and basketball, our technology, because of those strengths, these kids, their time demands are even more in flux.
So I think when we go to that, I think that now it’s more times up and down the court, up and down the court, more times in practice up and down the court. I think it’s dangerous to go too much in that level.
But I think we’ve got to still put our kids in position so they’re ready for the NBA. That’s the key thing. But I think we can do that in a gradual thing, just like the minor leagues in baseball. They’re not ready in the minor leagues, but it won’t be long before they’re ready. Put them in position to be in that position.
Q. John, I think you’ve faced a Pitino-coached team four times in your career. I wonder what you find is the unique challenge to prepare for his team and are they much different than they were in the ’13 title game?
COACH BEILEIN: I think they’ve been very similar in all the times. I even faced them when I was a Canisius coach when he was at Kentucky. So you’re always prepared for multiple defenses because they’re going to come out. They’re going to play full court pressure. Sometimes they’re going to trap. Sometimes they’re going to run and jump.
They’re going to play hard pressure, sometimes soft pressure. You’re going to see some type of full court just soft stuff. And you’re going to see a matchup zone, regular zone. You’re going to see regular man-to-man, switching man-to-man. We’ve seen all those things. In a one-day prep, it’s hard. It’s hard for both teams.
That’s been pretty consistent with Rick, and I think that he’s about the same age as I am. And we sort of got into the game differently to where we are just by coaching nomads a little bit.
The Dean Smiths that we got the clinics, the John Woodens that played multiple defenses. John Wooden used to press. Dean Smith always had a multiple defense. Those were the clinics that we went to that and I went to. That helps you evolve as a young coach.
So he’s kept some of that. We used to be 1-3-1 zone and back to a man. We used to change more than we do now. I like winning more, so we stop playing so much 1-3-1. Everybody got used to the 1-3-1. It used to be big, and then people got used to it.
Q. You’ve only had a day to look at film for Louisville, but what are your thoughts on number 22, Deng Adel, the small forward?
COACH BEILEIN: I like what I see from him, because his length is incredible. He can shoot just enough where you have to guard him. He’s a perfect complement to the two guards. His length is really, really good. I think they played him on guards before as well, so very versatile player.
Q. Derrick Walton now is a household name in a lot of college basketball fans’ households. I’m curious as to — especially over the last month or so, he’s been picked up. So has it been a situation where Derrick has just been exposed and now people are becoming familiar with him, or has he always been this good?
If he’s been this good, what do you attribute his play recently to?
COACH BEILEIN: I think that his evolvement as a player, his evolution as a player, has really spiked this year. Where you’ve seen the biggest spike is that he wanted to win so badly. He’s had a lot of help with that, where he’s got a great staff.
I think that Billy Donlon has had a great influence on him. Greg Hardin, who has counseled the Tom Bradys and the Desmond Howards of the world has spoken a lot with him about him getting everything he can out of the blessings he’s had.
Actually, I think people starting to switch man-to-man and say my 7-footer or my 6’8″ guy can guard their point guard, I think he took it personally and said, wait a minute, I got a lot more to my game because that was part of where this whole thing started is where people thought they could just guard him with a big man in a pick-and-roll situation. And he said, all right now Coach just wants me to shoot it or drive it. That’s really been helpful.
The young man has worked hard. We wear these Catapult system on our back that measures how hard you worked that day in practice. And his was leading every practice every day the first month of the season. It was like 1,100. We try to not let him get over 500 or 400. Halfway through practice, he’s at 500. We have to shut him down. He’s a worker and that’s been the other component of his growth.
Q. John, Zak, D.J. and Derrick were talking about how importantly you treat turnovers in practice. Can you talk a little bit about Louisville’s pressure defense and how turnovers may play a key in the game tomorrow?
COACH BEILEIN: This is a part that we have to take care of. It’s a game of possessions. Because we have a lot of skilled players, we can accept some of the fact we might get out-rebounded. If you out-rebound us by six or seven and we have seven less turnovers, we all have the same possessions.
So that’s very, very important. If you’re out-rebounding us and we’re giving it back to you, we’re in trouble. We have to make sure to take care of the ball because if you’re going to trap us or try to turn us over, we’re one pass away from a basket.
So I think we probably work at pivoting and passing as much as anybody in the country. The kids are coming in — because it’s just old school camp stuff. I mean, if you had a fourth grade team, you teach them how to pivot. It seems like we get a lot of players that don’t know how to pivot. Now they can pivot out of that pressure and their defense can create our offense.
Louisville’s thing will be their defense going to create their offense. We can’t let that happen tomorrow.