Press Conference: Iowa State ready for UVA in Sweet 16
ISU (23-11) plays top seed UVA (28-7) on Friday night.
STEVE PROHM: First off, just want to say how excited we are to be in Chicago. This is a great opportunity for not only our team but our university, everybody here affiliated with the NCAA, United Center, and our hotel has been amazing, and just looking forward to playing a really good Virginia team tomorrow night.
Q. Coach, in terms of style of play, would you say you and Virginia are pretty much polar opposites, and is this kind of a litmus test of sorts to see which style of play can prevail?
STEVE PROHM: I think you can look at it both ways. I think you can look at it that we are — it is a litmus test, but I think you can also look at it, you’re two of the top most efficient teams on the offensive end in the country. I think we’re two or three, and I think Virginia is six in the last Kenpom offensive efficiency rating, or you can look at it the other way, to where everybody says we want to get up and down, Virginia wants to get into the half-court, get a lot of ball reversal, make you work on defense for 20, 25 seconds. You know, our biggest thing is offensively is making sure our spacing, making sure our shot selection is good. Our games, we’ve won a lot of big games when our possessions are in the 60s and high 60s. If you really chart our teams, we don’t want to play crazy fast, we want to run and make sure we get into spots, and then we want the ball moving, and when we have good ball reversal and good shot selection, then we’re very, very good.
Q. The ACC and Big 12 have kind of separated themselves as the top leagues in this country. This is the one match-up featuring the two leagues. How has the Big 12 prepared you to this point and can you speak to taking on a team from the ACC?
STEVE PROHM: Well, first, playing in the Big 12 prepares you for everything. You can go through a stretch in our league where you’re at Kansas home, Oklahoma, at West Virginia or at Baylor, at Texas, and so the night in and night out, the grind of the Big 12, that’s why I just kept telling our guys, we lost a couple close games and then we went through February where we lost a ton of close games to where, just stick to what we’re doing. We’re going to have great opportunities at the end. So I think the Big 12 prepares you for this moment right here.
Playing against an ACC school, a team like Virginia that’s had such great success under Coach Bennett the last several years, it’s a great opportunity for our team. And that’s all we’re thinking about right now is just Virginia and trying to advance to the Elite 8, nothing further than that.
But not so much conference affiliation, it’s more just trying to beat Virginia. But great respect for the ACC. Obviously six teams in the Sweet 16. We’ve got three out of our league. But both teams are very — both leagues are very, very good.
Q. I saw in the bio that you were born in Vienna. Was your family from Virginia? How long did you live there and what’s the background there?
STEVE PROHM: It’s kind of crazy. We’re in Chicago and we’re playing Virginia. Everybody in my family outside of me was born in Chicago. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my brother, my parents, they’re all from Chicago. My brother was three, my dad was in the carpet business. They moved to Fairfax to Vienna, Virginia, lived in Fairfax 14 years, and I really grew up on ACC basketball and Big East basketball, and then moved to Georgia when I was 14.
But that’s why if you follow me at all, I’m a die-hard Washington RedskinS fan. That’s my one true affiliation in that area now. But I followed Virginia for a long time, back with John Crotty, Richard Morgan, some of those great, great teams, Sampson and them are a little bit — that was back when I was a little bit too young. But Crotty and them were really fun to watch, Bryant Stith. I’ve watched a lot of good teams under Jeff Jones, I think was the coach at the time, had some really good teams, the Alexander guards, and so I followed Virginia, James Madison, Virginia Tech, I’ve followed those schools for a long, long time because those were the three schools you went to when you grew up in Virginia just being a student, you either went to Virginia, Virginia Tech or James Madison.
Q. Coach, I know you met with Fred Hoiberg yesterday with the team. Just talk about that experience, and did he give you any tips on rims, soft spots on the floor?
STEVE PROHM: I think he just said just give it to Georges and let him shoot it.
No, this was a blessing to be in Chicago. The way it was all set up, and that’s one thing I just kind of envisioned in talking to our team is just stay with it, and man, God has got a great plan for this team, and wouldn’t it be crazy if we ended up in Chicago and Fred can watch you guys have a chance to play, to get to the Final Four.
It was great to get over to the United Center, the practice facility yesterday across the street and let these guys see Fred, his other coaches that are with him now, because Fred wasn’t — the thing that people — Fred not only was their coach, Fred is one of the best players to ever play at Iowa State University, so he is a die-hard fan, and I want a great relationship with all our former players. Marcus Fizer has been back, Paul Shirley has been back, Jacy Holloway that played under Floyd. I want all those guys to feel comfortable coming back and be around our program.
Fred took a couple minutes to talk to these guys about just enjoying the process, enjoying the journey, enjoy this moment, soak it up, and then fight like heck to beat Virginia, and to give him an opportunity to watch us on Sunday play the winner of the other game.
Fred has been a great resource for me. Hopefully we made him proud this year. I think we have from what he told those guys yesterday, but I really thought it was cool that he could be part of this journey, that we could meet up in Chicago and hopefully we can see him on Sunday.
Q. I’m curious, how many different defensive approaches have you seen this year, and when you go into a game like this where UVA is very comfortable post trapping, they have some good perimeter, do you have to have multiple game plans because you’re not quite sure how they’ll approach him?
STEVE PROHM: Virginia is one team, Coach Bennett is kind of, this is how they play. Post trap, they’re coming hard. Hedging ball screen, they’re hedging hard. Going to be in gaps. Going to make it really tough, be physical.
We’ve seen every different defense on Niang this year, so the biggest thing that you can focus on is is your spacing good, are we getting ball reversal, are we cutting hard, and is our shot selection good.
When our team, because we have skill level and we have good shooters, when we’re spacing the floor and moving the basketball, we don’t really have to run so-called play A, B or C, we can just play basketball, and I really think these guys are more comfortable just playing basketball.
Q. You guys are obviously known for your offense, but in Denver you defended well, especially the second game, and Monté was a big part of that shutting down Josh Hagins. Now he’s going to have a bigger challenge obviously with Brogdon. What do you see in that match-up, and how important has Monté’s defense been for you guys this year?
STEVE PROHM: You know, when Monté has played well, there’s not many games we’ve gotten beat. Him and Niang are obviously the catapults of our team, the backbone of our team. Monté, we gave him the challenge of Hagins, and obviously when you’re playing against somebody that sets a lot of ball screens for somebody, your post guys have to be good. But that’s the one thing, I thought in Denver, three out of our four halves out there, we really guarded. We had two 30 percent — 30, whatever, 30-odd field-goal percentage defense, we had one 41 percent. Second half Iona, we got too much up-and-down and turned it over too much, a couple bad shots, but Monté was a huge catalyst. We need him to be good defensively, whether it’s on Perrantes or Brogdon, we’ll move him around on different guys. Brogdon has got a lot of size, so Monté may be on Perrantes more, or we just may try to put him on Brogdon and get underneath him. Brogdon is terrific, though, so we’ll throw different guys at him.
But when Monté is good, and the best thing is now I think he’s healthy and he’s rested, and we got him some time off to heal up, he’s as good as anybody in the country at his position. He can really guard.
Q. Does Brogdon — is there anyone in the Big 12 that reminds you of Brogdon or have you guys not really seen anything quite like him this year?
STEVE PROHM: You know, I couldn’t name — there’s really good big wings in our league. Buddy Hield, Prince at Baylor, Wayne Selden at Kansas. What they do for Brogdon, it’s all to the screen action, the constant moving, his ability to make threes, post you, and get the ball to the middle of the paint. He is a unique match-up in that regard to where he’s not really flashy. He’s just really, really productive.
Q. 4.2 to 1 assist-turnover ratio for Monté, how comforting is that as a coach and how does he take such good care of the ball?
STEVE PROHM: It’s amazing. He’s led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio the last two years, and I think this year, maybe he’s third. I don’t know. I’ve coached some really good point guards, and they’ve turned it over some. Monté just has such a really good basketball IQ to the point that he’s always looking to make the smart play, always looking to make good decisions. He’ll have games you look up and there’ll be 11 assists, zero turnovers, one turnover. He has a really good feel, has a really good pace to his game, and I think one thing people discredit for him a little bit is I think he can really make shots, but I think sometimes he’ll defer for the betterment of the team.
Q. Virginia’s bench has really been good in the postseason. What have you seen from them that’s impressed you, and particularly Shayok who seems to really come on strong?
STEVE PROHM: Well, Shayok played really good against Butler. I think they went small in the second half against Butler. Four guards out there and Shayok was really good in isolations on the wing. He’s been good for them off the bench. They bring size off the bench, as well, another big body off the bench that can score around the post. They bring Nolte off the bench who can be a space guy, and so — and then Thompson. We actually recruited Thompson when I was at Murray. He’s from Murfreesboro right down the road. I know Darius. He’s the one guy I do know on the team. They do, they are deep, and I think everybody understands their role, but they do bring some physical size off the bench, too, that we’ve got to make sure we do a good job on.
Q. What was the most exciting part of seeing your old coach again and coming to the Bulls’ facility and everything the last couple days?
GEORGES NIANG: I think the biggest thing was just how he carries himself, always has a smile on his face, is always cool, calm and collected, just like I feel like we’ve been trained since he coached us. That hasn’t left us. I think it was good to get there and talk to him and ask him how he’s doing, and really just his cool, calm and collected type of vibe. I think that was the best thing about seeing him.
Q. When you look at UVA’s pack line defense, what does that challenge present to you? How does that impact your game and how you approach things?
GEORGES NIANG: Yeah, if you watch our games, we get a lot of easy buckets at the rim, and I think that’s what their pack line is really trying to take away, so obviously we’re going to have to find some ways of moving them around to open up those easy lanes for us to get to the rim. Obviously, we’re going to have to make some shots from the outside. So I think the biggest thing is trying to get them moving, get in uncomfortable positions on the defensive end so we can get easy lines to the basket.
Q. You’ve guarded obviously some very, very good guards. When you see Brogdon, what do you have to do against him? I know you’re probably not going to be on him the whole game. What are your thoughts on him and what makes him so tough?
MONTÉ MORRIS: Think he knows the offense inside and out. I think his capability of making tough shots, making himself good, and he’s good at scoring on other people’s mistakes. I seen a lot on film, a lot of guys try to shoot the gap and get quick steals on him and he’s able to adjust on the offensive end and go score. So I think if I get switched on him, I’m just going to try to make it tough on him, and stay solid and don’t gamble.
Q. Do you study other point guards, and if you do, what’s your impression of London Perrantes?
MONTÉ MORRIS: Think he’s a shot maker, and he does a good job of putting guys in position to be successful. He’s a great point guard that’s playing at a high level, and he’s in the Sweet 16 for a reason. He definitely can play, so I mean, I’ve done my job studying on him, know where he likes to be, and just try to take that away from him.
Q. Georges, could you talk about a kid from a New England prep school ends up at Iowa State?
GEORGES NIANG: You know, I think I skipped, tripped and fell right into Iowa State. No, I mean, there’s relationships that college coaches have throughout America, and one happened to be Coach Hoiberg and my AAU coach. They really vibed and got to know each other, and he recommended me, and Coach Hoiberg came to see me, and it happened to be that I didn’t miss a shot that game, so he offered me a scholarship, and I came out to visit. It was really the first high major program to recruit me, and I felt a loyalty to Coach Hoiberg to be at Iowa State.
Obviously things have changed, and I wouldn’t change my decision for anything because what the university has given me, I couldn’t have ever dreamed of.
Q. Monté, they don’t turn the ball over very often. When you watch, is there any weakness there that you can get some transition buckets or are they just not team that’s going to do that?
MONTÉ MORRIS: I mean, as far as their passing games go, they haven’t turned the ball over, but we really don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow night. In the Sweet 16, in any game in the tournament, you’ve just got to be better than the team and make them uncomfortable for that day. I think tomorrow, if we can turn them over, great, but that’s not their dilemma, so I feel like we’re just going to have to try to play solid and play our style of basketball, and hopefully we come out on top and be better than them come tomorrow.
Q. I think we saw No. 30 throwing in three of the half-court shots you hit in that shoot-around. Is he someone who normally hits those?
GEORGES NIANG: He’s a specialist. We’re going to put him in the game for that type of stuff having (laughing). Deonte is just so strong. He can probably throw a football 400 yards. The kid is just an animal, so it’s no surprise he shoots a regular jump shot from the half-court line while all of us are trying to heave it up there.
Q. Georges, I read an article where you have as your screen saver on your phone the picture from last year’s loss. A lot of players wouldn’t want to look at that every single day, wouldn’t even want to remember it. What was the motivation for you to want to see that picture every day?
GEORGES NIANG: I think with kids and their phones and college kids and their phones, that’s the first thing that I pick up when I wake up is check my phone. Just, it really helps me realize the pain that I went through really when we lost to UAB. The picture is of me with my hands over my head and just a depressed look on my face, and if I woke up a little bit tired, maybe I’m going to hit the snooze button, but when I see that screen saver, it makes me realize that I’ve got to get up and go get after it because nothing in this world is going to be handed to you. So I think it’s just a little extra motivation for me to get up and go chase after this dream.
Q. You strike me as both locked in and loose at the same time. Is that accurate?
MONTÉ MORRIS: Feel like it’s accurate. I mean, we’ve got experience under our belt. A lot of experience, him being a senior, me being a junior, and we know when to lock in and stay focused at all times. I feel like you can’t be too uptight, so we just try to be a little loose to just keep the nerves down.
Q. Monté, if you don’t mind if we can revisit London Perrantes, when you study him, do you find him to be a pretty cool character out there with the ball and running their offense?
MONTÉ MORRIS: Yeah, he’s a point guard. A lot of point guards usually know where everybody is going to be on the court, and I think he knows where everybody is going to be. He makes great plays for Gill and Brogdon and players like that on the court. I feel like he does a good job of running their team.
Q. Georges, how do you guys avoid or how do you actually dictate the pace of the game and avoid being drawn into Virginia’s deliberate style of play?
GEORGES NIANG: I think the biggest thing is if you ever watch Virginia, they do a great job of getting the ball reversed and running their actions. I think if you can deny passes and take away certain passes and make them have to go to counters for what their offense is, I think that’s going to help us get them sped up a little bit. Obviously they play a slow, grind-it-out type of style, so I think take away some of their options, whether it’s denying the pass out or not letting guys catch, I think that will be huge for us in trying to change the style or tempo.
Q. You guys met with Coach Hoiberg and he was obviously such a huge part of you guys going to Iowa State and just the whole program, turning it around. How special would it be to have him in the crowd on Sunday and kind of finish what he kind of started?
GEORGES NIANG: That would be great. I mean, but we’re just trying to take it one game at a time. Virginia is a team we’ve really got to be focused on. We can’t be focused on Sunday because last year we tried to focus on another team, and we lost in the first round. I mean, it would be really cool, but we’re really focused and locked in on what Virginia’s tendencies are.
Q. When you met with him yesterday, did he give you guys any advice at all?
GEORGES NIANG: Yeah, I think the biggest thing he told us was enjoy this moment because life is going to hit you, and before you know it you’re 43 and you’re doing something that wasn’t what you were doing back then, and he said, he really wished if he could go back, he really wished he could enjoy his college years, so I think that’s one thing me and Monté are doing, and maybe that’s why we’re so loose and laid-back.
Q. What’s your guys’ sense of Abdel’s mindset coming home and playing here in front of family and friends in Chicago?
MONTÉ MORRIS: Feel like whenever you get to come back home, I feel like you get that feel that you’re at home and you’re very comfortable. I know when we got off the plane, he said, man, I’m back home, so I feel like he’s going to put on a good show and he’s going to have a lot of people here watching him. I know he’s going to play real cool and poised out there for us, and he’s looking to have a big game, and I think he’s going to have one.
Q. Georges, I’m sorry to belabor this. What’s your family background? Where did your parents live while you were in prep school and before that?
GEORGES NIANG: Yeah, my mom lives in Massachusetts, my parents are divorced, and my dad lives down in Virginia Beach. Growing up I’d be back and forth. When we had breaks, I’d go down and see my father who’s in the military that lives down in Virginia. I have a pretty good balance in my family life. My mom is my backbone, my rock, and my dad is always there to support me.
Q. So you have Virginia ties?
GEORGES NIANG: I mean, yeah, my dad lives down there. That’s the only tie that I have.
Q. Pace of play question: You guys have played Texas, Oklahoma State, I guess Texas Tech has similar slow pace to these guys. Do they compare at all? I know maybe not talent-wise, but is that something you can kind of reflect on and look at as a preparation tool, and also, Georges, what branch of the military is your dad in?
GEORGES NIANG: He’s in the Navy. He’s a merchant marine.
MONTÉ MORRIS: As far as the Big 12 teams go, I feel like we’ve played at every pace like you said. I think Kansas State is probably most equivalent to Virginia defensive-wise. Offensive-wise, I don’t really know a team in the Big 12 that’s really like that. Probably Kansas, how they just run two games, but they run two different styles of offense, Virginia does to Kansas, but with milking the clock and things like that, you can see a little similarity there.
GEORGES NIANG: Yeah, I don’t think you can really compare anybody in our league to Virginia. They’re so unique, so talented. They’re a 1 seed, so we haven’t really played a team like that. There’s obviously some similarities in some of the teams that we’ve played, but they do just a great job of turning down good shots for really great shots and really making you work for 30 seconds every time down, which is a key to their success.
Q. Obviously you talked about you haven’t played a team like this in your league, but the Big 12 and the ACC have kind of separated themselves in this postseason as the best conferences in this country. How did the Big 12 prepare you to this point and talk about your thoughts on taking on a team in the ACC?
GEORGES NIANG: I would just say we’re battle tested. I know every night in the Big 12 there’s really no cupcakes that you can walk in and show up and win. We’ve played games in overtime, we’ve played games where you’ve got to have stops on the last possession. I think the biggest thing with both conferences we’ve watched is we’re battle tested. We’ve played in tough games. We’ve played in games where teams can come back from 20-point deficits. I think the biggest thing is we’ve seen it all.
Q. When Hoiberg left and Prohm came in, was there any thought to looking elsewhere? Sometimes a new coach comes in and guys leave. And number two, how has he dealt with kind of all the pressure of being the guy?
GEORGES NIANG: You can ask him if — I didn’t really have an option, but I would never leave Iowa State. I don’t think this guy would, either. What the university has done for us is — it speaks volumes to the type of people that we have at Iowa State.
I said before, I think Coach Prohm is really the best hire because the guy has no ego. He wants to meet everybody halfway and do things that make you comfortable, and at the end of the day he wants to do stuff that work. Obviously we’ve been through our bumps and bruises throughout the year of losing streaks, but what he really set out when he first got the job is I want us to be our best in March, and he really stuck to that vision, and really is spreading his vision to us, and I feel like when you love the coach that you play for, you’re going to play that much harder, and I think that’s a bond that we’ve shared throughout this year of growing and getting to know each other.
MONTÉ MORRIS: Think he did a great job when he came in just letting us know, look, I’m not Hoiberg, I’m going to come in and do some things the same as he ran it here. But I think everybody just opened their arms, had meetings with us daily, getting a feel for us, and things that we liked, that I liked, with the offense that things can throw in his playbook, Georges on down the line. He did a great job of making us comfortable and play our best basketball in March. At first, we were like, looking like, it’s December, man, we’ve got this game, but he was looking down the line for this situation and this opportunity we’ve got at stake tomorrow. Now it’s all coming together like a puzzle.