Interview: Coach Mac
(Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to Saturday’s game at Evansville.)
The Racers are 4-4 through eight games, five of which have been on the road. With a little more than three weeks left before the beginning of conference play we sat down with head coach Matt McMahon for our regular conversation.
Racer Insider: How would you assess the way your team has played so far?
Matt McMahon: I’ve been very pleased with our efficiency at the offensive end of the floor. We’re averaging over 83 points a game and making double-digit 3s a game at over 38 percent. We’re only turning the ball over on 15 percent of our possessions which puts us 14th in the country.
But at the defensive end of the floor we still have a long way to go. Our ability to guard the ball off the dribble and our late-shot-clock ball screen defense just hasn’t been good enough. We’re giving up too many points in the paint off the other team’s dribble penetration. So that’s going to be an area of emphasis for us as we take a week off before we play Evansville.
Racer Insider: What do you have to do to prevent dribble penetration?
Matt McMahon: We have to do a better job in one-on-one situations of containing the basketball, staying between the ball and the basket. And then as a team we have to do a better job of filling the gaps so we don’t give them so many dribble-drive opportunities. When we let someone drive we have to scramble and then we’re out of position and that makes it difficult to rebound.
Racer Insider: Does that mean you can’t pressure the ball as much?
Matt McMahon: Yes, that’s an adjustment we’ve had to make. We’ve had to pull our pressure back. We just haven’t gotten enough out of it. We aren’t forcing enough turnovers to justify it. We need to be more of a containment type team instead of a pressure team.
Racer Insider: How much did not having Gee McGhee hurt you?
Matt McMahon: I think it really hurt us early. He’s a fifth year senior. He has a lot of experience and he has a high basketball IQ. He understands the system and he has a good feel for the way we want to defend. He knows where he’s supposed to be.
With his return I think you’ve seen great improvement in our rebounding and he’s a big part of that.
Racer Insider: At the beginning of the year, you said it would take a while to settle on a lineup and get everyone’s role defined. Is that an ongoing process?
Matt McMahon: We do still have some things to sort out. We have a pretty good idea who the top six are. They’ve separated themselves. But 7-to-11, that’s still evolving. Someone needs to step up and be that consistent first guard off the bench. And then we have to figure out which post player is going to be the best match up on any given night.
It’s also important to see how they all play together. One of our problems at the defensive end of the floor is that we have so many new players, guys who haven’t played together before. You have to have chemistry and be unselfish on offense. But you also have to have chemistry and be unselfish at the defensive end of the floor.
Does Gee McGhee fit best playing at the 4 or at 3? That may be a game to game decision. But I think he’ll be able to help us in both areas.
Racer Insider: At the beginning of the year there was some question who would be the catch-and-shoot two-guard you needed. It seemed like Bryce Jones might fill that role. But, he hasn’t shot the ball very well. How do you explain that?
Matt McMahon: I think he’s a very good shooter. But, I think he has been pressing too much. He really worked hard during the offseason. So, I think he’ll be fine. But, it’s hard to complain about our perimeter shooting, Going into Saturday we were eighth in the country in made 3s. It has been one of our strengths. There’s no telling how good we can be when Bryce does start shooting better.
Racer Insider: The other question at the beginning of the year was whether you had anyone who could give you a post presence. And so far, that hasn’t been answered.
Matt McMahon: In the last two weeks Terrell Miller has started to show what he can do in the post. The first couple of games he didn’t get to show that because we were playing teams that used a lot of zone, so we needed him on the perimeter. But he took 10 shots in the post against Detroit and he was 7-of-10.
Brion Sanchious is starting to get more confidence in his knee. It will take a while, but his activity and energy level have gotten better. Jalen Dupree and Gilbert Thomas have both shown signs of what kind of players they’re going to be.
Racer Insider: Jonathan Stark is off to an amazing start. I think everyone expected to him to be good. But I’m not sure anyone expected him to be this good.
Matt McMahon: I’m very pleased with him. It’s a tribute to his great work ethic. He came here as a very good player. But I think he really took advantage of his sit-out year. He lived in the gym and he really worked hard on his game. He’s a complete player now. He can shoot the 3, he can get to the rim, and he has a very good mid-range shot.
Racer Insider: Damarcus Croaker was good last year but he seems to be even better this year. He’s increased his shooting percentage overall, from 3-point range, and at the line.
Matt McMahon: I’m really proud of him. I think he has matured and he understands the sense of urgency, with this being his senior year. His energy and effort have been the best in the program. He sets the tone on a daily basis for how hard you have to work here.
He has been our most efficient player, offensively. On the other end, he’s our best defender. We count on him to guard the other team’s best player every night.
Racer Insider: You play at Evansville this Saturday. What kind of challenge will they offer you?
Matt McMahon: You have to start with their motion offense. They’re really good at it. Coach (Marty) Simmons does a great job teaching it and his players do a phenomenal job executing it. So it comes back to our defense. Their two wings can really score so we’ll have to really be locked in. Then they play at a slower pace than we are used to so we’ll have to execute in the half court on offense.
Racer Insider: It doesn’t get easier after that, as the rest of your non-conference schedule is also tough.
Matt McMahon: After Evansville we go to Ole Miss and the we go to South Dakota State where they have one of the longest home court winning streaks in the country. So these next three games on the road will certainly challenge us.
Racer Insider: How do you see the OVC shaping up?
Matt McMahon: I’ve seen Tennessee State twice this year and they are an elite defensive team. They really guard the ball and they are hard to score against. Belmont’s the preseason pick.
Then you look at our side. Tennessee-Martin is 8-2. Austin Peay is the defending champ. And Eastern Illinois has some good wins as well. The league is more balanced than it was six years ago when I got here. The teams at the bottom are a hundred times better.