The 'Cats left early Wednesday evening for their Thursday night game at Penn State. Some notes and quotes gathered shortly before their departure...
* Forward Jared Swopshire, the grad student transfer from Louisville, said the obvious. "This is a very important game for us," he said. "We're 0-2 (in the Big Ten) right now, so we definitely want to get a win."
"I think it's huge," echoed true freshman forward Kale Abrahamson. "It's definitely a game we have to win and I think everyone feels that way. Now we've got to go and do it."
* Last time out, on Sunday at No. 9 Minnesota, the 'Cats tried to grab off an upset win with an offense that bled the clock. That kept them close through the first half, which they ended up down only three (17-14), but then the Gophers exploded to run off to an 18-point win. "I don't want to play getting 14 points in a half," Bill Carmody said Wednesday when asked about the future. "But somewhere between that and getting in the 80s is where we're going to win. In the 60s is where we're probably going to win some games."
* The 'Cats managed only 51 points against the Gophs, 15.5 below their season average. But, interestingly enough, they did put up their normal volume of shots. Consider. In their previous five games, their field goal attempts totaled 55, 55, 56, 47 and 59. Against Minnesota, that number was 52. And again. In their previous five games, their three-point attempts totaled 24, 27, 13, 24 and 28. Against Minnesota that number was 23.
We note this since, on Wednesday, Carmody also said, "I just think we have to forget that we've shot the ball pretty well the last few years, and in high volume too. We took a lot of threes. I think we probably have to take fewer and just be wise about the tempo in the course of the game and in who we're playing. But I definitely think we're going to be a little more cautious."
Because of his team's youthfulness?
"It's mostly youth. We're shooting probably 38 percent on threes, something like that, which is good. But it's when to do it, when not to do it, the time, the score. The young guys have to keep getting their minutes and improve."
So will the offensive tempo change depending on the opponent?
"It definitely changes. You run more at home probably. You recognize certain teams it's not the wise thing to do to go up-and-down. There's a game plan for every team in the conference. Very few teams say we're just going to play our game without considering the other team."
* The 'Cats other Big Ten loss came at home against No. 2 Michigan. Still, when asked about starting his first conference season against a pair of Top Ten opponents, the freshman Abrahamson said, "I think it's been fun. You open the schedule with the No. 2 team in the nation and the No. 9 team in the nation. That's what you kind of dream about as a kid. When you commit to the Big Ten, that's what you signed up for. So I was really excited."
* Still. That insouciance of youth is no substitute for experience, which Abrahamson is picking up as he goes. He moved into the starting lineup just five games ago, after Drew Crawford was shut down for the year, yet is now a major cog in the intricate offense run by the 'Cats. "Just how much information is thrown at you each day," he will say when asked the most-difficult part of his adjustment. "Carmody likes to put in new stuff based on what he sees. Especially with a new opponent, he'll watch film and he'll see where he thinks a weakness is and he'll put in a set to try to counter that and you have to learn that in one practice. That's the hardest part."
Does he sometimes find himself thinking too much instead of just playing?
"Definitely. That was my biggest transition coming in. I was used to not running as much offense in high school, kinda just doing my own thing and really just playing how I knew I could play. But now I gotta to really adjust to what Carmody wants us to do. So I've been trying to find that balance between playing my game and thinking out there."
* Abrahamson is one of the seven true or redshirt freshmen on the 'Cats, a stat we throw out as a preface to this exchange with grad student Swopshire. "The attitude is, we're positive," he began. "Everybody's upbeat. We're just trying to keep working hard. We realize we're right there. It's just little things, you know. We've got young guys, and we're just trying to get them to come along."
What's the biggest thing the young guys have to learn?
"They just have to stick with what they're good at, and realize that it's not too much pressure on them, that no one's expecting them to do a whole, whole lot. Just go out there and play hard, stick to the scouting report, everything else will take care of itself. I think they've been doing a pretty good job of that."
Then what's the toughest thing for them?
"I'd say, defensively, remembering your assignments, remembering the little points of the scouting reports, whether it be we're switching ball screens, or we're hedging ball screens. Little things like that. Strategic wise, there are things you have to do that cause you to think a little bit on the go."
Can that slow them down?
"It can. You're thinking about what do I do here, what do I do there, and you can be kind of hesitant. As you mature, you comprehend all that stuff and go with the flow basically."
* Carmody had an interesting take when asked the hardest thing for a freshman to get, to master. "Just practice with me everyday. I'm trying to make them accountable for what they're doing," he said. "Yesterday (true freshman center Alex) Olah was terrific for the first 45 minutes. I mean, really good. Then it started going downhill and declining. But for a whole practice, you have to be good, and then for a whole game. So I told him, 'Everyday try to be focused for 10 minutes longer. Then in two weeks, you have a whole practice.' He really looked sort of special yesterday, changed, but then he wore down. I think as much from the neck up, focus, mental attentiveness.'
"If we had our normal lineup, they'd (the frosh) be coming in, not playing as many minutes and be able to give more of an all-out effort and be focused a little bit more," Swopshire had already said, presaging his coach's observation. "But you're playing more minutes and your mind can kind of wander a little bit and you feel like, 'Man, I'm tired.' We're just trying to keep those guys encouraged."
* There was this bit of news Wednesday: JerShon Cobb, suspended for the season for a violation of team rules, is back practicing with the 'Cats and having an effect. "He's stepped up the level of intensity on the scout team, so we really have to play a different level of defense in practice," Abrahamson noted.
"He's looked good in practice. He's brought a competitive spirit to practice, so it's been a good boost for the team," added Swopshire.
"Certainly, with the injuries we've had, now (assistant) Coach (Tavaras) Hardy doesn't have to get in shape. That's one thing," concluded Carmody. "No. He's a scorer and the scout team is looking so much better. It's more real. He makes it more game like. So it helps us all the way around."
* And finally, Carmody, on his freshmen-laden roster: "I don't want to keep saying this youth, youth, youth. I'm getting tired of it, to tell you the truth. We've played 15 games. That's a lot of games. (Sophomore point Dave) Sobolewski last year, first game we played LSU, he banged a three out of the corner than stole the ball to win the game. Go out there and play. You're getting opportunities, so now some of these guys have to start taking advantage of that."