NC State men's basketball coach Sidney Lowe wouldn't confirm his starting lineup but his smile about the new big lineup with Brandon Costner playing small forward, Tracy Smith at power forward and Ben McCauley at center, all players 6-foot-8 or taller, spoke volumes.
Lowe also discussed Thursday during his weekly press conference the recent play and health of shooting guard Courtney Fells and point guard Farnold Degand, and how he hopes to play a 8-9-man rotation.
Click below to listen to Lowe's press conference:
Can you talk about North Carolina and your impressions of them?
"Well kind of like everybody else, they're a very good ballclub. They're deep in spots, they play hard, they come at you. They execute their stuff. I think they have guys that really stepped up, obviously Lawson and Tyler and Ellington, I think he's a big-time player, and Green. So that got about at least four guys that are top-notch players, and I think more than anything that they play hard. They play hard, and I think it's going to be a nice, big challenge for us."
Was the game two years ago about as dramatic UNC-NC State game you have seen?
"I don't know. We had one back some years ago."
"Yeah, that was a pretty good one. That was a pretty good one. I think I might remember the events that took place afterwards back in 83 a little better than when we beat them here as I was coaching because I was partaking in some of the events when I played.
"But anytime, anytime you can win a ballgame and you're playing against any of the teams down here, it's a big win, and obviously everybody knows about the rivalry, the two schools, the fans that are involved. It goes much more beyond just us on the floor, it's our fans, it's the people that have to go to work the next day and you're working with a Duke fan, a Carolina fan, a Wake fan. It's what it's all about down here. It's great competition."
You going to stick with the big lineup?
"I'm not sure. (Laughs) I'm not sure. I'm not sure, we haven't decided yet. Certainly it gives us a different look, a different dimension. I just don't want to say too much right now."
How is Courtney Fells?
"Courtney's okay, Courtney's okay. He had a tough matchup last ball game, and I thought he did a great job. I thought he did a great job against McClinton and just chasing him around and denying him the ball and just making it tough for him even though he scored. His first basket really was on one where Courtney was out of the game, or we didn't dive for a loose ball. Someone didn't dive for a loose ball, and McClinton picked it up and shot a three. That really was his first basket, and he got going a little bit from that. Prior to that Courtney was really doing a great job on him."
Courtney looked like he may have reinjured his ankle, is that okay and how has battled through the injuries this year?
"I think he's battle through it great. He's had games and practices where he really wasn't 100 percent, but he wanted to go anyway. Courtney wanted to go anyway. I think he's taken on the challenge of guarding the top perimeter player from the other team whether it's the point guard, shooting guard or whatever, he takes on that challenge.
"I don't see this injury preventing him from playing on Saturday. How effective he'll be, we'll have to see. We're watching it today. He's getting treatment on it today. He'll get it tomorrow, and then we'll see how he is on Saturday, but he will be suited up."
Players were saying the Miami win was very big for them, do you see it that way?
"Yes, yes, I mean it was a good wins in a number of ways. Obviously just winning a game in our conference, which is very tough, but the way we won it. The way we hung in there and played in that overtime is good for the confidence because you were able to make plays down the stretch. The plays that you need to win the game, and I've said this before you need a couple of those to go your ways so that you can really start believing in and really start understanding more than anything what it takes to get that done.
"Certainly having a game like that going into the game we have on Saturday, yeah, it gives you a good feeling. You've played a tough ballgame and you were able to come through with it. Now you know it's going to be another tough ballgame. So your confidence level, you're feeling good about yourself, so yeah, I can see that."
Does it hurt not having beaten UNC or Duke the last two years?
"Tremendously, absolutely, you can't hide that. It is what it is. I think the feeling is the same way on the other side down the road. If we were beating them it would bother them a little more, too, on both of the schools. That's just the way it is. Having played here and been through some of those wars and knowing the feeling of winning those games and then turning around losing, it does, it frustrates me, it bothers me a little more, certainly.
How many red jackets do you have?
"I have two, with one of the way."
You going to wear one Saturday?
"Yes, I'll wear one on Saturday."
Are your surprised the reaction you got to that?
"Yeah, I didn't know that it meant that much to our fan base. I knew it would be something special. I knew had to have a red jacket. Coaches before, Coach V had one, Coach Sloan had the plaid, they all had something. I didn't know I would get the response that I did when I wore it, but that's just our fans. They love the red and white, and they like to see me in it, so I try to wear it as much as I can, certainly in certain games you try to wear it."
Is transition a key Saturday?
"It is, it is, they get it in quick, extremely quick, I think they work on it obviously, but if you score on them, they want to try to get it right back at you and get a lay-up if they can or a wide open three for their perimeter guys.
"When that happens to you it really takes the wind out of you it you're the team that scored, and now they just came down and got an easy basket. It just takes the wind out of you. Transition is key with them. I think, I don't know, 60 percent, 70 percent maybe of their offense is transition and guys making decision. They happen to have one of the best in the country at the point guard position who creates not only for himself but for his teammates, and he's always applying pressure on you, so we have to get back. We have to slow that down."
Do you see your team getting better?
"I do, I definitely see the team progressing and getting better, getting better and playing, well let me put it this way, getting better and not playing in the ACC, not playing well enough to win in the ACC, is not getting better. We're trying to get better to win in the ACC.
"We're in such a tough conference, and I can see it in our guys night in and night out, we've been in every ballgame, we've come out, we've played hard, and that we've talked about this summer, that was the main point for us, to come out and play as hard as we've can, and we've done that.
"Now we're trying to get over the hump now of getting in those close ball games and winning those close ball games which we did the other night. So definitely I can see improvement. I can see improvement in some of our players. Julius Mays, not because he hit that shot, but just seeing him come along, still having tough times, but you can see he is going to be a very, very important piece to our team. Ben McCauley's just been solid, Courtney's been solid, so I've seen a lot of progression here with our team.
"Some maturity, not quite to where we need it to be, but definitely we're putting ourselves into a position. That was the key and the difference from last year to this year, is last year we didn't put ourselves in a position. This year we're putting ourselves in a position to win, and now continue to get over that hump and hopefully we can build on wins like the Miami game, and now come out Saturday and have a good one."
Are the recruits coming in and in 2010 part of that building process?
"Absolutely, absolutely, I think when you look at the good teams, they all have two, some have three, guys that can just make plays. When you look around, when you watch games, you don't see a lot of teams that get shots off their sets. A lot of teams count on just playing basketball and making plays. Carolina is one of those teams. Lawson makes a play, they throw it into Tyler, Ellington makes a play, Green, and I think guys that we have coming in, some of those guys are those types of players that can create shots for themselves or for others so that I don't have to call every play and get a shot for guys, so yeah definitely. So now we can have a combination of guys that can create along with us calling sets to get the ball to the right people."
FSU held Tyler Hansbrough to eight points, is there anything they may prevent catching him on the rebound?
"Not just catch him on the rebound but he's playing against North Carolina State so that's going to be big for him. I think the difference is length. Florida State, they're big, they're long, I think that really was a major factor, is how long they are, and their guys worked hard. They worked them hard down in the post, they came from the weakside.
"But I think their length was really the issue, as it was for us when we played them, I think that was the biggest thing. We have to do it our way. We know it's going to be a tough, tough task, but that's what it's all about. You come out and you got to make it tough for him. You got to work and bang with him, he's going to bang. He's going to dive for loose balls, we got to beat him to the ball. We got to get there first. He's going to throw his body in there, we got to throw our body in there. You just got to battle. When you are playing against a guy like that, you've got to match that. You've got to battle him."
Has North Carolina struggled some against taller physical teams?
"Obviously, we used the big lineup the last couple of games and it was good. There is a chance, yes, that you are probably going to see it."
Is that the blueprint to beat North Carolina?
"I think it is more, you have to look at the matchup situations. We went to the big lineup more to help us. I thought that was the best group for us. We are banging in there and trying to get a win, and I wanted to put what I felt was the best five guys, as best we could, productivity-wise. Ben, Tracy, Brandon, all three can be productive, then Courtney and Farnold. That is what we are looking at. The big lineup, they'll be in there for sure."
Would you like to get to the point where it is the same starting five?
"Absolutely, yeah. I think I said the other day that we'd like to get it done to a top eight players, maybe nine, max. Again, it's just about being productive. We want to make sure we have five guys on the floor that is making something happen. If that means that guys have to play more minutes, then they play more minutes. We'd like to get it done to where we get a starting lineup and we'd like to stick with that lineup. A lot of that is based on our starts and how we come out. Do we have the energy? Are we controlling the boards if we have the big lineup? Those are some of the factors that we'd like to do there. We'd like to stick with one lineup."
Is it about players knowing their roles?
"When you have a team, you are looking at positions, and who is playing where. You factor out minutes. You have to look at the productivity. You give guys opportunities, and they play themselves into their minutes. Based on what I've seen, there's a top eight that we have. That is what we have to go with now. Barring foul trouble, there are guys that might have to play four minutes and they have to be ready. I thought Simon Harris for example in the last ball game, I just brought him in for a defensive standpoint, for the ball screens. I wanted to get Tracy out, so we can do something with the ball screen. He was ready to go, just being ready to play with what our minutes are. They understand that. We are going to try and stick with a group of guys, and you've got to get it done. And hopefully that group doesn't change, and we stick with those guys. Just be ready to play whatever minutes there is to play."
How do you handle the fans who use the coach as a scapegoat when things aren't good?
"I really don't pay attention to it, honestly. I said this the other day, but God bless her, when I took this job, Coach [Kay] Yow came into my office and closed the door. I told that story the other day. She told me that I have the toughest job in the country. She said there will be a lot of coaches out there and some of them will be wearing red. You have to understand that. I do and I accept that. That is this job, that's it.
"They love NC State. They want NC State to do well. You can't blame the players, so you have to blame the coach. That's the job and the life I choose, and I deal with it. All I can do is go out and do the best that I can, and go to bed at night knowing I had a full day of work. I try to get ready for the next game and that I did the best job that I could. That's all you can. That's our job. I don't get mad at anyone, only when they get personal. I don't like it when they get personal. That takes it to another level. I have more to worry about, I really do then for someone to think that I'm doing a bad job. I got 16 guys over there that I have to worry about going to class, graduating. I know that I have seven guys with a 3.0 grade-point average or better, and three with a 2.9 or better [out of the 16 total players]. My graduation rate is 100 percent, that I know."
Is the toughness about the job because of the constant comparisons to Duke and UNC?
"Oh yeah, absolutely. That is what Coach Yow said. I knew that coming in and I wouldn't have come in if I didn't expect that because I expect that out of myself. That is why I've said before that no one, no one, is more disappointed when we lose than I am. No one."
Are you playing some of your best basketball of the season going into your biggest game so far?
"I think we've gotten better, yes. I think we've gotten better. I still don't think we are where we are going to be in the end, I really don't. So probably now with the way we are playing, we are going after it pretty good."
What has been the key with Farnold Degand who has 14 assists the last two games?
"I think Farnold has been more under control, not trying to force the issue. Not trying to make the big play. He's been doing that in practice, just making the simple play. I think he also saw the results when he had seven assists and two turnovers with the seven points [vs. Boston College]. The positive feedback that he received from that, and then he came back and did it again. Hopefully, he is starting to get that, playing that position is different. Being a good point guard is not scoring 20 points and turning it over six times. Being a good point guard is scoring seven points and turning it over two times or one time. That is a good, solid point guard. That has been huge for us, no question about it. His play has been huge for us in taking care of that basketball. We had 10 turnovers in that last ball game [vs. Miami], that was big. That was a major factor in the game.
How about the hustle play that Degand brought?
"Absolutely. It's about making plays. That is making a play. That is what wins ball games, you make plays. He made a play. Just getting on the floor and finding a man and scoring a basket. We have to do that. There is going to be at least four plays per game that come down to that, diving for a loose ball, hustling for a loose ball. Getting it to someone who is going to make a basket. One of the teams, someone is going to try and do that at least four times. If you can get those baskets and those balls, those two, four, six points, that is huge. If you can dive on a loose ball that you know you can't pick up, and we tell our guys this all the time, but that it might be there ball on the possession, but it doesn't allow them to get it and score. Plus, the next time, which might be the biggest play of the game, we dive on it, it might be our ball. So, there is a reason to dive on the ball every single time you can't pick it up."
Have you seen a more exciting last two days of area basketball?
"Yeah, I'm a basketball fan, so I'm with you, I'm watching that. It is what it is here. I say this, and people laugh sometimes because people talk about New York, but this is the basketball mecca. It doesn't get any better than this down here. You got Wake Forest down the road, and North Carolina, Duke and NC State here. It doesn't get any better than this. When those four teams get together, it's special. It is, it's something special."