Neither Mo Cassara nor I will be judging cakes tonight.
Last night wasn’t just about judging cakes and reflecting on the first year on the job with Mo Cassara! We also asked him some questions about the 2011-12 season, which finally tips off just 110 minutes from right now, but who’s counting? Thanks to Cassara as always for his time.
How do you feel going into the season?
It’s time to start playing against somebody else. I think sometimes, for so long here—five or six weeks now—you kind of just analyze yourself. It’s time to analyze yourself against somebody else. We have a lot of new faces. We’ve got a lot of guys like Nat and Stevie, who are very talented [and have] played a lot of basketball, but they haven’t necessarily played a lot of basketball together. The last time Nat played, Mike Moore wasn’t playing. The last time Mike Moore played, Nat wasn’t playing. And even if you throw Dave Imes into that—the last time Nat played, Dave really didn’t play. So the you throw Moussa in there or Steven, you’ve really got five guys—although some of them are older and veteran guys that have played some basketball—they’ve never played together. So there’s going to be a learning curve. It’s going to take some time.
Can that learning curve be sped up in practice?
I don’t know. I think it’s getting better everyday, but I think in all reality it’s going to take us playing in some games and having some ups and downs and dealing with some adversity. And ultimately that’s what helped us last year. You come out of Puerto Rico 0-3 and we were all ready to fold the tent, But in all reality, coming through that adversity and then learning how to win really helped us down the road.
Can those experiences from last season—knowing that a bad start doesn’t have to ruin the year—help you this season?
Yeah I think it helps me as a young coach. I think you want to win every time. You want everybody to be happy and you want everything to be great. In some ways, we’re more in more of a transition this year than we were last year. So I think we have to be realistic to know that some of the losses or some of the games in which we don’t do well now, we can use to get us better in February. And if we’re playing better in February, that’s all that really matters.
Obviously everyone’s goal is to win the CAA Tournament and get to the NCAA Tournament, but do you have any numeric goals for this season? A .500 record? A certain amount of wins?
You know what, I don’t. I don’t. I didn’t last year and I don’t think I’m ever going to do that. Because last year, I didn’t think we would win 14 or 15 games when we first started and I got proven wrong. So I try to stay away from that. I never really made a prediction. I just think we’ve got to try to win the games we’re supposed to win, win home games, try to find a way to steal some games on the road. I think one of the things I’m most proud of is that team last year, other than the fact we didn’t turn the ball over and made free throws and won a lot of close games, is we found a way to win on the road. Our road record was really incredible.
Last year, out of necessity as much as anything else, you only used two starting lineups. Now that you have a little more depth, do you think you’ll experiment a bit more, or are you a guy who likes to have a set lineup?
I think, especially when we don’t have a lot of guys who have played together, I think playing the same starting lineup—playing guys together—is something we’re going to have to do. Ups and downs, through good and bad, we’re going to have to continue to play those guys so they can start to get comfortable with each other.
Do you track how certain lineups perform and substitution patterns perform?
We don’t necessarily stat that, but I think I’m a little more of a feel coach. Some guys script that and I’ve worked for guys that did that. Not really my style. I’m much more of a feel guy. Ultimately you have to go back to the film sometimes and say ‘Hey, this group really played well together’ and stuff like that.
Is the lineup we saw Saturday indicative of the one we’ll see [tonight]?
We started a different group at [the scrimmage in] Hartford than we did [against] Queens. We’re going to continue to play around a little bit. I think if you asked me a month ago, I probably would have told you a different group than I would tell you now. That stuff is going to figure itself out a little bit. Ultimately—I say this all the time to our team—basketball’s a very social game. You’ve got to have a good social dynamic and find the guys who socially fit together and can talk to each other and can figure out how to play together and go through those ups and downs. They have to figure that out on their own and they have to do that in the locker room and they have to do that in the huddles. That’s the stuff we promote and talk about all the time.