Hey, the last time we interviewed Mo Cassara after a losing streak, the Dutchmen had their best weekend of the season. So let’s try it again! Thanks to Cassara for taking the time to chat last night as he prepared for tonight’s CAA opener against Georgia State.
What have you seen over the last month that gives you hope for the rest of the season?
I see a group of guys that have come to practice and worked hard everyday. And I think I see some guys kind of shifting their roles and shifting positions. I’ve seen a group of guys and a staff that continues to work hard everyday, and it shows. We’ve come out in the Tulane game and we were tied at halftime. We were up at halftime at LIU, we’re up at halftime at Florida Atlantic. We’re down to the last possession against Wagner, down to the last possession against Wright State. We just haven’t been able to finish games, and it’s a combination of just not making some plays down the stretch and guys wearing out. We’ve got to kind of keep readjusting and trying to find the best combinations and get some guys some rest and just get a little [lucky], get the ball in the basket. We do some things like that we’ll wind up with some wins in the new year.
How much does it help you guys being the last team to start CAA play?
I think it’s helped us tremendously. Just given us a little extra time to get our feet on the ground. I think it’s given us a little time to practice a little bit more and sit back and look at the league a little bit before we start play. Gives us a chance to kind of have a fresh start. That’s been good for us.
How do you need to win games now, as opposed to when you had a full roster?
I think our margin for error is very small now and our depth is an issue. I think as the season started, we really felt like by this time of year, we were going to have a lot of depth and a lot of options and be able to play a little fast and do some different things. Obviously, that’s not the case now. We really have to try to script almost everything we do offensively and defensively because our margin for error is so small.
Perimeter defense has been a problem the last few weeks. Is that a matter of breakdowns on your end, or teams just hitting their shots?
I think Coach Morgan and I were talking about this quite a bit the last few days. We’ve got to get that percentage down. Our offense is getting a little better and we’re going to have some games where the ball’s going to go in the hoop a little more. The one thing that I think we can control better is our effort and our focus on defense. We’ve just got to do a better job of taking away those one or tow easy baskets, whether that’s a transition three or a quick turnover that leads to a basket. If we can eliminate a few of those, I think we probably have already won a few more games.
How about your shooting woes? How can those be addressed?
I think right now we’re really only playing with two guards and we’re playing a couple guys [at guard] that really are more around the basket type guys. We’ve had some games where the ball hasn’t gone in the basket. Could be a combination of a little bit of fatigue, some guys playing different positions, but at the end of the day, those are the type of things that can improve as the season goes on. We’re going to have a stretch where the ball goes in the hoop and things click. I’m very encouraged by the way we’ve been practicing. We have good energy, we have great enthusiasm and our guys continue to keep working hard. Offensive execution—really, as the year goes on, most teams get a little [better at it].
Taran’s had three inconsistent games since the breakout performance against Long Island University. Is it fair to say he’s slumping?
I don’t know if it’s slumping. It’s one of those situations where if Taran can up his percentages a little bit, we become a much better team. So that’s something that we’ve been talking about, whether it’s shot selection or a little bit of fatigue. Again, even though he is a transfer and a little bit older, so to speak, he’s really only 10 games into his career, so he’s still fighting through a little bit of that—learning, adapting and also knowing that teams are going to key on him. That’s something a little different from where he last played to now: Everybody’s going to key on him and force him to do different things. That’s a big change for him and that’s what I talked to him about: We need him to make plays down the stretch, we need him to shoot a higher percentage. If he can do those things, I think we’ve got a few more wins in our back pocket already. He has the ability and he has the desire to make a lot of these plays. Now we’ve just got to go execute.
What are your thoughts on three guys whose roles have changed drastically since the suspensions: David Imes, Matt Grogan and Jordan Allen?
We’ve really had to play Dave Imes away from the basket a lot more than we’d like. That’s part of the reason his rebounding numbers are down and his shooting percentages are down a little bit. One thing Dave’s been really good at throughout his career is he’s a terrific facilitator. He knows what we’re trying to do, he wants to try and execute it. We’ve just got to try and put him in a position where he can help us score a little more now.
Matty’s been great. I think there’s going to be some games that he’s going to play a lot more than others, but I think he gives us another dynamic where he can make some shots offensively. We need him to continue to do that and continue to be aggressive.
Jordan Allen’s one of those kind of real character, team-oriented type of guys who continues to work real hard and adjust and adapt and try and help the team do whatever he can do to win. He passes the ball well, he’s improved dramatically on the offensive and he’s just a really good team guy. I think as he continues to get more minutes—[more] than he probably anticipated and we probably anticipated—I think you’ll see him continue to improve.
What can you do, as coaches and players, to avoid the type of second half starts you had against Tulane and Florida Atlantic?
That’s a tough one. It’s something we talk about. We even try to simulate it in practice a little bit. Why it is, I’m not sure, but it’s something that obviously we are very aware of as a staff. We see teams come out and score a couple quick hoops on us in the second half and then all of a sudden our lead or our grip on the game slips very quickly. That’s something we’re really going to try and focus on really try to almost simulate in practice, towards the end of practice or halfway through practice, where we’ve got to execute on offense and focus on defense. Our margin of error is just so small and little mistakes are magnified right now because of our limited bodies and ultimately our lack of success last month. So we’ve got to just keep plugging forward and trying to find some ways to win Ad I think right now we’re finding ways to be competitive. Our approach is good, our energy is good, Now we’ve just got to go and get a couple wins.
Obvious question: How badly do you need a win this week?
I don’t think there’s anything we need more. I like the effort, I like the energy, I like the attitude. We just need a couple bounces to go our way. Just keep playing hard. If we do that, we’re going to find a way to scratch out some wins.
Have you ever been through a stretch like this, where you lose eight straight games and lose five players over a span of almost two months?
Never. I’ve never been through a stretch like this, a combination of more frustrations and tough luck and hard games and travel and tough losses and a limited group, numbers-wise. So yeah, it’s been a real challenge. Certainly nothing in the manual for this one [laughs]. You’ve got to continue to fight through and I’ve got to tell you, I think our staff and group has coached as well as we ever have. Working as hard as we ever have. Now we just need to get a couple breaks. What we need to do is get a little bit better every day. I even said on [WRHU] tonight: Focus one game at a time. We cant worry about Delaware, we can’t worry about William & Mary, we can’t worry we’ve got to get a win this week. We’ve just got to focus on Georgia State. One game at a time, one half at a time, one preparation at a time. If we do that, we’re going to find a way to win some games.
How much confidence do you get from playing in a wide-open CAA?
I told the guys that Towson was picked last by everyone and Drexel was the unanimous favorite to win and Towson went to Drexel [Saturday] and won. There’s a lot of games out there, a lot of teams to be beat and there’s a lot of opportunity for us. It’s just a matter of getting a little confidence. What we need now is confidence. We need some guys to get some confidence individually and as a team we need some confidence. If we get a little bit of that, the wins will come.