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An inconsistent start, but a promising future

March 16, 2012
By Michael Bleach - DMG Sports Writer ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

HOUGHTON - Michigan Tech's men's basketball's postseason chances were crippled before they began.

In an inconsistent non-conference season, the Huskies lost four times, three at home, including a buzzer-beating loss to a Wisconsin-Parkside team that finished last in the Great Lakes Valley Conference and surrendering 87 points to a St. Joseph's team that finished next-to-last.

In part two of our look back at the 2011-12 season, coach Kevin Luke covers that start and the promise Tech has for the future, particularly in the backcourt.

Q: You struggled in non-conference this year. Was it early year issues or something about non-conference?

A: To be honest with you, it was us more than our opponents. In those games we had a deficiency that we had to overcome, whether it was offensive rebounding or the turnovers or the missed assignments on defense, where at the end of the year I felt we got in rotation and we were better at all that. To be quite frank and honest, players stepped up at the end of the year that we were wishy-washy with prior to that. Period.

Q: Was toughness an issue for the team earlier in the year?

A: I think there were some toughness issues, yeah. We clearly did not get the job done in every phase of the game and when that happens you lose those one possession games. And until you get to that level that is needed, and every team is different, you are going to struggle and we did. We didn't change doing anything (tactically), they changed their mental aspect and got tougher when we needed to. It is just that simple.

Q: So for next year

A: It is a great way to talk about starting next year. Build on what we started. Had we not had those issues I think we would have had a 20 win season. I really believe that. There are five games right now I could rap off that we should have won. I'm not trying to be disrespectful to the team's we played, but the ball was in our court and we didn't dribble it very well.

Q: Five home losses this season, is that too many for you?

A: Oh my (gosh). That is four too many. Somebody can upset you, but that is way too many. You. Need. To. Take. Care. Of your home court (with emphasis). Period. Clearly, clearly, that is the reason why we weren't selected for the NCAA Tournament this year.

Q: So taking care of non-conference and taking care of home court is the priority for next season looking to make the NCAAs, right?

A: No question. That is hitting it on the head. And if you don't do that you don't deserve it and we didn't deserve it this year.

We will be much more complete next year. We are not going to break down early in the year like we did this year.

Q: You have admitted to not being the most athletic team, does that place a premium on the team to buy in 100 percent to what you want them to do because they can't easily make up for it with physical gifts?

A: That is my belief. We can get by, but who just wants to get by? You have to be in every possession. I know it is not going to work every possession but that is what you have to stress.

Q: At the beginning of the year the starting five and rotation was in flux. Was the team not buying in 100 percent?

A: I don't want to say that, I think we were in transition still. A lot of teams will have that time trying to find your identity. And I think you go through that every year to a certain extent. And you want a certain level of that but you don't want it as much as we had. It was only the last three or four weeks we started to click.

Q: Stelzer and Romback both had very solid freshman years

A: They had awesome years. Just awesome years. They can't have sophomore slumps. They have to be on top of it and they will be. They are both good, focused kids.

Q: Is it important that their first year was in a successful, division championship season? It is one thing to put up good stats on a team with a losing record, but another on a winning team, right?

A: That is something they need to think about and press the pavement to get after it this summer. They cannot waste that.

Q: As much as your big men are in flux, you have to be happy to have Culy and Stelzer settled in as your starting backcourt for the next two years, right?

A: I wouldn't trade them for anybody. Even though they are not as athletic as who they are playing against, I wouldn't trade them for anybody.

Q: Does their shooting makes up for any athletic deficiencies?

A: It is the way they shoot it and the way they work. You are not going to get a better duo. Trust me.

Q: Was Culy's inclusion on the All-Defensive team a cerebral choice by the coaches? He doesn't jump out stats wise with just 17 steals in 27 games, but he does every where else.

A: That was a tribute to him because you always put him on a good player. And sometimes we had to weigh, do we put him on a good player and sacrifice his offense? And sometimes that happened. Now as a junior I think he might understand the balance for both more and we will start reaping the benefits of him becoming a complete player.

Q: With Romback, forgive the sportswriters crutch of comparing current players to past players, but is he like Mike Hojnacki a lot?

A: We hope there is a lot of good similarities, especially on offense. I think he is a little more mobile and athletic. We were tagging him as filling that position. Now I hope he can develop with his back to the basket like (Hojnacki) was able to. Hojnacki really spent a lot of time to get to that and Phil is going to have to do the same thing. But Phil is a very skilled kid and a very good athlete for his size.

Q: He is on the thin-side, but does he have some innate toughness that surprised you? He didn't back down much from stronger, bigger players.

A: He does and he is stronger than we thought he was coming in. He is not afraid of anybody down there. He does one of the best jobs that we have seen guarding Haidar. His rebounding was a pleasant surprise. He is a better rebounder than we thought coming out of high school.

Q: Another guy you want following Haidar's every move?

A: Yup. We have one more year of them together and then we have to put it on (Romback's) shoulders.

Q; You guys led the league in effective field goal percentage, combining three-point and two-point percentage. Did your offense find that balance at the end of the year, the pick-your-poison style with Haidar and 3-point shooters?

A: I felt good about that. That is what we stress. We still think that our percentages need to get a little better. We have done research and the national champion is always up around 51 or 52 percent. Our dominant team (29-3 in 2002-03) was at 53 percent.

Q: So a number goal to point to then?

A: That is how we have had success with our previous championship clubs. And I don't want to compare them to anyone else. I want to compare them to what we have, because I know what we have works. Period.

Q: With Haidar in the middle and four guys capable of shooting 40 percent from three around him, you have the components to make a championship offense, don't you?

A: I think we do. We can put some players on the floor that can score.

Q: With Hillsdale, is it just two games or is there something that they do against you guys so effectively?

A: I'm not trying to make up excuses, I am only trying to compare it to us and Ferris State. Ferris had a heck of a time playing us and we had a heck of a time against Hillsdale. And then Ferris played Hillsdale to an overtime game, where Ferris thought they won the game but the kids foot was on the line for the last second shot. I can't explain it.

Q: Wayne State is moving to the North Division next year. Do they immediately become a circle the calendar type game?

A: Hell yes. Ferris, Grand Valley and now Hillsdale. Circle them. It is on the list. We owe them.



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