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Northwestern Big Ten Basketball Media Day Notes: Chris Collins talks Spain trip, upcoming season, Cubs, more

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David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

After a short opening session at the podium, Northwestern coach Chris Collins met with the media for an hour at Big Ten Media Day in Chicago. It's here that Collins gets into some more intriguing topics. One of those was his non-conference scheduling, on which we'll have a full article next week. Here's what else he had to say:

On the Spain trip

- Collins talked about the Spain trip as an opportunity for experimenting. He noted that he used different starting lineups and different rotations.

- Collins described the level of competition in Spain as "mid-major talent, but with man strength."

- Collins: "We were more talented than probably all the teams we played except one. And that was our first game, [which we lost]. I wish we could've played that game deeper into the trip, because we had just gotten there, and they ended up being the most talented team we played."

- Collins on refereeing in Spain: "Every game, the free throw disparity was pretty one-sided... and then you tried to talk to the refs, and they conveniently didn't know any English."

On his team and the upcoming season

- Collins on the importance of now having graduate transfer Joey van Zegeren to spell Alex Olah: "We've been very lucky the past few years that we've been able to skirt serious foul trouble with Alex, knock on wood, no extended injuries — I mean, we were so thin at that spot, he had to man it by himself. And as well as Alex played, he ended up having to play a lot of tired minutes, just because there weren't a whole lot of options for us. So a tired Alex was going to be better than anything else we were going to put in the game. So I'm hoping to be able to get Alex's minutes down a little bit. I think he can be more productive in less minutes."

- Collins said he is not planning to use Olah and van Zegeren much at the same time. The philosophy, he said, is "let's try to dominate that position for 40 minutes."

- Collins on playing zone, which he went to midway through conference play last season: "It's in our package. You'll definitely see us play some zone. We're not going to be an all-zone team. I use the analogy all the time, you can't just throw one pitch.

"We went to the zone last year not because we really thought it was the answer, we just needed to do something different because we lost 10 games in a row. And I felt I was losing my team. And I felt like I had to do something drastic to get some excitement, to get some life, and the zone was just different. And then we won. So we stayed with it.

"We saw some things out of it we really liked. We also saw that the more we did it, the more teams had success against it... If you just do one thing all the time, teams are going to get a rhythm.

"But it is going to be in our package. I also think you'll see us doing some more in the full court, maybe not trapping and things of that nature, but more using our length to make teams use some clock getting it up the floor, some containment type presses that, [while] you might get some turnovers here or there, [are] more just to disrupt the rhythm of other teams."

- Collins, along with Olah and Demps, were wearing wristbands with a Northwestern logo and the word "FAMILY":

- Collins has a saying that he learned from his dad: "Know your role. Stay in your role. Star in your role." Collins talked about how players on his current team need to embrace their roles. Over the offseason, Collins had each player write down on a piece of paper what he thought his role was, and then get up in front of the team and share it.

- Collins: "The two biggest x-factors to where we're going to go are Vic [Law] and Scottie [Lindsey]. Both of those guys have the talent to be double figure scorers, but will they? I don't know."

- When speaking about Law, Collins seemed to be saying that his development wasn't a matter of talent, it was a matter of experience and understanding the game. Collins wants him to learn when to be aggressive on the offensive end and when to look for a better shot.

- Collins said Law has put on 10 or 12 pounds of muscle, and that Lindsey has put on almost 20.

- Collins confirmed that junior Nate Taphorn is back to full health. Taphorn had a stress fracture in his foot, which sidelined him for the Spain trip, and with which Collins said he and the medical staff were "conservative," but Taphorn will be good to go for the season, barring a setback.

- Collins said the team is "further along offensively than we are defensively," which was not the case either of the past two years. "I really like where we're at offensively right now," Collins said. "We're figuring out defensively how we can be the best. We have some good length, we have some good size underneath, but we're still developing our man defense, and over this next month, I'd like to see some more strides."

On the Cubs

-Collins compared Northwestern's NCAA Tournament drought to the Chicago Cubs' World Series drought, and thinks his team can learn from the Cubs' approach. "I don't see the Cubs feeling 100 years of pressure on their back," he said. "I see them playing with young exuberance, enthusiasm. If we go out and play with 70-plus years of not going to the tournament on our shoulders, we're going to crack. They cannot have that on their shoulders. I want them to enjoy this process... and not feel like they have to live up to what has or hasn't happened in our program's history.

"It's always thrown in the Cubs' players' and manager's face how they haven't won in 100 years. The thing I've been most impressed with is how they've dealt with that. I haven't noticed them playing with any pressure, or playing tight in any way. Maybe it's just because they're so young. They're just out there playing and having fun, and you see the joy. And that's something that I hope we can take into our program because we face a lot of those same questions. It's a great example for our guys.

- Collins on Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, a noted White Sox fan: "He's been kind of quiet."

- Collins said he started rooting for the Cubs even before he moved to Chicago, despite growing up in Philadelphia with former Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt and former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski as next-door neighbors.