Rutgers basketball head coach Steve Pikiell stepped to the podium at Big Ten Media Day at Madison Square Garden at 11:30 a.m. He was in good spirits and answered a variety of questions from the media, including what it means to play the conference tournament in New York City and about the move to a 20 game Big Ten schedule in the 2018-2019 season. Here is the video of his press conference and the full transcript below. I asked the second question of his session, focusing on the need to improve defensively, specifically in the paint, which is something I wrote about here during the preseason.
COACH PIKIELL: "It's great to be back. World's most famous arena here. Excited. Excited about year two getting ready to start. And our guys have worked very hard. I think you'll see an improved Rutgers program."
"And I'm proud of all the time and hard work that my staff has done to make it that way. So we're looking forward to getting this thing started."
Q. What's it like for you and for the players to have the Big Ten come to Madison Square Garden and New York City?
COACH PIKIELL: "I tried to share some of my past experiences, being an old Big East guy, with them in the world's most famous arena and tell them the excitement."
"But New York is an exciting place anyways. And this is such a historic venue. I think for the whole league, I think people will get a chance to see it's the best league in the country, from 1 to 14 teams in this league, academically and basketball-wise."
"It's going to be great to be able to bring this to this great city and this great area. And I think our players are very excited. And I guess we're the home team in this area. I know our alums are. So it will be great."
Q. Wanted to ask about, last season the team was much better defensively, obviously, far improved since your arrival. In terms of one issue, though, interior defense in conference play, how have you addressed that in the offseason, and how have the additions of Mamadou Doucoure and Myles Johnson helped in that area?
COACH PIKIELL: "I'll let you know. This is obviously a talented league with tremendous size. And we made some strides last year, certainly, from the year before."
"I think we have a tremendous way to go on the defensive end. I thought we were very average most of the year with that and defensive rebounds really hurt us a great deal."
"We've emphasized that a lot in the preseason here. We've added some guys. And I also think just the experience of having experienced guys back that know what I want from them."
"And our practices have been better. We're more competitive. We're a better basketball team now than we were a year ago. And I feel very confident in a lot of those areas, offensively the improvements we're going to be able to make, and certainly defensively and rebounding-wise, but it's a heck of a league with some tremendous coaches and some tremendous size. And we've got to recruit some tremendous size to compete."
Q. What do you think about the week off in between the conference tournament and the NCAA Tournament for teams that make it and how much will it help your recruiting having the postseason tournament here at The Garden, do you think that will facilitate getting New York and New Jersey guys?
COACH PIKIELL: "I think it will really facilitate letting people in this area know how great this league is. It's great coaches and great players. You don't know the names sometimes around here of the Wisconsin team and what Northwestern has and those kind of things."
"So I think bringing Big Ten basketball here to this area is going to help tremendously our profile."
"I would love to have that week off if we're one of those NCAA teams. I would gladly take that week. I haven't thought really down the road to that point. But I think if Rutgers ever is in a position like that, it will be a great week."
Q. What are your thoughts on the 20-game schedule, and even though you don't have a protected team, per se, who would you like to see a regional rival, Penn State, Maryland, do they make sense?
COACH PIKIELL: "Geographically, yes. Excited that two more great games we're going to play. It's going to be -- our schedule every year is a top 50 schedule at the end of the year. Now it will be maybe a top 30, 35."
"I mean, banging heads for 20 games against some of the best coaches and players, just makes it difficult. Makes it difficult for any program. But we've added two more nationally televised games and two more opportunities that people see teams home and away. And so I'm excited about that. And I'm really looking for this year. We'll deal with that next year."
Q. Mike Williams being a senior and being a New Yorker, how have you seen him develop over your time coaching him?
COACH PIKIELL: "I will tell you, first, Mike loves this venue. Plays well here. So I'm excited about that. But I think all of our seniors, we have three seniors, and Corey is here today, too."
"In my short time with them, they've really developed both as students and as people and workers in the gym more, have really helped establish -- hopefully down the road, when people talk about Rutgers basketball, and hopefully people will be proud when they talk about that, it will have started with Deshawn and Mike and Candido and Corey, building a core that's built on guys defending and guys being tough and guys coming to Rutgers."
"And Mike wanted to be at Rutgers, and very much appreciate that he stayed on with me during the transition and very much appreciate his hard work. And he's a little symbolic of what we're trying to do."
"We're trying to get kids to overachieve, kids to graduate, kids that want to stay close to home and play basketball here and have a chance to play in these kind of venues."
"And Mike certainly will be symbolic of that for us moving forward."
Q. Does it give you guys more added pressure knowing that the conference tournament is here at MSG?
COACH PIKIELL: "You know, I love the fact that we have a tremendous alumni base. People are excited about it. People are calling me about the tournament now."
"We didn't get that same buzz last year maybe in the past because the tournament has been held way away from here. So I'm kind of excited about that."
"Everyone expects teams to win and play well in the tournament. And so it's just regular pressure that you have every night that you go out there. But I'm excited because I think this venue is terrific and it's terrific for our league."
"Again, we can move this league around and show people what great basketball and great coaching. We've just added three great coaches to the league. It's just getting better and better. And people on this stage will be able to see that."
I'll have plenty of coverage later today and in the days to follow, as player interviews and more time with Coach Pikiell take place this afternoon. Tune in to BTN for more coverage as Pikiell and the players representing the team, Corey Sanders, Mike Williams, and Deshawn Freeman, will be interviewed there at 12:50 p.m. I'll add video of those interviews to this post later today.