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Season preview: CHD interviews Missouri State coach Paul Lusk

To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Missouri State coach Paul Lusk about almost ruining Wichita State’s undefeated regular season last January.

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You became head coach at Missouri State in 2011: why did you take the job, and did you get any advice from the guy you replaced (Cuonzo Martin)? Zo and I are lifelong friends so we talk about everything from basketball to our kids. I am a Valley guy who played in this league so I knew what a great situation they had at Missouri State.

After losing a school-record 22 games in year number two with one of the youngest teams in the nation, you bounced back last year by winning 20 games: how were you able to turn things around in only one year? We have taken a slow process by taking a lot of high school kids. It got even tougher when Jarmar Gulley went down, but the young guys were very coachable and we finally turned the corner in year 3 and are now heading in the right direction.

Last January Jarmar Gulley had 15 points and 14 rebounds in a 3-point overtime loss to Wichita State: how close did you come to pulling off the upset, and where does that undefeated Shocker team rank among the best you have ever seen? The last two years they have just been phenomenal between going to the Final 4 and then being one of the best teams in the country last year. We had our opportunities in that game until Marcus Marshall went down with an injury, but give them all the credit for coming into a hostile environment and getting the win.

Your team is one of the best in the nation in fewest turnovers: how much importance do you place on ball control? It is important to take care of the ball. We had a good season last year but need to improve on the defensive end, which we should be able to do now that we are a year older.

In the 2014 CIT you had a 3-point loss to Murray State: what did your team learn from that game that you think can help you this year? Any postseason play is positive, especially considering our struggles the previous year, so it is a building block. Now we have to take another step and we are in position to do that if we can stay healthy.

Your non-conference schedule includes games against Texas Tech, Colorado State, and Tulsa: which of these games do you feel will present your biggest test? They are all tough. We go straight from Texas Tech to Alaska to play Colorado State, so it will be a great challenge for us. We will just take it one game at a time to prepare ourselves for conference play.

Your leading scorer from last year (Gulley) has graduated: how much pressure is there on Marcus Marshall (who missed most of last year with a torn meniscus) to be a leader this year? He is a young man who was conference ROY as a freshman when he was thrown to the wolves. He had a fragmented half of a season last year and only played a total of 12 games. He did not get a true sophomore season so I do not think there is any pressure on him this year. He plays at his own pace and does not get rattled easily, so we need him in order to take a big step.

What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? We just need to build on what we did last year in our fight to make the NCAA tourney. Our league is going to be a multiple-bid league this year so we just want to have a good non-conference season and keep taking steps in the right direction.

In the 1993 NCAA tourney as a player at Southern Illinois you scored 11 points in a loss to 3-seed Duke (who shot 63.2 FG%): what are your memories of facing the 2-time defending champs? It was my first year after becoming eligible so to break through and make the tourney for the first time in 17 years was great. However, when I saw that we would be facing Duke I became a bit concerned. I had a decent game but we got blown out by a team that really put it on us.

You were an assistant to Gene Keady at Purdue: what made him such a great coach, and what was the most important thing that you ever learned from him? His longevity and consistency of preaching the right thing, getting guys to play hard, and ensuring that they got their degree. I got to see how positive/professional he was and his message never changed: we did things the right way both on and off the floor. He has meant so much to Purdue and to the sport of college basketball itself.

JonTeitel