Coach Tyndall is a very busy man at this time of year, yet the head coach graciously carved a few minutes out of his day Monday for me to come by and sit and talk with him about the upcoming UTEP game.
I also wanted to dig a little deeper into his influences to better understand the way he coaches and where his intense style comes from.
He talks about his influences, the match-up with UTEP, March madness, and his players in this Q and A with the head man.
Q: This style of basketball you play, who are your biggest influences as a coach?
DT: "My biggest influence in what I do and go about building a program and being organized, all those things come from John Brady when he was at LSU. I was fortunate to work for him for four years, and he was a phenomenal mentor for me.
"When he hired me at 25 I thought I knew everything and had all the answers, and I didn't know anything. He laid the groundwork and was the foundation for how I do things overall. A huge part of it is putting along a group of coaches that get together and have great chemistry.
"Coach Davis at Middle Tennessee, we worked four years together there at LSU, and he is good with the media, with people, and he's a great closer in recruiting. I learned a lot from him. Those two are very influential.
"Guys I study in the profession from a distance who I've learned a lot from are Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Bill Self at Kansas. Also Coach Petino and Billy Donovan are guys who have mentored me."
Q: Well it seems like that pressure defense by the end of the game you can see it wear down a team. Is that what happened in the last five minutes against East Carolina?
DT: "We just kept wearing on them, and wearing on them. Every time they catch the ball someone is there, and every bounce someone is there. To their credit they made a bunch of shots with someone there, but over 40 minutes eventually most guys are like, enough!
"That is why depth is going to be so important for us. I'm not knocking this year's team they've been incredible, but the deeper you are and the longer you are it is going to really have an impact. This year we are playing with Jerrold there who is 5'10, and when our guards there are 6'2 to 6'5, now you have even more deflections and more steals.
"Its a mentality, and they are not fighting over who gets to shoot the ball or fighting over who gets credit for the assist, but they are fighting over who gets to dog the ball 94 feet in the press."
Q: This mentality has spilled over, it seems like there is more of a competition over who can get the most steals.
DT: "Yeah my former players say that I brainwash them. In the film session I'll say good pass or good shot, but if a guy is really dogging the ball or he gets a deflection, I go out of my way to praise him. Every player wants to be praised so they'll go out of there way as well to get steals or deflections."
Q: If I would have told you before the season you'd be heading into the UTEP game with 20 wins, what might you have thought?
DT: "I would have asked me where are you taking me for lunch? I'm surprised as anyone because I know how good this league is and I know how tough our schedule was. Here is what I was concerned with, only three games at home to start in those first 13, and I thought we could easily be 5-8 and lose a bunch of confidence going into league play.
"Fortunately, we won some of those early games on the road, and we started gaining confidence and had a bit of a swagger going into league play. Next year I want to get that schedule right. It has to be challenging for RPI, I get that, but you can't start with 3 at home out of the first 13 because things can avalanche on you if things don't go well."
Q: It seems to all go back to practice. Do you feel like the guys have matured in their practice habits this year?
DT: "I do, and from the first day that I meet with my team, one of the keys I put on the board is to be a good practice team. If you can't be a good practice team you've got no shot at all. If you don't practice consistently well you can't win a lot of ball games, you just can't.
"We haven't practiced well every practice, but I'll tell you this the practices we've had that were horrible, were right before we left to go play at New Mexico State, and we were awful. From that time on, I continue to harp on it. I refer back to that game and its been a good reference point. If you don't lose, its hard to sell what I'm selling. We learned a tough lesson there and its paid off in the long run."
Q: With March Madness in front of you, how do you keep your guys focused on the task ahead and not "what do we have to do to get in the tournament?"
DT: "It is a challenge. I update them once a week as to where the RPI sits and what we need to do long term. The most important thing is good practices leading up to the game. Coming from the OVC, and now here we are here at this level, every game seems like a tournament game. In the OVC, we were a one bid conference, so we knew at the end of the day you are going to have to win three in March.
"Here its like every game can be the difference in getting in or not getting in. It seems like we've played a bunch of conference championship games. You don't want to much pressure, but the guys do understand how imperative each game is.
"We lose Wednesday and bottom line we probably don't get in the NCAA tournament as an at large. That is as real as real can be, and that's just the way it is."
Q: Talk about UTEP and what you have seen from them.
DT: "Well Coach Floyd has been there and has really good players. They are physical, play really hard, they are a good man to man team, and they don't give up transition baskets. They can also throw different defenses at you, and he's always been good at that.
"We have to be patient against the different defenses, and take what they give us offensively. Hopefully on our home floor we'll be really good in our press and it will be working."
Q: Who has stepped up in the absence of Craig and who have you continued to look to?
DT: "Dwayne Davis is a guy who can score the ball, and with Mike out he has been scoring well. The guy who has stepped up more that anyone is Rashard McGill. He's bumped up a lot in minutes, and he's not hung up on points, he just wants to do whatever he can to help us win. Deon Edwin has picked up his minutes, and his role has expanded.
"The guy I'm most proud of is Cedric. He had his knee drained because he's still hurting after that injury, but he's done everything he can to help us win. He'll dive on the floor, take charges, and has made shots. Those three guys have to step up."
Q: Have you been pleased with the play of Daveon Boardingham?
DT: "Oh yeah I have. He really has gone up a notch since conference play. He's really improved in the post, and is a guy who we can throw it to now in the post and we feel like he is going to get fouled or he's going to get us a bucket.
"This year he's been really good but next year I think he can be tremendous. His upside is incredible. He's going to really be something down the line."