Stretch Run

Iowa travels to Ohio State on Wednesday for a critical Big Ten contest. Coach Steve Alford met with the media on Monday to discuss the Buckeyes, his team's chances for an NCAA berth, Pierre Pierce's pro prospects, the development of Erek Hansen, comparisons between Greg Brunner and Reggie Evans and much more: "...that's somebody that Bru can look to just as far as how you run the floor and how you pursue rebounds."


When you first played Ohio State a while ago, Stockman didn't play. What does he do for them?

He's probably their best shooter, and obviously right now, their leading scorer. That's a big plus. And we had Sean. They add Stockman, and we lose Sean. There are differences going into this game.

He can really shoot the basketball. He extends your defense more so than what we did in the first game. So, the biggest thing that he brings to them is somebody that can make outside shots.

Is that a Pierre deal if you go man?

We're still talking about that. That can be Jeff or Pierre. Tony is 6-1, so he's not a big guard. Sullinger is more of their big, slashing guard. We could go Pierre or Jeff there. Those two are interchangeable.

Can you talk about the Ohio State big men? They weren't really a factor against you in the first game?

It's a tough matchup because they're as big a team as we play here the rest of the way out. We're obviously not very big. With Radinovic, Dials up front, they start there. But they bring Jenkins off the bench who is very big and strong. Harris is playing better now. It's a demanding matchup. You saw Michigan try to exploit that. They went at us inside. They got too many low-post touches. They got 18 offensive rebounds. That word gets out just like we watch tape and we see areas to exploit. That's got to be a place where people are going to try to exploit us. We're going to have to do a better job with blockouts. We're going to have to do a better job of pursuing the ball. Our guards are going to have to get in there. We've got to demand more from Greg and Erek. It can't just be Bru rebounding.

Have you figured out how many games you need to win to make the tournament?

I wish somebody would tell me that. We just have to take it one game at a time. We were upset about our home loss to Northwestern, and we thought they were a little bit better than you thought they were. Now, they've won six games. They've beaten Wisconsin. They've gone into Purdue and won and held Purdue to 39 points. They're better than what you think. And that's the way that this league is. There's so much parity that one ankle injury, one sickness. We were very worried about the mild concussion that Brody had. We didn't know if he was going to go. Well, if he doesn't go, we're in trouble. Everybody is very vulnerable. We can't even look at the schedules and say, "Well, we hope this team wins." We've just got to take care of one game at a time. ---

Do coaches have a high deal of confidence that it really is the right 65 that get chosen for the NCAA Tournament?

There's probably 65 of them that say yes. Then the ones that get left out are saying no every year.

That's hard. I wouldn't want to be on that committee or any part of it because that's the toughest job. There's so much parity in college basketball now that it's really hard to find 64, 65 teams. Every year you're going to have three, four or five teams that are just as deserving. It just so happened that this year this is what the emphasis is. Now, they're a little bit lower on that emphasis. This year it might be strength of schedule. Then the next year the emphasis might be road wins or last 10 (games) or what your conference record was.

That becomes very, very difficult just because of the parity. Get to that 65 is a tough job regardless of how you end up getting it.

Do you have to have a better RPI than teams like Purdue and Michigan?

I know how important those things are, but I can flat out tell you that I haven't looked at one RPI this year. Other than what I see in game notes, I couldn't tell you what out RPI is or where Purdue's is or where Indiana's is. We've really just tried to pay attention to the conference race.

A lot of the RPI has to do with...we play a Missouri, and it happened to us a year ago with I can't remember who it was, and now what are they, right around .500? You're thinking that that's going to carry you in the non-league. We were probably in the same boat three years ago when we were loaded with talent. People that played us, we ended hurting their RPI. We didn't have the year that we were supposed to have from a record standpoint.

All I know is that we feel it's very important to stay in that upper echelon going into the Big Ten Tournament. There are going to be teams bunched together in those (4-7) spots to where it's still going to come down to that Big Ten Tournament. We've just got to make sure that we're staying really close to that we're not (8-11). Now you have to go and win it to get in. We're trying to get to the position where you don't have that kind of pressure once you get to Indianapolis.

Given your numbers, is it really important to finish in the Top 5 and not have to play on Thursday?

Well, yeah, obviously because it's one less game so you're not playing four games in four days. We don't have deep numbers, but there are a lot of teams in our league that aren't going to be playing 10 guys anyway. But the way that we've approached things is that we've done it every Wednesday, Saturday. That's kind of been our approach - take some time off; practice lightly; make sure that we're energized for Wednesday, Saturday. It gets really demanding if we've got to go four (games) in four (days). That's demanding on anybody. That's why the team that did it three years ago was incredible. And, we did it with eight guys. It's only happened probably once. It's not like that happens every year. ---

Is Greg Brunner in any way comparable to Reggie?

They very similar foul shooters. (laughter) (Brunner) is starting to develop that demeanor. Reggie was as relentless a rebounder as this league has seen in a long time. He tackled people. He threw people out of the way. He did what he had to do to get the ball. And he got the ball. He led the country one year and should have led it the other year. I think that he was Top 3 that year. Greg is not at that point yet. Greg's got to continue to take the baby steps. You've got to learn how to lead the league in rebounding first. Then, you go to national. Then, you start being consistent with it.

In saying that, we're going to have Greg for four years where Reggie had two years of junior college. He got a lot bigger after high school. Reggie wasn't that big after high school. He really exploded onto the scene from a physical presence in junior college and here.

Greg has got to potential to play out on the floor a lot more. Reggie we didn't want shooting the ball outside of 12 feet. Bru can go out and shoot the 3-point shot. Bru runs the floor at times like Reggie did. Reggie was just more consistent with it.

There's a maturing process that has to take place. But that's somebody that Bru can look to just as far as how you run the floor and how you pursue rebounds. They'll be a little bit different offensively. Bru is a little more polished with offensive post moves and being able to play on the perimeter than what Reggie was.

Is that going to be Bru's role for the rest of his career - the rebounder?

He's definitely going to have to continue that role. If we had Jared right now...Jared and Bru were pretty close (in rebounding). I hope that Bru isn't our five man for the rest of his career. But playing the power forward position, we still want him to be able to rebound the basketball. He's got to be able to get 8+ rebounds every night. If he can't, that affects us. We gave up 18 offensive rebounds to Michigan, and Bru has his lowest output in some time on the backboards.

Did you chart in Saturday's game how many times Pierre was the point guard? ---

Anymore, with the way that we've been playing and with the motion and things, it's getting almost to where it's split (between Horner and Pierce). When people press us, that varies us. It really keys us when we're being zoned. Mixing it up during that time really helps. A lot of times when Jeff's just playing the point, he has a tendency against zones to just stay at the top. We've got to get him moving and cutting and playing like he would in man offense. Sometimes by just taking him off of the point it allows him to do that.

What would you say about Pierre now as a point guard compared to his freshman season?

He's a lot more mature. This should be is junior year. It's only his sophomore year. He's two years removed from that. That's the thing that I've liked about Pierre is his versatility. He's guarded Jagla, who is 7-foot. He's guarded point guards that have been below 6-foot. He's guarded 6-5 power guards like the Torberts and Andersons at Michigan State. He's guarded guys like (Devin) Harris that are wirey and athletic. We can put him on a Bernard Robinson and then the next game switch him to Horton. It doesn't really matter.

He's learning offensively. He had eight turnovers against Wisconsin. He turns around against Michigan after we sit down and emphasize things with him and he gets an 8-3 assist-turnover ratio. He's just a very special talent, but he is only in his second year. He's not going to play flawless games and I'm not going to keep pulling the reigns on him. We've got to live with some turnovers and maybe some tough shots. Pierre is very hard to guard when he's coming at you full boar. There have been very few people, if any, who have been able to keep him in check. That really creates a lot of offense for us.

What kind of consideration do you think he deserves for defensive player of the year or all-defensive team?

There's no question in my mind. Now, all coaches got to vote. But you can't find five better. Devin Harris is awfully good. He's paid some more dues than what Pierre has done. But I don't trade Pierre for any other defender in our league in the backcourt. If I had to match up to try to stop somebody or contain somebody when I go into battle, Pierre would be the first guy that I'd want. He's proven that. There has been no league member to date that us run away from him.

Does he deserve to be on one of the all-Big Ten teams? Is he one of the Top 15 players?

There's still games left to see how it's all going to play out. But he and Jeff have definitley had those kinds of years thus far. And you've got some guys coming. Bru, now that's he got minutes, his numbers have jumped. Glen's numbers have jumped. It becomes hard because we're such a team of balance.

In retrospect, how concerned about the pressures on Pierre because of his legal problems; that the pressure would be so great that it would be difficult for him?

We talked very little about it. One time in Australia, we sat down and talked over lunch at a team function. I told him how good it was the timing of this trip to get five games under your belt and very good competition. The difference is getting back into arenas that aren't going to be quite as friendly. He's always bought into "I'm fortunate. I'm blessed that I have the opportunity to do things between the lines that a lot of people can talk about, write about, think about, but have never been between the lines." He understands that stage, and he has done a phenominal job. This hasn't been good year. This has been a very good year for him. He has had a very, very good year. Hopefully he can finish the year the way he has played. We're pretty excited about him coming back for the next two. He's handled it about as well as anybody could have handled it.

In two years, if he could cut down his turnovers and improve his free throws and jump shot...

His jump shot emulates the foul shot. He's got to work a lot on form correction here in the spring. We worked on it a lot last year. Now, it's got to be a much more committed approach. Pierre has always been a guy that's "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I hear that. But I can still go out and give somebody 15 or 20 points." But if you want to play at the next level, which Pierre two years down the road is going to have the talent to do that, you've go to be able to consistently knock down that shot. You're not going to just beat people; use your strength. I'd like for that pull-up game to get to where he can make 80 percent of his shots of just one-two, dribble drive, pull up from 16 in the lane and knock down the shot. You're not always going to get to the basket at the next level. If he can correct that, there's no doubt in my mind that he's got a chance to be a pro. ---

Is your offense running more smoothly without a big guy like Reiner or Sonderleiter in there?

Well, I don't know. I'd still like to have that 7-footer in there or that 6-10 kid in there because it's a go-to guy. But, it's almost like playing five guards. We should handle the ball better. I don't know if that's really happened. But we should. All five guys on the floor can make threes. I still like having that post presence when it's crunch time. You can run an isolation and get a 7-footer a 3-foot shot versus trying to bank on that 3 shot. But our guys have done everything that we could ask for with losing an awful lot of our frontline. The most foul trouble we've been in was the last game, and they handled that well.

It seems like Brody has really taken advantage of it, the backdoor cuts.

I've said all year that he's done a very good job of cutting. He understand cutting now. He really works at that end. He's right toward the top of the league in steals. He'd be the first to tell you that coming out of high school that he ever thought about trying to lead a defensive stat. That's where he's matured. He's really been focused this year. He's had no distractions. He's done a very good job of leading. And his numbers are speaking volumes for it, too. Last year, he'd go through nights where he'd be shut out at halftime, and at the end of the game he'd be shut out. Now, just like our first game with Ohio State, I don't know if he scored in the first half, but he gets 17 in the second. That's maturity. That's understanding. ---

Did Jeff come back and shoot the night after he missed the 3-pointer against Wisconsin?

I would assume so. I heard that. It doesn't surprise me. ---

How is Erek doing? He's had some moments where he looks pretty good and he has, at times, struggled.

He's played nine Big Ten games. That's all of the experience he has. He's going to be a little inconsistent. What has been consistent is that he's been a great screener. He's ran the floor like a deer, which we've got to have him doing. And, he's blocked shots. If I play him two minutes, he's going to get two blocks. He's doing some things that really are helping our team. That jump hook is getting better. You're not going to block his jump shot. You're not going to block his jump hook. He's so dog gone long. That thing is going to keep coming. As he gets confidence, he's going to have a game where he knocks a couple of those things down. Other than board play and not being tough enough with foot positioning defensively, he's been terrific.

Where can he get to physically?

That's hard. We tried to force feed him. We tried to pound the weights and everything else. Look at Devin Harris, for one. I don't know if he's gained that much weight. He's just built like a greyhound. That's kind of the way that Erek is. I don't know if we're going to turn a greyhound into a German sheperd. We'd like for him to gain some weight, but more importantly gain strength. And he has gotten stronger.

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