Avoiding the St. Louis Blues

Iowa Coach Steve Alford hopes to get his team past the disappointment of missing the NCAAs and excited about its NIT bid: "This is such a competitive team," Alford said during his Monday teleconference. "Deep down they know the job that they've done with a depleted roster. I've told them how proud I am of their effort. We've been a resilient group all year. We haven't lost two in a row since December. This is a great challenge for us."

What are your thoughts about playing on the road?

We don't have much control over that. I don't know what went on in talks from our administration to them (The NIT officials) or St. Louis' administration to them. But you have to give them credit to get a home game with wrestling nationals in town and not even playing in the Savvis Center. That's something different.

But we're happy to be in the tournament. We know we've got to start it out with a road game. Hopefully if we can get that, we can have an opportunity to host the next one.

Have you gotten a sense if your guys are up for this after wanting so badly to make the NCAAs?

They're eventually going to be up. They're like the staff. We've put in a lot of hard work and have made a positive out of the season. As I told them after the game with Michigan, we won more conference games this year; we've won more road games this year; we've finished the highest we've ever finished in league play; we're going to be in postseason play again. There have been a lot ot positives. This is such a competitive team. Deep down they know the job that they've done with a depleted roster. I've told them how proud I am of their effort. Now, we've been a resilient group all year. We haven't lost two in a row since December. This is a great challenge for us because we've had to play a neutral game and now go on the road to a very good team; a very well-coached team; a disciplined team. It's going to be a tough task.

The bus ride will do us good. Nobody is probably very excited about it, me included. That will give us a chance to clear our minds of everything else and know that this is the task at hand. Knowing this group, they'll respond pretty well.

What have you been able to find out about St. Louis?

It's the Dick Bennett style. Coach (Brad) Soderberg been under Coach Bennett, so that's the style you're going to see out of them. They're very patient offensively. They run the screener-blocker or mover-blocker offense. Basically, you've got three guards doing a lot of cutting, and two posts doing an awful lot of screening on each side of the floor. They don't run in transition a whole lot. They will in opportunities. They would just prefer that the game be in the 50s. They lead Conference USA in points allowed at 59 and field goal percentage at 40. They take great pride in their defense. They pack it in. They don't allow a lot of penetration into the heart of their defense. They're very, very sound in the middle at the defensive end. And they're very patient at the offense just waiting for the defense to make a mistake.

From what you said about their defense, you guys are going to have to shoot well from the outside or be effective from the perimeter.

That's one thing when you play them you have to be able to make shots. If you don't make shots, it puts a lot of pressure on your offense. They do a good job of not giving up a lot of second shots. They get back in transition. They do what good defenses do. They take away the easy score. It's not just about making shots, but taking good shots. The tapes that we've been able to watch here in the last 12 hours teams that have struggled against them have taken quick shots. If you just dribble down and shoot, odds are that you better make all of those because if you miss you're not getting the ball back for another 50 seconds. It really puts a lot of pressure on you if you quick-shoot or take bad shots. I thought we took a lot of...uncharacteristc...we had nine bad shots against Michigan. That's something that we've got to do a much better job of.

How much tape were you able to get on them?

I think we've watched four or five since finding out at 9:30 (Sunday) night.

What are your impressions of Bryant and Fisher, their guard duo?

They're very talented. Bryant is a transfer from Villanova, who can really shoot it. he can take people off of the bounce. He's the one guy that seems to have a littel bit more freedom and green light to him than anybody else on the team. He can create things in the open floor as well. In late clock situations or if the offense gets stagnant, he's one guy that can create offense by himself. Fisher being left-handed is a strong guard who can take guards inside and post. He's maybe one of their best post players. He can shoot it; take it off of the bounce. Those two are the catalysts. On tape, we really like watching the Sloan kid. He really understands the system. He screens well, and he really reacts after he screens. He can shoot off of screens. He can drive you off of screens. Like those three, they emulate the rest of the guys. It's a very hard-nosed, tough team.

Coach, do they play a zone defense?

No. They're mostly man-to-man. They'll show a little bit of zone at times. They kind of guard the "pack line." It's a "pack line" from about 18-feet in. And they just don't want anything penetrating inside of that. They do a very good job with hands high. If you get off to one side, they're going to have one guy guarding the ball and four guys in the paint. They do a good job of trying to take away the easy scores. If you score, you're going to have to get difficult shots.

Steve, Glen didn't have his greatest game (against Michigan). Have you talked to him about that?

It's hard. Since we had that day off, maybe since the Ohio State game, where he was playing really well, I don't think that he's been at the level he's got to be at. For whatever reason, now you get into postseason, that was frustrating. Michigan, arguably the biggest game of our year, and we played so well up to that, we met none of our goals offensively or defensively. That's the first time all year. That tells me that we didn't play every well. That was the frustrating part of the Michigan game. Playing a limited roster here, you can't have one or two of them not perform well. And our bad games that we have individually need to be bad games where we're still getting three or four field goals; getting two or three free throws; and we're getting five or six rebounds.

You talked Friday about getting Erek Hansen more involved in the game. Does that mean he might start and how much more time will he see?

I don't know if we'll change lineups or things. But Erek is warranting more playing time. We're now into postseason, so I don't know if we're going to make changes in the starting lineup. But you'll see him earlier. You've got a chance to see him play more minutes just because we like what he's doing. He's extremely active for us at the defensive end. He's starting to rebound. He had four rebounds in the Michigan game. That's the thing that he's got to work on all summer. It's kind of a hard thing to work on in the summer. He's got to watch a lot of tape and do a good job of figuring out how to rebound because the other things he does extremely well. He's starting to slow down and become more efficient at the offensive end. He runs the floor very well. He's warranted more playing time, and he'll get that against St. Louis.

With his rebounding, is it more a positioning thing or strength?

Most of it has to do with strength. And he's such a good shot blocker that a lot of times he does a good job of helping. He comes to help to block shots and now he's not in position to rebound. I told him to concentrate on the rebounds. The ones that he shouldn't be missing are the free throw block outs. Those are things when it comes to strength. He gets pushed out a little bit. He's got to get lower and do a good job of reacting to that loose ball.

For you personally, what was it like Friday and this weekend thinking that your team may have not done well enough to get into the NCAAs?

As a staff, we were looking at things like where the RPI and things were. We probably had to win the thing this weekend. I don't think that beating Michigan was going to be enough. Michigan's RPI was better than ours. Their record was better than ours other than league record. They beat us, and I don't think that they were all that close to getting in. We needed to win at least two if not three to get there. We're obviously frustrated that we didn't get that first one because if you get that first one you've got a chance to get on a roll. That was disappointing although we know Michigan is a difficult team for our team to match up against. Teams that are extremely long, big and athletic, are tough matchups for us. It has been all year. Illinois presents those problems. Michigan State presents those problems. Michigan presents those problems. The rest of our league, including Wisconsin as good as they are, it's not a long, tall, athletic team. We have played and matched up very well with those other teams. So, we knew that going in. The frustrating thing was that we didn't play a real good game. We would have like to just have performed a little bit better. Jeff was still feeling some effects (from being hit in the head in the Purdue game). I don't think that he was 100 percent. He would never admit to that. But just looking at him out there and his decision making, I just think that he took a tremendous hit and i don't think that he was the way that he's got to be. Hopefully, he'll respond here in the next couple of days as we go into St. Louis. We need him playing at a high level.

What are your thoughts about the Big Ten only getting three teams (into the NCAAs)?

A lot of these things go in cycles. A year or two ago, the ACC had three in. It's just something that we don't want to happen as a trend in our league. Our highest seed was a five. our highest-ranked team, Wisconsin, was a Top 10 team, a second-place finisher in the league and a league tournament winner and they get a six seed. It's something that our conference should really look at when you only get three in and the seeds are five, six, seven. It's not boding well for your league. We've got to hope that it's not a trend. It's just one of those things that runs in cycles. You look at our league, the three top teams return everybody. Michigan return everybody but Robinson, and we return a lot. Our league should be much better and much more competitive next year.

Does playing in the Family Arena take away from of that home court advantage St. Louis might have?

Boy, I have no idea. I've never been to the Family Arena. I couldn't tell you what the Family Arena looks like. It's a little odd that we would go there and not play in the Savvis Center. So, I'm not for sure what it looks like. Somebody said that it seats close to 10,000 and some minor league basketball was played in there before. If they haven't played in there, it's probably a lot better than playing them in the Savvis Center, where they've been very good.

What did you guys do with the team this weekend and what their mindset is?

We gave them Saturday off. We met (Sunday) with films and practice and lifted. Once we found out, right before we dismissed them, that we were playing at St. Louis, we were able to go over a little bit of that. And then the staff met through the night going over St. Louis stuff in preparation to meeting them (Monday) morning. We'll practice at 10:30 this (Monday) morning and then bus down there around noon.

What do you think they kids' mindset was?

Early, it's like the coaches. You're frustrated we came up short in trying to make the NCAA Tournament. I just tried to tell them, "With everything that's happened guys, I'm very proud of what you've done." From the first of the year on, our young kids have had to perform at a high level, and they've done that. There are a lot of teams that ended up not having winning seasons and didn't get into postseason play that didn't have any distractions. They didn't have any of the things happen to their team. It's been baby steps, obviously not the strides that we've been hoping for at the beginning of the season. Now, we can present the bracket of the NIT and get these guys excited to play down in St. Louis.

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