Alford Pleased with Ranking; But a Long Way to Go

With their fantastic play in Maui, beating two top 15 foes on back to back nights, Steve Alford's Iowa Hawkeyes are ranked 23rd in the AP Poll this week. Alford talked about that in his Monday teleconference, as well as some player and personnel topics in this Q & A.

Your team is ranked #23 in the AP Poll. What are your thoughts on that?

It is early, but to be unranked, then play four games and now to start getting some attention, it speaks volumes about the effort that our players are putting forward. We were able to play three ranked teams in Maui. We beat two of them and played awfully hard against the other one and we did that with three games in three days.

Then the Western Illinois team, they played UCLA awfully well and they fought Indiana real hard. So we feel like we have played four really quality opponents and have played some pretty good basketball. But we just have to keep getting better.

You mentioned in Maui that Adam Haluska has played different roles at Iowa and ISU. What are they, specifically?

When Adam played at Iowa State under Coach Eustachy, it was more of a dribble-drive offense. It was a drive and kick offense. There was not a lot of movement like there is in our offense, so he is having to learn a whole different way of playing the game at the shooting guard position. He is trying to learn how to come off of screens, how to read screens, ball positioning and spacing given position on the court, how to read defense, etc.

Once he gets more comfortable with that, he will be able to play more ‘free spirited' than what he is doing now. I think he is really trying to learn things instead of just playing instinctively.

Does he have the green light as far as shooting? At Iowa State, he had the red light.

He is a phenomenal shooter. His light is green as long as it is a good shot. Jeff is the same way, Pierre is the same way. I think we have three very talented guards that know that their light is green as long as it is a good shot. But they are like anybody else, in that it can turn red in a hurry if they are taking bad shots.

Can you give us an update on Pierre's ankle?

He was tired and his minutes were down; I think he played 28 minutes in the Carolina game. I think he was fatigued and he was playing on a sore foot, but he gave us everything he had. He had two good days off, as we did nothing Thursday and Friday, and we practiced Saturday and Sunday and we practiced hard both those days with no problem, so I would expect him to be 100 percent tomorrow.

Based on beating two ranked teams back to back, does that confirm that you are a serious contender in Big Ten and can make a serious run at an NCAA tourney bid this year?

I think those are obviously goals of ours, and they will continue to be goals of ours. The Maui situation was very good and will continue to be a confidence builder for our guys. Louisville is picked to win Conference USA and Texas is picked to win the Big 12 conference and North Carolina is picked to win the ACC and we were able to beat two of those opponents who will win a lot of games. It gave our guys a sense that we could be pretty good, but we still have a long way to go. We are nowhere near where we have to be defensively by the time the Big Ten season starts, so we need to take these next five weeks and really improve defensively.

I think from an offensive standpoint, we are proving that we can score points. We are deep, and I think we have a lot of offensive minded kids, but our commitment to the defensive end will ultimately determine what kind of success we have come the end of ht year.

Talk about the consistency of Jeff Horner on the Maui Trip. (NOTE: Horner led the Maui Tournament in scoring, was named to the all tourney team and was named this week's Big Ten Player of the Week

He was really solid for the whole trip. The nice thing about that situation is who he did it against. Against Louisville, it was against Garcia and Dean. Then you have Gibson and Taylor and the talented guards at Texas, and then you have Felton, McCants and Scott of North Carolina. So you are talking about what he did in Maui against some very prestigious guards in the nation, and guards that have size. All of the scoring that was in that tournament; Sean May, McCants and name after name, and Jeff leads the tournament in scoring. He had a phenomenal three days, and he is capable of that. He understands his role and he understands what he can do. He is much more comfortable than what he was two years ago.

Is Horner more comfortable this year, and has that led to his shooting percentage going up?

He was an outstanding shooter last year as well. He led the Big Ten in foul shooting and he was a tenth of a point off from leading the league in three-point percentage last year and shot over 50 percent. He did not have a good shooting year his freshman year, and I think a lot of that had to do with being 18 years old and having to play 38 minutes a game for us, having to handle the ball and defend and all of those things we were asking him to do. It took him a while to get his legs underneath him and understand his role as a shooter.

Now he knows that it's not just taking care of the offense and directing things, but that he needs to get shots and be more instrumental in what we are doing offensively.

Talk about the progress of Erek Hansen. Everyone sees his shot blocking, but what about his offensive production?

I don't know that there has been anything more pleasing through four games, from our standpoint, than what Erek has been doing on offense. We know what he can do defensively, as he can change games; I think he did that in Maui and against Western Illinois.

But he is really coming into his floor on offense. He is running the floor, he is getting at least a dunk or two a game by just running the floor and being active. He is someone who is really developing a low post game. As that develops, the sky will be the limit. The light turned on last year and that light keeps getting brighter and brighter.

You have expressed concerns with your defense. Are those concerns related to the fairly high field goal percentage your opponents are making, and is that a function of the quality of your opponents?

There is no question that it's a function of the type of teams we are playing, but those are the types of teams that we are going to play in the Big Ten. That has to be a focal point, and we have discussed that with the team. We have made some key stops when we have needed them, but we have a lot of work to do when it comes to transition defense, when it comes to really helping each other when it comes to man-to-man defense. There are some aspects that are really getting good and some that are lagging behind. We have to keep working on it and make a commitment to it and hope that in five weeks from now, when we get ready to play Michigan, our man-to-man defense is where it needs to be to go through a grueling Big Ten conference.

Did you like that deeper three point line? I didn't notice that at all. When I start evaluating that and I am asked to fill out the papers, the three-point line needs to be moved back and I think the international line is the way to go. The lane would be hard for me to make any kind of judgment on, because I thought there were an abundance of three-second violations. I know that doesn't get called any more, but I could not tell any difference with the widened lane.

Pierre Pierce seems to be taking some time with getting into the flow of the offense. Is that based on the role he had to play for you last year, when you were shorthanded?

I think he has some bigger bodies with him. Jeff is bigger and stronger and Adam is a physical presence. Last year, we went into every game and it was whoever was the most talented guard, regardless of size, Pierre got that assignment. Pierre had to break presses, he had to help Jeff bring the ball up, so we asked him to do a lot.

We still continue to do that, but with Adam being big and physical, Mike Henderson coming in off of the bench, here are guys that can really help Pierre defensively, take that pressure off of him defensively and I think with the way our transition game is evolving this year, it gets him out on the open floor. I have not seen anyone in college basketball who is harder to guard in the open floor than what Pierre is.

Doug Thomas and Alex Thompson seemed to struggle getting into the flow out in Maui

I think they are on veteran team. Our starters are all veteran guys, with the exception of Adam, but he has been in the Big 12. Our bench is young. If you look at the other benches that we played against in Maui, they were much older than ours. I think it was a good learning experience for our bench.

Once we get more experience, they could be the ‘X' factor for our success this year, because I think we can go nine or ten deep.

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