Alford Pleased with Offense, Looking for More 'D'

Iowa Men's Basketball Coach Steve Alford met with members of the Iowa media on Tuesday, and talked about the emergence of Erek Hansen, the play of Carlton Reed and Doug Thomas, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and how the league stacks up, and more. This is part one of our two part transcript.

What is it like for an Erek Hansen to get here and redshirt, then have to go to Junior College for a year, to playing behind people, etc?

He has had a lot go on in his three years, and I give him a lot of credit. A lot of student athletes might just quit, and he has not done that. Not only has he had a lot thrown at him outside of basketball just getting to this point, but inside of basketball, he has played behind Sean and Jared and he has been patient.

In today's college basketball world, if you are faced with those things, you just transfer. I have to give Erek an awful lot of credit; he has hung in there, and now the light is on and he is getting better. I think you will see him keep getting better. He practices too hard, there is a toughness to him now, and he is getting confident on the offensive end.

He knows…there are not too many defenders in the country any more confident than Erek. He knows, and our team knows what kind of a defender he is. Now all of the sudden he is getting that confidence at the offensive end. He still has so much upside on that end that you could see some big things out of him before it's all over with.

(Golden State Warriors Head Coach) Eric Musselman called Hansen a Mark Eaton with some offense.

(Laughs) Nothing against Coach Musseman, but I played against Mark Eaton, and there is about a 150-pound difference. I didn't play a lot, but I remember playing in Utah one year with the Dallas Mavericks.

I was coming off of a ball screen, and one of the ways you defend a ball screen is that you jump out and Hedge. John Stockton was guarding me, and I came off of a ball screen and Mark Eaton jumps out and hedges, and I thought he was the biggest human being I had seen in my life. As a guard, you are taught to keep on going when they hedge. There was no way I could keep going. I jumped about four feet back. Not only did he jump out there, but he yells. He was doing those lumberjack biscuit commercials, so he looked like some monsters from the woods.

Erek doesn't resemble that, but Erek runs better. Mark could change some things defensively, there, so that is a similarity. But Erek can shoot and run better, but he is not as physically big.

NOTE: Alford said he expects Hansen to start this weekend, though Doug Thomas was listed as the starter in the media notes for Friday's game against Centenary. Hansen was dressed out for the Drake game, and Alford said that it was like Adam Haluska earlier in the year…he could have played, but no need to rush it and cause a problem later on.

Are you concerned with the mindset of Doug Thomas?

No, I am not. He is understanding what this level is about, and he is just going through a feeling out process. We talked to him that Reggie went through a very similar thing. The difference was that Reggie was on a team where he had to play 35 minutes a game, so it took Reggie longer to learn, because he was not getting pulled. The bench was not a lesson for him early on, where Doug will learn that the bench is a good lesson.

I am excited about what Doug brings. When you look at our stats, Doug has been in serious foul trouble, he has not been in the flow in three of our five games, you look at what he is doing on the backboard, what he is doing shooting the ball; he just has to learn how difficult it is on defense on this level. He is not alone; we have a lot of guys learning that. We have a lot of guys getting in foul trouble. Brunner is averaging four fouls per game. He wonders why his rebounds are down, it's because he can't stop from fouling.

Doug is only five games into his college career. I think he will have a phenomenal year, but it will take him some time to get adjusted to what is being thrown at him.

Outside of your trip to Chicago to play Texas Tech, you have nine straight home games in the next five weeks

Our key was that Maui trip, to make sure we did well out there, and that happened, to win the road game, which was inter-state Drake, which is always a tough game, and we did. Now, we get to the point of the season where our guys are looking forward to taking care of home. Sometimes you think home means automatic win, and it does not happen that way. Teams come in and they play you loose. Centenary is going to come in here loose. They have already played Texas Tech, so they will not be intimidated by us. They know they are coming in here to spend two days, and whoever we play in the next game will be the same way. So there is a lot of pressure. We have Northern Iowa next week, and they looked outstanding last night. Iowa State presents problems. We know we have difficult home games ahead of us, but I am anxious to see how our guys go about taking care of home. That has been a goal of ours since this summer; making sure that Carver is a place where no one comes in here and gets wins. That is easier said than done, but this is a pivotal month for us to get that established before we come into Big Ten play.

Overall, could your schedule be any better? UNI and ISU at home, a lot of Saturday afternoon Big Ten games…that seems ideal

Well, it works out real well now. Winning two games in Maui helps the situation, and getting to play the three teams that we got to play in Maui, it helps us, even though North Carolina was a loss.

Last year we were at Northern Iowa, we were at Iowa State, we did not have the benefits of playing a lot of Saturday afternoon games. We like things from here on out, now we have to get better from week to week. It doesn't make the games any easier, it's just nice not having to deal with the travel.

Have you talked to Adam about possible distractions with his former coach (Larry Eustachy) being in town this weekend?

No, not at all. If he is like me, he has not thought about it. If he is doing what he needs to be doing, he is thinking how he can get better from the Drake game to the Centenary game. That is what a mature student-athlete would do. The other stuff has nothing to do with what happens between the lines. Is that easy? No, but great players understand that it's what you do between the lines. If he wants to be a great one, that is what he has to focus and concentrate on. He is playing well. He has gotten to the foul line more than anyone on our team.

Alex and Carlton gave you some good minutes off the bench against Drake

Those two have been good, particularly good. Carlton has been…I don't know if it is a pleasant surprise, but it helps when you have a freshman, that five games into it, he does not play like a freshman.

Most freshmen get rattled. I think Alex has been rattled a little bit. He started to get in the flow against Drake. He put a lot of pressure on himself, and I think a lot of freshmen do that.

Carlton has just played. Carlton has gone about business like he is back at Waterloo East. You don't see that type of poise and confidence in a lot of freshmen. That has been big for us, because our bench is so young. So to have that input from the bench will be pivotal for us.

Mike (Henderson) and Carlton have a good rapport. They have ended up playing a lot together, and we will try and do that even more.

What do you think is going through Larry's (Eustachy) mind?

He has been through a lot. This is a quirk in our schedule, in that they were on our schedule before he was hired, and that ands up being the position that gives him a second chance. I hope he makes the most of it. We all make mistakes and we hope that we learn lessons. I think that has happened in Larry's case. He is a terrific coach, and I would anticipate his teams coming in here and playing extremely hard for two nights.

What were your thoughts on the Big Ten-ACC Challenge?

It was not very good. It has been 7-2 the last two years. With that being said, the top three teams in our league, you have Michigan State playing at Duke, and it goes down to the last minute, and Duke is arguably the toughest place in the country to play. Illinois beats the number one team in the country by 20 and has them down 25-30 for most of the second half. Wisconsin beat a very good Maryland team.

So the top three teams in our league performed extremely well. Michigan is without Abrahms, so a key member of their team is out for their road game at Georgia Tech. We finished in the upper half last year and we are not in the tournament.

These other teams are searching. Ohio State has a new staff and is off to a good start, and they had Clemson beat. Purdue is going through some things now and trying to find their identity. Indiana played North Carolina extremely hard last night.

I think by the time January and February rolls around, you will have a lot of Big Ten teams competing at a high level. But the teams in this league that are at a high level already, did well in the challenge.

Collectively, how do you feel about your team's defense right now?

Well, not very good. We are starting to play offensively like we want to play. With that brings a lot more possessions. I always find it funny where certain coaches and certain programs are thought to be defensive minded. Yet, when you look at the possessions of the game, they are shrunk considerably.

When you have 70 possessions in a game versus a game with only 40 possessions in it, there is better defense played because there are 30 fewer possessions of shots on goal.

A lot of it has to do with your style.

We want to run and get up and down the floor, so I know there will be more possessions that we will have to guard. If we are going to score 85 points per game, hopefully our defense can limit them to 70; our goal is 65.

If we are going to continue to have this many possessions in a game, we are going to give up more points.

At Drake, they were in the low 60's with less than four minutes to go in an up-tempo, full court pressing game. All of the fouling they do adds possessions to the game. We do not want to foul and we give up some easy baskets I don't like to give up. With that said, we are doing some good things, but there are enough things that we have to work on over the next four weeks.

We have a lot of games and not a lot of practices, but hopefully by emphasizing and watching some tapes, we can show some improvement at the defensive end, and that will tell the tale of what kind of year we will have.

Night in and night out, we are a hard team to guard. But we have to be much harder to play against on the other side of the ball.


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