Alford: We Are Close to Being a Top 20 Team

Steve Alford met with the Iowa media for the first time since his team beat Iowa State last weekend in Iowa City. Alford talked about the challenges of finals week, he talked about his team being ranked in the Top 20 and whether or not he feels that is deserving, as well as talking about Iowa's upcoming game against Texas Tech, and his former coach, Bob Knight.

The following is Steve Alford's Q & A with the Iowa media. Questions from the media are in BOLD

How have your players responded to the rankings and the good start?

Right now, I like the smiles on the faces, I like that they are feeling good about things. They have been through a lot, and they have earned this and I want them feeling good at that, but at the same time, keep a balance of knowing how much further we can get and how much better we can get.

Where did your mantra, ‘hold the rope' come from?

I receive a lot of things and people send so many things. I don't know how it got across my desk, but it did and I shared it with my staff. I said, ‘This is us'. If we get all 13 guys, and now with Ryan helping out, all 14 guys holding the rope, and when you can trust each of the 14 guys, we are going to have something special.

So we just decided that would be our theme in the locker room, and we made a board out of it in the locker room and I think the guys have bought into it. It's a close-knit group, so it just seemed to make good sense.

You have won some close games, and that has been a good trait of this team. But I am wondering if you have been concerned with the lead dissipating against UNI and Iowa State?

I think it's a function of the instate games, and two, those were our eighth and ninth games in a very tough stretch. I said last week that half of our finals and academic requirements were last week, so this has been a demanding two-week stretch, then this week, we have not had any games.

I thought the guys did well of fighting through, but with that said, there were some trends in both of those games that we will have to work on. Transition defense, our offense got stagnant at the eight-minute mark. For 32 minutes, we are doing what we want to do, but then we got passive, almost like we were in the mode of playing not to lose instead of playing to win; we don't want that creeping in.

The thing I did like was in the last two minutes of that game, we got stops. I think that will prepare us for a lot of tight games that will happen in the Big Ten.

When you get passive, is that when guys jack up long shots without working the offense?

More than that, we start standing in stead of cutting and screening, reversing the ball, getting spacing, the drive and kick game like our offense is about. It only takes one guy to stands, and then another guy stands. Now the guy holding the ball is stuck with nothing to do, and you will see things like that.

You will see ball handling mistakes, or guys force things, or guys take a bad shot or a long shot, because the ball is not moving. I think that is what we noticed over the last eight minutes of the previous two games.

You know what a top 20 team looks like, based on your experiences. Do you think you have one?

We are close. I don't know if we are there yet, because I am more critical of our team, because I know that there are so many things that can get better.

Offensive rebounding can get better, overall rebounding can get better, our foul shooting can improve, though it is better than what it was a year ago. I think our communication defensively can get better. There is so much room to get better.

But in saying that, there are two teams ranked ahead of us that we have beaten, there is another team now in the top 10 that is very good and we played them very competitively, so I think we are close. I definitely think we are a top 25 team at this stage. That can fluctuate so much. An injury or a sickness here and there, guys not doing what they are supposed to do to get better over break; so many things can happen. It's not that important that you are a top 25 now, but to this team at this particular time, it's very important, because of what they have been through.

Now, they are gaining momentum, they are gaining confidence, they are feeling good about themselves and they need to with what they have done.

I don't think we are a top 15 team yet, but we have the potential to get there if we keep working on things. Everything I have seen from this team leads me to believe that they will keep working.

Sticking with the finals theme, what grade would you give your team, if you were a Professor of Basketball?

They didn't get them all right, so it's hard to give them an A-plus. Through nine games, to come away with 8-1 and beat the teams that we have beaten, they have passed every major test except for one, and that was not a failing grade. I am pretty pleased with where we are.

We are not to our finals yet. We are nearing our mid-term exams, and they are doing a pretty good job.

Was it Coach Knight's idea to play in Dallas and Chicago? I would think that Iowa fans would love to see him back in Iowa City someday. Have you had that conversation?

No, we have not had that conversation. We wanted to start this thing from a neutral standpoint, because we both want our programs to grow, and he thought that my going to Dallas, that gets a lot of his fans in the biggest metropolitan area, and Chicago is our closest. Outside of the state of Iowa, that is where the largest contingent of our students and alumni come from. It was two good neutral sites.

Last year we had 13 days off coming into that game. We saw a little bit of that. They were a better team than we were. This year, we get to play a game beforehand, and we can treat it as a two game series, with Western Carolina on Saturday. We end finals tomorrow at seven o'clock, and our guys know that Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, before they get Christmas break, it's two games in four days and that is a pivotal two games. We are pairing them both together, where last year, we had one game in an 18-day period, so the schedule worked out better this year.

Coach Knight always spoke well of his Iowa trips; do you think he might be receptive to coming back here?

I will talk to him when the time is right. We go back into the Big Ten-ACC challenge next year, we started a home and home with Arizona State, and no one else drops from our schedule, so I don't know if we can do anything for a year or two. If there is an opening, I would be receptive to it.

What do you do to ensure that there is no lull in your team?

Since Monday, we have shocked them with times of practice, get into them, make them work mentally and physically, because that is what is happening to them off the floor, so we don't want this to be a break time. Then we back off; let them go, let them get away with mistakes you wouldn't do normally, just because of the period they are in. Just really try to have a good balance. They have watched very little film this week, and the only film we have watched was our game against Iowa State, just to learn from our mistakes.

As far as film, we are waiting until tomorrow to watch things at a team. We have been practicing for them, but as far as the film room and getting them going mentally, we want them to get through finals first.

What are the benefits to a neutral site game that takes up a potential home date?

Texas Tech made a bucket load on that neutral game. I don't know what we are going to wind up doing, but that was a great revenue game for them. Any time you can do that and play away from your building….They have a lot of alumni in Dallas that don't get over to Lubbock and see them play. The same with Chicago, that is a big base for us.

Dallas is a big recruiting hub for Texas Tech, and Chicago should be an area that we want to recruit. That is why Duke plays in there every year. It is loaded with talent, it's a great media market for us, it will usually be an ESPN game, so you get a lot exposure, and the alumni that can't get over to home games can go there.

Brunner likes the wider lane..what are your thoughts on that?.

Humor me a little bit. Why does Brunner like the wider lane?

He says that he can take advantage of his quickness.

OK. I just wanted to make sure he wasn't just coming up with something (laughs)

I like the widened lane from a spacing standpoint. But we have to be careful with that and letting the traditional post player disappear from our game altogether. You don't see it a lot in the NBA anymore. Shaq is about the only legit post there is. The wider you make it, the further you are away from the basket.

I think it allows the offense to cut more freely and allowing more spacing. But Bru is saying that because he is a 6-foot-7 post player who can beat seven footers with his quickness. He goes against Erek from the NBA lane vs. the college game, the advantage goes to Bru. It comes back to the college game, the advantage goes to Erek, because you have the seven-foot, long shot-blocker closer to the basket.

Mike Henderson said he learned from his academic mistakes; are you convinced he has learned?

I hope so. He has had a very good spring, a very good summer and he has gotten off to a good start this year. He is young, and a lot of young kids fall into that. I think it's harder for him to make that mistake this year due to the leadership we have.

Those guys just won't let you make mistakes, but if you do, they make you pay for it. I end up being one of the last to know about things, because they seem to have it all taken care of before I get involved.

That is what you want from your leadership. I meet with the leaders once per week with the captains. We have had a lot of fun with those. We did not have one this week because of finals, the guys are asking about it.

It has been good communication between the coaches and the players. I can't speak for Mike, but I would be hard pressed to believe if he didn't feel bad about what happened last year, and he plays with an urgency to help this team, because he could not do that last year.

You don't know what could have happened last year with another athletic guard, who can beat people off the dribble and who could defend. It would have helped us.

What are your thoughts on Western Carolina?

We have played nine games, and they have played 11. That is good for them. They have played at Marquette, Penn State and Alabama, so they have played three major conference teams. They will not come in here and feel pressure or be intimidated. It's a game that we are supposed to win, so the pressure is on us. Our guys understand that.

They have had the same amount of time off that we have, so if we take care of the things that we are supposed to do on both ends, I think we will be pleased with the outcome. If we don't do those things, they are potent enough to beat us.

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