Alford Talks Hawkeye Hoops, NCAA Bid

Hawkeye head coach Steve Alford met with the assembled Iowa media on Monday to discuss his team's upcoming games against Purdue & Illinois. Alford also spoke about Doug Thomas and the minutes for Iowa's big men, Alex Thompson's development and whether or not he will meet with Pierre Pierce to discuss his request for an appeal of his dismissal from the team. All that and much more...

Q: Doug Thomas, what does he have to do to show you that he deserves a little more?

Steve Alford: You know, the last time we played Purdue, he was pretty efficient, but I think Doug has gotten to the point, and Erek is the same way, except Erek's (problem) has been more of a foul problem situation. We're going to be patient with both of them. I think Seth has sit there most of the year, and he's been very patient. I think if I'm Seth I'm saying, "Well, if I get those minutes, I'd like to see what I can do". We opted to go that direction, and this is a new week so we've got two practices to see what can take place. Doug starts the week on gold, Seth starts the week on gold. I think Alex did enough things to stay in the starting lineup so unless something happens here in the next two days, Alex will get that nod. More than anything, the message we're sending it that it's kind of up in the air. It's how you perform. That's a pretty key spot for us to just get something out of. Defense, rebounding, a basket here or there just through an effort play, that's a pretty key spot to get something done. I think Seth did some pretty good things in his minutes of getting some things done. In asking me what Doug has to do, it's pretty similar to what Erek has to do, or some of our other big guys, they've got to produce. In the minutes they have, they've got to produce. If they don't, there are enough of them that we can just rotate until we find someone in that game who can and will produce.

Q: Doug was out on the floor a little bit after 9 this morning, is that part of what he has to do?

Alford: No coach told him to be there, so that's a step in the right direction. Maybe the message of not playing, you never know, some kids. I think he cares, and that's important. He was out there at 9 this morning, he was back out there at 11. So he came, shot, went to class, and came back, says he coming back tonight, those are good things. He cares, he's trying, and all that's a big part of it. The second part of it is "can you produce more than the next guy?" that's what we've got to wait and see on. He's capable of it, he's just got to be able to do it.

Q: What do you say to Erek to keep his confidence up in this time, and is there any way you can diagnose what he's doing incorrectly?

Alford: I think foul trouble has had a lot to do with it, and we have to throw him the ball some. From a guard standpoint, we've got to help energize some of his confidence. Hopefully it'll come, he was dealing with some migraines last week. I think the emotion of not playing well, and everything that he's had to go through has built up on him. I think by not starting him, we try to release some of that pressure. We've been talking to him about his importance and how much we believe in him. We really do believe in him. I think he's still going to be the difference in these next 6 games. The difference still could be Erek Hansen. He's that potent. It's his first year of playing 30 games. He's never had to do this before, Carlton Reed is the same way, these young kids, same way. So we've got to be patient through some down times but still try and encourage and be positive knowing that they can get back to what they're doing. We've got to hope Erek can do that.

Q: What accounts for his fouls? Just being out of position?

Alford: I was frustrated with his first two in the Northwestern game. I didn't see what 'others' saw in his first two, his third was a definite foul. Either him being out of position or his team mates relying on him too much, and they get driven, and he comes to help a lot. We need to keep him close to the basket where his helping is in blocked shots and not to where he's having to make up all over the floor for other team mates mistakes. I think he got a couple bad breaks and then his mindset "Oh here we go again, I'm in foul trouble". I think it affected his minutes, and we opted then to try Seth and Seth did some good things, so Erek's minutes weren't really where he or I want them.

Q: Can you talk about how things have changed over the past two weeks? You've now got a hole to fill for next year, does that throw things off balance?

Alford: It definitely changes things, because you think Pierre's going to be here for all next year, so you don't plan that in the recruiting efforts. But in the last 10 days, things have really picked up, we've really worked hard at some things, so we're trying to fill that gap. Hopefully that's going to happen. With that said, Tony Freeman is a guard that's coming in who's going to get playing time right away, he's having a terrific year. So everything stays status quo, we're fine, but we are still out there looking for a wing guard.

Q: While we're on the subject of Pierre, are you still meeting with him?

Alford: I have no idea, I haven't been told anything. Obviously it's Monday, so I haven't been told anything. Those meetings were set up maybe seven days ago, obviously things have changed since the meetings were set up. I don't know if the meeting is going to take place or not. I was told last week that there could be a possible meeting set up with me, I just had to fill out paperwork, which I did, but there's been nothing. I was told, like you were, that it was supposed to happen Tuesday of this week, but there's been no time set up, so I don't know if it's going to take place or not. It's got to take place before noon tomorrow, because I'm going to West Lafayette.

Q: Not going to hang around for the appeal and go late?

Alford: No, I'm going to West Lafayette.

Q: What would the purpose of such an appeal be?

Alford: I have no idea. I don't know if it's just the paperwork that has to take place. If there is an appeal process, I would assume his attorney knows those steps that have to be taken within the university. I was told one of those steps was to have a meeting with the head coach. That's really all I know, I don't know any of those protocol on why all that has to be set up, but I haven't heard anything since last week.

Q: Could you talk a little bit about Alex Thompson's progress?

Alford: I've really liked it. I think he might be playing a little out of position being that 4 spot, I don't think his body's ready yet. I think it will be one day down the line. He's never going to have Bru's type body, but Bru is player of the week, we're seeing some things that Bru is doing now. He's had a great career, a great start to his career, but now Bru has really settled in to that power forward spot. I don't know that Alex is ever going to be a true power forward, but he'll be a forward who can do a lot of things Bru can do; post with great footwork, go out on the floor and shoot the three now that Bru's got his shooting touch going very well. Alex's body just isn't ready to bang with his back to the basket yet. We have, in the last ten days, tried to move him around a little bit more, and I think that's really helping him. He's a tremendous passer, a great work ethic, he really listens and works, and I think he's really doing a lot of nice things. He was active, that was his season high in minutes, and he really did a lot of nice things in those minutes. He just needs to get some confidence, and he started making some shots against Northwestern, so hopefully as his confidence grows, his production is going to grow.

Q: Active seems to be the right word for him.

Alford: Yeah, and that's what intrigued us from a recruiting standpoint, I've never seen anyone that tall work at the level he works at both ends. That's what he's got to continue to do. The other things, your body getting ready for the Big Ten, that'll happen. Sometimes you've got to go through a year to find out what that's like. Carlton made comments like that, that's what he's got to work on. Freshmen understand, during the off-season, that's what they've got to do. Pick up 15 pounds, get stronger, go through the experience of battling Big Ten guards, Big Ten big men in Alex's case, and hopefully that'll change. I would assume it will, because both Alex and Carlton work awfully hard.

Q: Your last trip to Mackey with Coach Keady on the bench, what are your thoughts on that?

Alford: It's hard, because I grew up in the state with Coach Keady being a dominant figure in that state, and somebody I have an awful lot of respect for. He's done it the right way, he's worked awfully hard at it, he's had incredible amounts of success, he's been great for Indiana high school coaches, he's been great for college basketball, and he's been great for young players growing up. The rivalries we had at Indiana/Purdue with Coach Knight, Coach Keady, they were a lot of fun, and he helped make it fun with how hard his teams played. It will be kind of odd making our last trip to Mackey knowing that this is the last time Coach Keady will be down there. It is a tribute to him for him being there 25 years in one spot is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Q: What do you see in the next 3 weeks? 6 regular season games left, 4 on the road as you try to make the NCAA Tournament.

Alford: It's one game at a time, but this is a pivotal one on Wednesday. We've been close. I thought we were getting right there, then we have to deal with losing Pierre. Now it's a whole different mindset we've got to deal with from a team standpoint in terms of dealing with that. I thought we really did a nice job, if you look at the first half of Michigan State, it was obvious we were searching for answers without Pierre. The second half, we played much better. The whole game at Wisconsin was pretty good except the finish. So finding someone who can finish like Pierre can finish, we told them after the Wisconsin game "If you can lead Wisconsin by 13, then surely you can win without Pierre." We needed a game like Northwestern to happen. With Pierre, we lose to Northwestern. Without Pierre, we beat Northwestern. I'm hoping our guys can build some confidence from that, especially our young guys. Maybe some of our older vets, Jeff, Adam, Bru building some confidence in their young team mates that we can do this. This is a key road game we've been awfully close, but we haven't gotten one. We need to get this one Wednesday to set up obviously a very big game. You get to play the number one ranked team, top 3 RPI team, our RPI has been in the top 35 all year, and it's still right there. This is a big week for us, we need to get some road wins on our resume. You mentioned we've got four left, and I think they are four games that we can be very competitive in and have a chance in. Then we've got that one X-factor of having the best team in the country coming into our building. This looms as a very large we for us to make some noise leading up to the final two weeks of the season.

Q: So obviously you still think the NCAA Tournament is still within reach?

Alford: Oh definitely. We're at 16 wins, our RPI says it is, and with 6 games left, depending on what we can do here. If we get to 20+ wins with our strength of schedule, which has been top 25 all year, our RPI has been top 35 all year, that's usually been a lock. If we can just finish, there's plenty of games left, we've go to finish strong, we've got to finish well and it's got to start Wednesday.

Q: Why do some junior college transfers have such a difficult time adjusting quickly as opposed to a guy like (Carl) Landry who stepped right in and had success for (Purdue)?

Alford: One, Landry stepped in right away and was a starter from day one on a team that was plagued with injuries before the season, (David) Teague gets hurt. They had nobody up front, if you look at their team they've got (Charles) Davis, from the football team, so that's where they were hurting, up front. We had some depth there, we've got Brunner, Hansen there, and so starting wasn't going to be an option for Doug right away. Then obviously just producing. Landry has done a very good job of producing. He's a little bit more skilled when facing the basket and understanding footwork. Doug is working very hard at that, but he's not to that level of understanding offensive basketball the way Landry does. Defensively, they're pretty similar. A lot of his has to do with do you get that chance right away, or do you have work yourself into it. That gets to be difficult for a JC kid, because working your way in, you've only got two years anyway. I think those are the kind of differences between those two guys.

Q: The way Greg Brunner is shooting his jump shot now, is that the way he shot as a freshmen, with a good elevation over his head?

Alford: I haven't really seen any mechanics (changes), it's just confidence at this level. In High School, he didn't play predominantly with his back to the basket, but being the biggest kid on the team, he played a lot inside, so playing outside, he didn't get a lot of reps there. His freshmen year, because of injuries and things, he ended up playing the 3 spot for us. So it wasn't ideal for us, but he did get to learn some guard tendencies in that first that right now I think are helping round out who he is as a player now that he's a junior. He's really becoming hard to guard because he can screen and pop for the 3. The thing I've been impressed with, that he's got to keep working on is his drive game. He drives to score. He's got to drive to set feet and kick, because people are coming to him. When he gets that down to go with, I think, a lethal post game, he's a really tough match up. If people double, like is happening now, he's got to have confidence to hit the shooters.

Q: Does he have the most classic looking jump shot on the team now? A lot of the guys, even Haluska, kind of push it from in front of their head.

Alford: I don't know. I still want Reed, Haluska, and Horner shooting the three before I'd do Brunner. I'm a purist, I like form to look great, but it's still about making them. Those are three guys that make it at a higher clip. Bru has really worked on his game to where he's doing that. Erek has really great elbow lift, I told Erek "Look, you're 3 for 6, you're 50% from 3, you haven't shot one in a month. Go ahead and take one." He's just got to go ahead and loosen up and play. But Bru is shooting the ball very well.

Q: I was in the Twin Cities over the weekend, and obviously the big news there is Flip (Saunders) getting fired. One of the things Kevin McHale talked about is that he felt like the players had stopped listening to Flip. Is that indicative only of the professional game, or do college coaches worry about that?

Alford: I'm sure all coaches worry about. I can't speak on the Timberwolves situation, but I'm sure all coaches worry about that from time to time, but I have no idea about the Timberwolves or what's going on there.

Q: We've talked about Erek being a key, Brunner being a key, Haluska being a key, are we analyzing too much? Bottom line is, Horner shoots 48%, you're unbeaten, he shoots 33 percent, and you don't win.

Alford: Well then Jeff's a key too. (Big laughs from Alford and media)

Q: Does he need the ball more, or what?

Alford: You know, people say that, and I don't have my stats in front of me, but I would venture to say he's probably got the most shots other than Pierre. I think he's gotten shots, I think what's happened at least in the last two games, and Wisconsin without question was the best game of his career in terms of moving without the ball. He's got some heat on him because he's the point guard when things get stagnant and need to get the ball in play, but he's the shooting guard when we've got to have a big shot. I thought at Wisconsin he was terrific. Northwestern he didn't take as many great shots, but he did a very good job still. They're a different team, they play match up zone, they do some quirky things that I think mess with you a little bit. That's why I'm anxious to see Purdue, it will be tough man to man defense, where he is again. He was really making strides moving without the ball, he got great shots against Wisconsin, and he did a great job of getting Bru and Adam going in the Northwestern game. He is without question a bit key for us. I think his shot attempts are pretty much right on, if anything I'd like for him to get to the line more. He doesn't get there against Wisconsin, he got there what, 3 times against Northwestern? If he can get to the line more, it gets guards in foul trouble, he's a very good foul shooter, learning that. I think he's going to learn that, moving without the ball a little better. There's no question, when he's on, we're much better and much harder to play against.

Q: You got more contributions from different people on Saturday, was that like a breath of fresh air?

Alford: Yeah, and hopefully the bench is starting to develop a little bit. It's going to be a slow process but I liked what Seth did, he dropped that one pass, I thought Jack gave him a great feed. If Jack can come in and give Jeff a minute and a half, two minutes around a media timeout to where we can get Jeff a good minute and a half break at a media timeout, plus maybe a minute on the floor. That gives Jeff a nearly 3 minute blow, but only using a minute of clock. Jack usually doesn't hurt you. He handles the ball well, he distributes the ball well, he can shoot it if you don't guard him, and he's a senior. So I think if he can keep doing those things that will help. And Carlton, I think he got back in rhythm a little bit, Mike seems to be starting to get back in rhythm, he's not afraid to take shots, he took 10 shots against Northwestern. First time we played I think he played four minutes, so that's going to be a big key if he can continue to understand his role and be aggressive with things.

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