Q: How important is it for this team to get the two wins this week, to maybe get up to a six (seed) in the tournament?
Steve Alford: I think that's their goal, I think they know that this was a big road win for us because we hadn't gotten one. I thought they really played well, we'd been awfully close. Still two games left, you look back, and that collection of road games could have went either way. We weren't able to make enough plays to get it done, so I think this week is even more important. We've still got a chance to move up in the big ten, we've got to get help, so we don't know what's going to happen. But if we can get two wins and get to seven wins and 19 overall, that's a heck of a lot better than sitting with 17 or 18 overall going into the big ten tournament. If we get to 19 wins, we're going to be pretty excited about that going into the tournament, and we've got a chance to be in that sixth seed spot.
Q: Could you talk just a little bit about Jack Brownlee, who came here as a junior college walk-on, that's got to be a hard role.
Alford: I think Jack's really been terrific for us on the floor, he's always been a very good practice player, he understands our system very well, and he does a very good job of getting guys ready. I think our team is very competitive every day, practices included, and a lot of that always stems from whether your second unit or your third unit can compete against the first unit to try and make them better every day. Jack, being a part of that other unit, has always busted his tail, he really competes in practice, and now has had a chance to play a little bit. With Carlton being gone, it gave him even more of an opportunity, and I thought he was really good in this game. I thought he got deflections defensively, he fake trapped well defensively, he was a very good help defender, he took care of the ball, really distributed it, got us in our offense very well, he made the most of a pretty good opportunity he had on Saturday. I would assume he's going to continue to get minutes here down the stretch just because I know he's going to try and execute everything we're doing. Very very pleased with what he's done for us on the floor every day.
Q: (A question about walk-ons)
Alford: Most of our walk-ons of late have been Iowa natives so first I think we try and get Iowa kids that have grown up in the state wanting to be Hawks and understand a little bit about being a Hawk, and accept their role. Jack has always wanted more playing time, but he's accepted that role of not having a lot of playing time, and most walk-ons are not going to get a lot of playing time. Guys like he and Justin (Wieck) that are actually coming from Kirkwood, so they've only got two years of eligibility. With those guys, we've got experienced kids, at least guys who have played two years of college basketball, probably could have gone on to smaller schools and gotten to play, but they wanted to be Hawks. We look at all those things, coming out of that program, getting two walk-ons from Kirkwood's program, we know that they've had good basketball over the last two years, and if need be, we can go to them. Kurt Spurgeon was the same way a year ago, he was somebody I recruited at SMS, he was an Iowa Native he'd been down with Coach (Mike) Marquis at Tyler, who has Iowa ties. With a walk on, we need to be pretty familiar with them and trust that when we need to go to them, that they can be stable enough to do it, and 2, have the mindset that if they're not playing, to have the mindset to work hard in practice to make others better.
Q: Is Carlton back and doing OK?
Q: What do you see in Ohio State?
Alford: Coach (Thad) Matta's done a very good job with them this year. Obviously having no postseason, just keeping them competitive and just fighting for wins. They're a lot like us, trying to get that sixth spot, and we've got a chance to do it if we can beat them on Wednesday, then that sets up a key road game for us up at Michigan. They've got very good guards that really like to dribble drive, they use the ball screen as well as anyone, and Dials is as good a low post presence as we have in our in. Sylvester is playing at a higher level than when we played him the first game, he's been getting as many minutes, if not more minutes, than Harris has been getting. A lot of lefties, they're a little bit different, but they really do a nice job with ball screen offense. We're going to have to do a much better job than we did in game one, we turned it over a bit too much in game one, and they really exploited us in transition in game one, and that's something we've got to correct in game one.
Q: Are you surprised at what they've done? They went into the season with nothing at stake.
Alford: I talked to Thad this summer, I thought the talent was OK there. I thought their guards were very good, you had Stockman coming back home from Clemson who could really shoot it, Sylvester who was highly recruited out of high school, went to Arkansas and came back when no one gets fired, they had a pretty good core of guards there that was pretty good. I always thought Dials could be pretty good, Dials was just battling injuries. Sylvester was a kid who was just on the brink of being something special. Harris didn't get used much a year ago. I think the good job that he's done has been keeping them interested in playing, because they haven't had the pie in the sky at the end of the season of being able to play in the postseason. That's where he's done a terrific job, is just keeping them motivated, that they are playing for something, and they are doing a great job of that.
Q: Have you talked to (Michigan head coach Tommy) Amaker?
Alford: A little bit, yeah. We've emailed each other, and it's a similar situation. He's had to deal with basically my last year and this year combined. He's had to deal with a legal problem and major injuries, I'm sure, I know, that's a very difficult thing. When you lose, in his case, his two best players are Abram and Horton, you lose those two guys, it makes it hard to come up with wins in this league. If you lose your best player, it's difficult, and we're both going through similar things that way.
Q: Do you feel that you've been given 100% support by the university from the ticket taker, to marketing, to Phil Haddy, to the Athletic Director, all the way up, 100%, over the last six years?
Alford: (Alford looks at Phil Haddy, laughs) We evaluate our program every spring, and we'll do that again this spring, for things that we try to do better. Whether that's coaching, things that we can do better as far as the X and O standpoint. For instance, our guys have got to learn how to handle the pressure of playing at this level. That's something as coaches, that we've got to find a way to help them because they've haven't been able to deal with that. It's been hard because they've had to be thrown in it. We haven't had a good long group of seniors that have been together that can say "This is how you do it, this is how you do it", you look around the league, and that's what's happening. It's your veteran guys that end up getting it done, Michigan State, very veteran team, Illinois, very veteran team, Wisconsin, very veteran team. You've got a team like Indiana that is playing very very well, and they're a young team. To get over the hump and really compete for a Big Ten championship you've got to have that. To the guys' defense, they haven't had that because of the distractions off (the court). But we've got to try and find ways to help them with that.
In the same token, you've got to evaluate tickets. Why are there 5000 opponent fans in here? Why can't some of those tickets be held back for our fans? If our fans aren't buying them, we've got to find a way to reduce (prices). It's a home environment, it's not supposed to be a neutral environment. I don't believe the fact that we can say if our guys aren't buying it, just let other guys buy them. I don't see that happening other places. When we went to Purdue, there weren't 5000 Hawkeye fans in there, when Illinois went and played at Purdue, there weren't 5000 Illinois fans there, so I think those are issues. We started a student section six years ago, it's vastly different than what happened six years ago. It used to be behind the baskets, closer to the visiting bench, now they're about as far from the visiting bench as they can get, nothing behind the basket now, for second half home court advantage. Those are usually the seats that don't even get taken up. The student ticket continues to rise, we have the highest student ticket in the big ten, that's an issue. If we're #1 in the country and winning big ten titles then maybe you can look at raising the student ticket price, I think that's hard when we haven't had that success.
Then the issue of marketing, just sit down, and ask "How are we marketing the program? What are we doing to try and get fans in here? Trying to get fans interested in what we're doing. Are there more things coaches can do, are there more things players can do? Obviously, are there more things we can do in marketing? Is it a budget issue? Are there issues between men's and women's programs on the budgeting and marketing, the allotment of dollars? I think those are things we've got to look at because probably in all those areas, it's not working. We haven't dealt with the pressure to win games, I don't think the marketing's been at the level it should be, and I don't like the way the ticket has been distributed. I think those are three areas that affect my program that we definitely have to look at in the off-season.
Q: You've been here six years now, so you're one of us, you're an Iowan. Do you feel that the University of Iowa has the feeling that people will come to us "just because we are Iowa"?
Alford: That would be a question for them. I can't speak for them from that standpoint. If so, that's a dangerous way of thinking about things. I don't think you go about it that way, and I would be shocked if that's the way we go about it, but it'd be a question you'd probably have to ask them.
Q: There's been a lot of talk about the John Chaney incident. Do you have any reaction to a coach ordering the guy to go in and hammer somebody?
Alford: I don't want to be judgmental of another colleague, it's a tough enough business, but that's definitely crossing the line of ethical conduct of what you're asking a student athlete to do on the floor. It's hard enough for student athletes today to go out and execute an offensive and defensive game plan and try to win games at this level. It's a whole other concept to have him go in and intentionally try and hurt somebody, I don't think there's any place for that in our game at all. Coach Chaney's been very good for our game, he's had a wonderful career, we all make mistakes and I definitely think that was a mistake.
Q: The players talked about this after the Penn State game, the inability to handle a do or die situation. Could you see that in their approach to games at all?
Alford: No, I don't think it has anything to do with their approach and how they go about working, I think that's what's been special and fun about this group, they prepare very hard. We're the number one defensive FG% team in the Big Ten. We've guarded, we followed the scouting reports, we held another team to 40% on the road. They've done an excellent job of executing the game plan, I think it comes down to the art of making plays, making big plays. You've got a big lead against Northwestern, now you've just got to execute free throws, execute pass/catch, execute pressure situation decisions making. Same thing at Purdue, same thing at Minnesota, we lead the game 35 of the 40 minutes. That's the area that's been tough. With all that said, with Pierre around, we were 15-5, so you try and equate that, that's over 20 games, you've basically got 10 games left. If you equate that 15 out of 20 win percentage over the next ten, you're fine. Again, to the guys' defense, they're trying to learn how to do things without the one guy that's been in college basketball on our team for 4 years. Erek would have been the only other guy who had been in college basketball for four years, but he hadn't had near the experience. They're relatively young at having that kind of pressure put on them and having to make those kind of plays. We haven't been able to make enough of them, unfortunately. But I don't think it's anything that I've been able to see in their mannerisms or anything, they want to get it done, it's not because they don't want to.
Q: Just a couple games to go, did the Big Ten kind of shake down the way you thought it would?
Alford: No, I think there's a lot of things that have been kind of a quirky year that way. Michigan won the NIT last year, and they returned everybody. I thought Michigan and ourselves were going to battle for those top spots. I don't think anybody thought, as good as Illinois was going to be, that they'd be number one and undefeated this deep into the year. It's been a special year for them, it's been a topsy turvy year for us and Michigan, and I think the two of us were probably going to vie for that spot. Wisconsin and Michigan St are probably about right where everybody thought they were going to be, and then you've got some surprises. With what Minnesota and Indiana have done, they have overshot the expectations of preseason analysts of where they'd be in the Big Ten. I think that's a lot of changes if you look at what was supposed to happen preseason.
Q: Based on your comments then, kind of a disappointing year for your team?
Alford: There's still season left, I don't think it's been disappointing. I think we've had some disappointing decision making, I think that's fair to say. That's not our guys' fault. The guys in our locker room, it's not their fault. We've had disappointing decision making that has affected this team. We're trying to respond from it, we're trying to go forward, trying to make the best of it, and we've still got some season left to make the best of it. We're sitting here at 17 wins, which is more than a year ago, and we've got a chance to really add to that, because we've got potentially a lot of games left. Hopefully these guys can continue to battle and still to make this a non-disappointing year.
Q: Do you feel right now that you have to win the Big Ten Tournament to make it in?
Alford: It's been so quirky, it's hard to say. I don't know what's going to happen here down the stretch. What's really strange is looking at the old RPI (formula) and the new RPI (formula), it's still hard to understand. If the RPI is done the way it's always been done, our RPI is 46, that's in the hunt. The new way of going about the RPI, I think we're 66-67. You've got Indiana that's the same way, I think they're 36 the old way, 66 the new way, 30 point difference, Minnesota's the same way, so it's odd. If we can win two more and then go deep into the tournament, then we're going to get to play the likes of a Wisconsin, maybe a Wisconsin and a Michigan State, so that's going to help the RPI situation. If you get the next two, you're at 19, if you go deep into the tournament you get 21, 22 wins, that's a lot of overall wins with a very difficult schedule, we're going to play a top 50 schedule. It's hard to say, obviously we haven't got enough wins yet to say we're deserving of it. We've still got some games left to be able to do some things, and hopefully our guys can.