Q: You said on your TV show last night that you thought 2 more wins would get you to 21 wins, and that it would be hard for them to deny a Big Ten team with 21 wins.
Steve Alford: There are a lot of different scenarios. Obviously, whatever happens in the other conference tournaments, that's going to have a bearing. Right now, if you look at the status quo as far as RPI in season past, which we haven't been real lucky just going with history, but with the old RPI we're in the thirties, the new RPI we're in the low fifties, and then the NCAA RPI that the committee really goes by we're in the forties. Even standing right now, as history shows it, we're in pretty good shape from an RPI standpoint. Our Sagarin is 28, we're 6-6 against the top 50, there's a lot of good things that we're building towards. If we get that first win, that gets us to 20, now we're definitely on the board and you're going to get big time consideration. If you'd happen to get another win, then I think it's really hard to keep us off. That's kind of our mindset, obviously our mindset is that we're going to win it. We feel like we're playing pretty well right now, our guys are confident, our whole thing has been once we get that first one. When we've won our first one we get that first one, we've done a pretty good job of advancing. The last couple of years we haven't been able to win that first one, so we're really concentrating on this first one because it's big. It's not only got implications towards the NCAA tournament, but it's got implications towards a 20 win season, and getting to 5-5 after losing a leading scorer so there's a lot of good things that can come out of this next win.
Q: So did your thinking change a little bit? After the loss at Minnesota, it sounded like you thought you'd either have to win the Big Ten Tournament or at least make it to the championship game, have you backed off that a little bit?
Alford: I hope all those things can still happen, but with what has happened nationally and with what we've done, I don't think now, looking at that picture, that we necessarily have to get to the championship game to get into the tournament. I do think that there are some other things that can happen for us, and as I've already mentioned, there are some good things out there. If you look at Sagarin, it's good, if you look at any of the three RPI reports they're good, in favor of us, our schedule strength, our record against the top 50, and then I think we've got some good losses. Wisconsin on the road by one possession, two very tight losses to Illinois. I think those end up from a selection standpoint, those become good losses if there is such a thing, they're not blowout losses which we've stayed away from. Obviously on the flip side, we've got some bad losses. If you look at our schedule, losing to Michigan, Purdue, and Northwestern, those would be the negatives. I think it's imperative that we end up having a winning record against Purdue if we're going to have a shot, if that doesn't happen, then obviously we're looking at something different.
Q: Knowing that, with this team having said that it's had a hard time dealing with the pressure, how do you sort of relieve that?
Alford: They've talked about not having pressure, but we've had pressure. If you don't win all three of these last three games, two of which are on the road, not having won a road game in the league, they've dealt with that pressure. They knew they had to win at Penn State, then they come home and obviously with what Ohio State did last night, Ohio State's a very good basketball team, so to win the tight one there, then go to Michigan where we haven't won and do a really good job of grinding out an OT win. What they've done in the last two weeks, they've been able to win the tight, close contests. That's something they hadn't been able to do during the course of the Big Ten season. Hopefully they can carry some momentum in the Big Ten Tournament knowing that whether it's a tight game, regardless of score, they can get the job done. To say that there's no pressure, or has not been any pressure, that may be players trying to say that or coaches trying to get players to relax. There's been pressure all year long, and now that pressure intensifies into the Big Ten Tournament, and now we've got to deal with that. I hope we can mature a little bit through what we've been through this season, and be able to handle that pressure. If you can't ever handle the pressure, it's never going to get done, because the pressure is going to be there all the time.
Q: Is it a matter of fixing a different mindset?
Alford: It's just like shooting a free throw. (laughs) I don't care what part of the game it is, it's pressure when you're on the line there by yourself and everybody in the world is watching you. That's what's funny, a lot of fans think that's pretty easy and I'd like to see the majority of them go to the charity stripe with 15,000 and then a million watching on TV and have fun trying to make a simple free throw. It sounds a little bit easier than what it is. I've got a great appreciation for the guys that do it between the lines, but with that said, you've got to be able to make it. That's part of dealing with the pressure, a game winning shot, or executing a game winning defensive stop, whatever that may be, you've got to handle that. We've done a much better job in the last two weeks of handling that. We've done a much better job in the last two weeks of handling that, and hopefully we can continue that.
Q: How has Purdue changed with Landry's situation?
Alford: Well, Ware's playing a lot better, Ware's leading them in scoring. He's giving them a big boost, a big big body, they've got three guys averaging 11, Ware, Teague, and McKnight are all doing a lot of good things. They've still got the balance, they're still going to fight you like crazy at the defensive end. I think they're still trying to find ways to score, because Landry was so good, the Big Ten's leading scorer. You lose somebody like that, it's hard to find scoring right away, and Ware's done a pretty good job of trying to do that for them. Our prep doesn't change a whole lot, they zoned us for the last 8 minutes of our game at West Lafayette, so we've got to be prepared for that. They zoned Wisconsin a lot, so I think they're zoning a little bit more, like what we did last year when we had depleted numbers start zoning some to force people to make shots to try to beat you. That's been a little bit of a change since we've played them because they haven't zoned much during the course of the year.
Q: How about Minnesota and Indiana, at 10-6 in the Big Ten, are they both in?
Alford: I would hope so, just from a league standpoint. I would hope that this is something where we could get 5-6 big ten teams in. That's been a normal conference season for us. There are a lot of things to look at, who you play in the league and where your wins come from, and how the schedule shakes out. Obviously Indiana has done a lot better in league that they did out of league. We've kind of have the flip happen to us to where we had a lot of tight games in league that we haven't been able to win. Northwestern, at Wisconsin, Michigan at home, we've got about four losses by a total of nine points. We are trying to build the same case they're trying to build in the non-league of not getting wins. It's like the RPI, they can talk about it all they want, but over the last 8, 9, 10 years, the RPI is what's mattered. Our RPI continues to get better, if we can get that first on in the Big Ten tournament, I think our RPI is going to be in the low forties to high thirties, and that's hard to keep out when we get to the 20 win total. Hopefully we can keep doing it, but I think for Minnesota and Indiana, you win 10 games in this league, that's a very big positive.
Q: So the top 5 teams in the league standings, and possibly you, you could see six making it?
Alford: I hope. That's our hope, I think that's what our league's fighting for. Last year we only had three, so I would hope. Some of the new RPI, I don't know how much that can be looked at, then the new RPI you and I see is different from what the selection committee and NCAA is seeing. For instance, the new RPI that I see today is 54, but the actual RPI is in the 40s, I don't really understand all that, but there must be three RPIs out there. The one the committee gets to look at, the new one, and the old one, and all three vary drastically. We're 36 is one, 54 is another, and then forties in the other one. You've got a differential of 10, 20, 30 spots, so the bottom line is you've got to keep winning games.
Q: Have you talked to Bob (Bowlsby) about this RPI mess?
Alford: I've spoken to Bob, he's traveling today, so just trying to get a feel. He's the same, they haven't gone into the meeting yet, there's a lot to be played out. When you're a team that's on the bubble, you don't want quirky things happening in some of these other tournaments. Teams that are a lock, for instance Southern Illinois, you know my old school kind of hurt things there, but obviously pulling for them as well. You've got Southern Illinois who's probably a lock, now they're not going to win the conference tournament, where it's the automatic bid. We don't need that happening in every tournament across the country here in the next four or five days. I've thought that's something that will hurt teams when you look at large positions. We want things to go as normal as possible those leagues.
Q: Jack Brownlee has been a great story over the past three games. The way some of the stories were presented, or the way it reads to me it makes it sound like this was a kid who last year was washing the uniforms in the laundry room. I mean, this is a guy who came in with some skills, right?
Alford: I don't know where you've heard that, but he's never washed our uniforms.
Q: (Laughter from the media) They talk about his success, and they seem to think he came out of (nowhere).
Alford: One think I've learned is that what people talk about and what's really reality are on (opposite) ends of the spectrum there. He's never washed clothes or done laundry, he was recruited here to be a recruited walk-on. We usually stay in-state for that, doesn't mean it happens that way, Luke Recker was a pretty good walk-on. It doesn't always happen that way but Jack came as a walk-on, we thought he earned a scholarship, we had one available this year, so we gave Jack a scholarship. He's done a great job of being patient, he's been behind some really good guards, and in saying that, he's busted his tail every day in practice. To me, these stories are what college basketball is all about, cause here's somebody who's sat at the end of the bench for 25, 26 games, who really hasn't played any. Very similar to what Jason Smith did for us four years ago. Very similar, didn't play a lot, then we have major injuries to Recker and Hogan and now he starts playing. For a kid to have them self mentally and physically ready to play, just from a physical standpoint he's not gone up and down in a basketball game, he's done it in practice, but he hasn't gone up and down in a live basketball game for 3-4 months. Now he's doing that at about 16, 17, 18 minutes a clip, and doing a great job. I'm sure Purdue has scouted us, but he will be in at the end of the half. He is our end of the half guy, so he's filling a great role there. He's a great person, the guys really like him because he knew what his role was. He wasn't playing a lot of minutes, and yet every day he's busting his tail to make everybody better, and now he's getting an opportunity. So not just the coaching staff, but all his teammates are really pulling for him too because he's really pulled for everybody else.
Q: If you get caught up in the game on Thursday, will you have someone next to you saying "get him in there"?
Alford: Yeah I hope so. I think that's the only smart thing to do, because he finds a way to make shots. His last one was even tougher than his first, this one was a highly contested one and he just finds a way to do it.
Q: Recently there have been some discussions about Rick Hartzell, AD at UNI officiating Big Ten games. I think ESPN is running something tonight about Indiana being a little upset with him calling a close game up there since he has a team on the Bubble. Do you have any issues with him officiating the Big Ten Tournament this week?
Alford: No. Those comments coming out of the commentators from ESPN, that's ludicrous. That's uncalled for to even be bringing that up. I know Rick, and his ethical conduct should never be in question, and that's wrong. Surely ESPN, there should be an apology there because that's uncalled for make comments like that, that that's really going to dictate the game because you're an AD at another school, their bubble gets better, that's crazy.
Q: Nobody seems to really have a firm grasp of the RPI, is that a fair way to judge a team for the NCAA Tournament?
Alford: I don't know, I just hope they don't all of a sudden start changing things, because our RPI is pretty good, and hopefully it can continue to get better. That has been the barometer, over the last several years, that has been the biggest barometer. There are a lot of factors you look at, but that's a barometer they've installed to really look at it. Having Bob on that selection committee for the last 4 years and having him Chair, we've learned that in scheduling. Normally, if you schedule RPI teams 200-225 and better, your RPI will take care of itself and we've really tried to do that the last couple of years. I think our RPI has shown that indication, even when we've lost games. Scheduling Air Force, that's helped us. Scheduling certain teams that are on our schedule now. When we look at our Gazette Challenge, we trying to find teams. It doesn't always happen that way, and you can't always predict how the RPI's going to happen, but for instance when we fill our schedule going into next year, we look at RPIs from this year, and we try to get teams where their RPI is 200 or better. We could put a team on our schedule who this year has an RPI of 180, and the following year they end up having a 270 RPI. But we can look at those teams' history of RPI, and say "This has been their history, this would be a pretty good team to play in the non conference because its' not going to hurt you late in the year with your RPI. Teams like Air Force and teams like that, that can really help a team. That's the way we've gone about our non conference, and then the three teams that obviously we have to play in state, Drake, Iowa State, and Northern Iowa, it helps when those three do well, just like it helps them when we do well. So the ones you have to play, you're pulling for them as well.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about Adam Haluska, what he's done in the last nine games, averaging 19 a game scoring from everywhere on the floor?
Alford: Yeah, and I think, and Adam will tell you too, that Michigan wasn't one of his better games. I just didn't think he was into it mentally like he's been, but you look at his line and he's got 17 points and he did it very quietly. He's just a really special player that way. We're going to spend a lot of time with him this spring, and hopefully the rules will change and we can spend some time with him in the summer too. He's just got to continue to work on his feel. When he understands the feel and the flow of playing offense/defense, and what I mean by that is where to spot up when the post player has it, where to space up when someone's dribbling at you, what to do when you go off the bounce. Right now, when he goes off the bounce, he thinks he's Superman and is going to jump over three people. Just coming to a stop and making plays. When he gets an understanding and feel of that, he's going to be terrific. We've got to spend a lot of time with him, but for what's happened over the last nine games, he's been as a big a part of our success as anybody the way he's elevated his game at both ends, and we've needed that.
Q: What did you tell him after Pierre left the team, what Adam needed to do at that point?
Alford: Not singling him out, basically, we talked about in the locker room that coaches are going to have to do more. Any time you lose a player of that caliber who means that much to what you do offensively and defensively and how things center around him. Coaches are going to find ways to help you more, collectively as a group, and players are going to have to ask themselves to do more. Bru and Jeff, they go from having three captains to two captains, and that's why we went through a stretch there where we really challenged them and their leadership. I think both those guys have been much better in the last two weeks with passionate leadership on the floor. Case in point, a tight game against Ohio State, Jeff penetrates and passes to Doug. I don't know if three weeks ago Jeff trusts Doug enough to make that play. Not only make that play and finish it, but then to go to the line and make the free throw. They're starting to gain a little bit of that trust. It wasn't so much singling out Adam as much as it was all of us are going to have to do more. I've got to give our guys a lot of credit, I think all of them are doing a lot more.