It seems like fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes are experiencing a bit of ‘Alford Syndrome' due to Iowa's excellent performance in the 2005 Big Ten Tournament.
A rather vocal contingent of fans have expressed their negative opinions related to Steve Alford over the past several months, and in some cases, years.
However, Iowa's play during the Big Ten Tourney (herein BTT) this year, like in 2001 and 2002, has won back some former detractors. Some people are now coming out and showing their support for Alford, saying that after what they saw in this year's BTT means Alford is deserving of more time. They have changed their minds. They are testifying for him.
With Iowa playing their way into the NCAA tournament this year, Alford has likely assured himself of another season on Iowa's bench, if he was even in trouble.
The point is, we are never going to know if Alford was an NCAA-less 2005 away from being let go as Iowa's head coach. Bob Bowlsby does not have to make that decision, now that Iowa played its way into the dance.
I know that there is a contingent of Iowa fans out there that feels Iowa's playing their way into this year's tournament should not forgive all of the wrongs of the Alford era, in their eyes. I can understand that sentiment, as the six-year body of work still includes five seasons where Iowa did not at least go .500 in conference play.
Even with their 2-1 record in the BTT and winning five of their last six games against league foes, Iowa still went 9-10 against Big Ten teams this year.
But on the flip side, Iowa has one of the more impressive resumes against Top 50 RPI teams. According to Ken Pomeroy's ‘Real RPI' rankings, Iowa has played 15 games against teams that were in the Top 50 of the RPI as of Selection Sunday morning, going 7-8 against said teams.
Iowa was rated 41st this morning, and no team ranked ahead of them played more than 12 games against Top 50 RPI teams.
Indiana, a team that finished 10-6 in regular season Big Ten play, was 4-10 against the same set of teams.
In fact, of the Top 100 teams in Pomeroy's Sunday RPI rankings, Iowa played more Top 50 opponents than anyone.
Now, the skeptics will say that many of those wins came with Pierre Pierce on the team, and they would be right. Wins against Top 50 Louisville, Texas, UNI, Texas Tech and Minnesota came with Pierce as a member of the team. However, Iowa's wins against Ohio State and Michigan State in the post-Pierce portion of the schedule, as well as two close losses to Wisconsin and another tight contest with Illinois without Pierce have made those early wins ‘bankable', as Iowa proved it can beat solid competition without Pierce.
Alford said on Saturday that since they have played without Pierce, the team won five of its last six, they are more efficient on offense, they turn the ball over less than they did with Pierce and their defense has held the line.
He would be correct.
Iowa's offense also flows better without Pierre Pierce.
I said before the season began that anything less than an NCAA bid would force me to write that Iowa needed a change atop its Men's Basketball program. I said that excuses would not work this year. I meant it then, I meant it when Pierce was dismissed from the team and I meant it on Thursday before Iowa played Purdue in the BTT.
However, Iowa has played its way into the NCAA tournament, despite the loss of Pierce.
Since they have made the dance, I do think that we can discuss how Pierce's departure affected this team and not have it be about making excuses.
When your leading scorer is no longer with you two-thirds of the way through a season, that is disruptive. Iowa had been preparing for this season since October with Pierce as a part of the equation. Without Pierce, they had to create new identities up and down the lineup. Friends, that is not easy to accomplish.
Roles changes more than midway through the season; that is not easy to do.
Mike Henderson had to step up and come through, and he certainly did just that in the most important game in the Steve Alford era, Iowa's Friday win against Michigan State.
Doug Thomas had to step up and be a force on the boards, and he did just that over the last two or three weeks of the season.
Adam Haluska had to step up and pick up some of the scoring load, and he did just that, averaging close to 18 points per game since Pierce's dismissal.
Iowa allowed just 65.5 points per game in their 12 games without Pierce, and they were allowing 67.9 in the 20 games with Pierce. Iowa has been a better rebounding team down the stretch than they were with Pierce, an area that was of major concern through the first 20 games of the season.
The argument could be made that Iowa is a better team without Pierce than they were with Pierce.
They are certainly playing good basketball right now, near the level we saw back in November and December when Iowa streaked to a 12-1 record and a Top 15 ranking.
And if one allows themselves to look into the future (I know, you have read this before), you can be optimistic about next year's prospects, as every member of this team save Jack Brownlee returns.
Through all of this year's trials, on top of the trials from previous seasons, Steve Alford looked cool, calm and collected on Iowa's bench down the final six game stretch. That might not be remarkable to some, but given that Iowa was in a ‘must win' situation in five of the last six and for five games in a row concluding with the Michigan State win, it takes on another degree of noteworthiness.
Have this year's fires changed Alford? Has he realized that his players need a collected leader on the bench as opposed to a fiery leader who gets in the faces of his players after they make mistakes?
Is it possible for someone to turn a corner like this right before our eyes over the final six games of a season?
I don't have the answers for that right now.
But we are going to get a chance to see if that is indeed the case, as Steve Alford will be back in Iowa City for the 2005-2006 season, something that I did not think was going to happen just a short week ago.
And given what we just witnessed, he is probably deserving.
Yes, I am a party to this Alford Syndrome. I just hope that the lesson's that was evidently supposed to learn through these personal trials has been received and understood.
If so, who knows what we can expect later this week in the tournament and on into next season?