Alford Talks Kentucky

Iowa's Head Coach Met with the media Friday for the last time before Monday's big tilt with No. 9 Kentucky in Kansas City. Alford spoke about the keys to beating the Wildcats, how a good showing in the Guardians could boost home attendance, the way next year's schedule is shaping up, playing a possible game in Des Moines and more in this Premium Press Conference Transcript.

Opening: OK. Questiones.

Short of winning the draw, what do you expect the guys to get out of next week?

Well, obviously, try to get some wins. It's going to be a fun tournament. Any time you can play in mid-November and get a chance to play two Top 15 teams, and that's what we're going to get, we're getting a Top 10 team and could end up getting a Top 5 team, you're going to get great film out of it. You're going to get a lot of things. You're going to see what you do well, what you don't do well.

And then the guys either bring a swagger away from there, saying, hey, these are the best in the country and we're right there. Or, you walk away from there saying, hey, we're not anywhere near that. And we have a long way to go.

We'll have a better feel on Wednesday. But our guys will really compete and get after it. And we'll see how things fall out.

What are the keys against Kentucky?

You know, that's hard. Rondo is the biggest key. He makes them go. He's leading them in just about every statistical category.

They're trying to find the rotation this year. They've got a lot of new guys in the mix, including three guys over 7-1. They're trying to find a rotation that best suits how they like to play.

We don't want them to get comfortable. They're an explosive team that can score a lot of points, but they really rely on their defense. That's why they've been really successful. They really guard you. We've got to do a good job with our offense of just taking care of the ball. One of the big keys will be not giving up a lot of easy baskets. One way you do that is to take care of the ball. If you're fumbling it all over the place and throwing it to the wrong people, it ends up being transition baskets for them. That's going to be a big key.

Did South Dakota State and Lipscomb slow it down against them?

No. Not really. Both teams didn't shoot a high percentage during stretches of the game, but I wouldn't say either team tried walking it up. Neither game was really that sloppy; not a lot of zone played. Usually if there's a lot zone being played, that can slow things up.

It was just early-season games where people aren't in great rhythm yet. But there wasn't anything the two opponents did to keep the score down low.

Do you see these two games, if you play well, as maybe a chance to win some fans back and get some more people back in Carver-Hawkeye?

Well, that's a hard thing to say. I don't know. There's been a lot written about that. The bottom line is the last three years we've been ranked in the Top 25 (nationally) in attendance. (laughs) If we're down a little, then the rest of the country must be down, too, because we were actually ranked higher last year than the year before.

That's hard to say. Any time that our program can be in the Top 25, whether it's attendance, record, national prominence, we're going to be pretty excited about it.

The tickets dropped for the students, and we're over 1,000 student tickets sold now. That's triple of what it was a year ago. And truth be told, the early games here were Guardian games controlled by the Guardians, the ticket price controlled by the Guardians, and we're still in football. Our football team still has another game to play before they get a little bit more than a month off to where they play in the bowl.

So, I think what this tournament will do will bring basketball to the forefront. You're seeing that last night (with) Coaches vs. Cancer. You're got the preseason NIT. Now, all of a sudden, basketball is hitting the TVs. The weather is changing.

But those are things we can't really control. More than anything, we want to go there and play well because we're playing Kentucky. They're 86-14 the last 100 games. There aren't a lot of programs in the country that have won 86 games out of their last 100. They've been ranked in the Top 10 of the AP for 35 consecutive weeks. I mean, we were pretty excited last year knowing we were ranked in the Top 25 for nine straight weeks.

So, we know what we're playing. We're playing the second most national championships. They're the winningest collegiate program in men's basketball. This is a very, very good, tradition-rich school in basketball.

So, obviously, playing well and having this opportunity doesn't come along all of the time. Kentucky has a winning record against every Big Ten school. (Laughs) There are not a lot of schools, Duke maybe, that can say they have a winning record on every Big Ten basketball team.

So, we know what we're up against. But with that said, we're confident right now. We're playing pretty well. And hopefully we can continue that.

As much attention as Rondo gets, Sparks is pretty tough, too.

Well, that's a highly-ranked backcourt. You throw Moss in there. It's a very good trio of guards. We think we've got a pretty good trio of guards in the starting lineup.

So, you're right. It starts with Rondo, but then the other guys do a very good job of playing off of him. If you can't control Rondo and you have to constantly be helping, then it really opens things up for Sparks. Sparks is just a really clever, crafty player. He understands angles. He understands where to slide and space up. He really understands how to read screens and defenses. He presents a lot of problems. But he becomes more problematic if Rondo is loose all of the time. I still think the key is making sure Rondo isn't running around everywhere and making a lot of plays.

Who gets that assignment (on Rondo)?

That's hard. We've got a couple more days. I think all of them. Obviously, I think we'll do a lot of rotating. But Mike has always guarded the point guard. Tony does a good job coming off of the bench. We've got Carlton back now healthy. He'll be ready for this barring anything here in the next couple of days. As long as the next two days go well, our health is pretty good. So, I think we can look to rotate a lot of them.

Is this maybe a good time for you to play Kentucky? It sounds like maybe they have a few more questions to answer than you do at this point.

Well, that's what you keep hearing out of their camp. Yet, they're still playing awfully well. The stats still don't lie. They're doing the same thing they've done over the last two or three years statistically.

So, I really think the only thing they're really searching for his how to play the three 7-footers. All of the other things are in pretty good place. You know how they're going to defend. Their staple has been their defense. We've got to find ways to score and then we've got to find ways within our rotation to do a good job of defending them.

You guys are averging 15.0 turnovers a game. What's a realistic number that would make you comfortable?

Our goal is always 10. Now, that's a lofty goal. We got it down last year where we were in the 13, 14 range. I'd like to see that more in the 11, 12 range with a veteran club.

A lot of ours against (Colgate) came in that stretch where they made their run to start the second half. You take that stretch out and we've done a really good job. In the exhibition games, we did a very good job of controlling ball.

We're going to have a little bit more possessions than a lot of teams just because we want to run. As I told the team, I don't mind the aggressive turnovers. It's the non-pass fake. It's the bad passing angles. It's the nonchalant one-handed passes. It's the passes off the backboard that aren't completed. (Laughter)

It's those type of things that probably drive us crazy because we think we're hard to guard. You just can't prepare for one guy. We've got five guys in the starting lineup all capable of scoring double figures. We've got a couple off of the bench that can do the same. We become difficult to guard if we give ourselves a chance to get shots in goal. Turnovers are always something we look at, not even just turnovers, but assist, turnovers.

Colgate we had 14, which is more than the night before, but we had 18 assists. You just don't want to have a game where you have 14 turnovers and nine assists. We're really trying to focus on that positive assist/turnover ratio. Thus far, through two exhibitions and two regular season games, we've done a really nice job with that.

Obviously, the defense and the competition changes here. We've got to do a good job of securing ball possession.

Is Memorial Coliseum a tough place for third-graders when they shoot free throws?

(Laughs) A long time ago it was. So, I'm anxious to get back in there. It wasn't too kind to me when I was a 10-year old. I think I made 22 that day and finished fourth. I was looking at a picture the other day. There weren't a lot of smiles on my face after that tournament.

At this point, veteran reporter Bob Brooks slips into the press conference late…

I told them to wait, Brooksie. (laughter)

Brooks: Start again. (laughter) Your friend Bob Knight would want to start again. (more laughter)

Anything else?

Brooks: Well, I've got to get a comment about something. (laughter)

Alright.

When you take a look at the other preseason tournaments, that field in Kansas City has to be as good as there is.

Right. That's the neat thing about this time of year. Right now, there are three tournaments going on that are three great tournaments that really set up for great final fours. You've got one Cinderella story and that's Drexel.

To have three tournaments like that, it really jump starts college basketball. In a little less than a week, you've got the Big Ten-ACC Challenge that's going to start. It's a very exciting time here in the next two weeks.

So, you better be playing well with the teams you've got to be able to play. This is fun tournament for us. Kansas City is a neat place for us to go because we've got a lot of alum in that area. The Kansas City I-Club is a very good I-Club. We're going to have very good support at this game. The other thing is this is where the NABC headquarters are. That's our basketball coaches' organization. The collegiate basketball hall of fame is going to be going there.

Like New York, from just a great basketball town, playing in Madison Square Garden, this is a neat felling too to be able to go to a place like Kansas City. We've been there and played well last time. Hopefully, we can do that again.

Have you seen Sports Illustrated's Top 25?

My son gets that. So, I saw it on kitchen table this morning but I haven't had a chance to look through it. But it looked like we had three in-state teams that were getting a lot of attention. When you look across the country, to have four Division I teams in the state and three of them getting, and I might be wrong, in the Top 25 or Top 30, that's some pretty good attention to one state in basketball.

Basketball is at a high level right now. It's going to be an exciting year for a lot of the teams here in the state.

Speaking of which, Drake and Northern Iowa got separate games in Des Moines on Sunday. Do you see any way where they could get all four in-state teams in the same place at the same time?

Bob and I have just spoke briefly about it. He's on board with it. I'd like to do something there. That gets us in the Des Moines area.

Obviously, it takes away a legit home game and getting out of Carver is not something that any of us like. But giving our fans a chance in western Iowa and in that area and getting into the state capitol now that they have the new arena is something that's appealing.

Now, we have to find the right date and the right time and the right opponent. But I like what they're both doing. I don't know if you could get all four of them with schedules to get in there. It'd be a nice deal and definitely something to look at. But that's our four schedules, plus you have to find four opponents that it fits, too. That can sometimes become difficult.

But we talked to about going over there for a game. Hopefully in the future, we can get that done.

You wouldn't want to play Drake, Iowa State, UNI and Iowa in one arena?

Yeah, I'd like to play all of those teams here one year and then the next year play them in Des Moines. (Laughter) That's what I'd like. I don't know if the other coaches would go…I'd love to get out of not playing at Drake and Northern Iowa. Those are hard games. I don't think Tom or Greg are going to move their dates to there.

One of the neat things about doing it the way we're doing it now is the gate that Northern Iowa gets when we come in there and when Iowa State comes in there and the same thing with Drake. We've always said that it might make sense for Drake to move that game to the new arena to where they can get more people in there. But then you loose the aura that they have in the Knapp Center for that one given game.

I'd be shocked if that matchup would move to a neutral site. But it would be great if we could get other opponents in there.

Are you going back to Chicago any time soon?

That's not on…next year, we're supposed to go to St. Thomas for the Paradise Jam. That's on tap for Thanksgiving. We're at Arizona State. That's in November. We're just getting really close to finalizing our schedule.

We're still in the Big Ten-ACC. Playing a home game this year, odds are we're going to be on the road sometime next year. Our November next year could be very difficult playing in an exempt tournament neutral site, coming back and playing at Arizona State out of the PAC and then possibly playing on the road to an ACC team before we even hit December. That could get pretty difficult.

Greg Brunner has teammate (Sparks) from this summer opposite him on Monday.

Yeah, they know one another. And Sparks beat out Jeff. So, Jeff knows Sparks, too. (Laughter)


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