Coach Alford Talks NC State

Iowa's bench leader met with the media on Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeye head man discusses Wednesday's nationally televised showdown with NC State in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the domination by the ACC in this series, Jeff Horner's shooting slump, Iowa's play against the zone defense, injuries on his team, playing against the Princeton offense, his input on Wednesday's men-women doubleheader and more in this Premium Q&A.

Can you tell us how the guys that were hobbled are doing?

Some of them were around (Sunday) getting a lot of treatments and things. I think that everybody is fine. More than anything, they're just bumps and bruises and nothing serious. I would think by Wednesday, we're going to be as close to 100 percent as we can be.

You've had a couple of days to look at NC State tape. What was your reaction?

This is a very good team. It's a tough opponent. Sometimes, certain systems give certain systems problems. This is a system that, on occasion, has given us problems. Northwestern has a similar system. We've had some problems with them at times. You've got a similar program, probably a little bit different defensively than what Northwestern is, but offensively run a lot of similar things.

This is the biggest team that we've played. The smallest guy in the lineup is about 6-4, 6-5. Jeff could be on Grant, who's 6-7. That presents some match-up problems. I don't know if they're wanting to play as fast as we want to play. So, it's going to be a little bit of a contrast in styles.

How does their offense differ from Northwestern's?

They probably don't do all of the things that Northwestern does, but they do a lot of similar things. It's all out of the same Princeton type mold. Where the systems get a little bit different is defensively, they don't do the same things as Northwestern does. Offensively, they do a lot of similar things. They probably look to go inside a little bit more than Northwestern.

Some people describe it as a motion offense. But it's not like your motion offense.

It's definitely not your traditional motion. You'll see a lot of motion. There's definitely a lot of running around to it. But it's more the along the lines of the Princeton offense more than anything else.

Overall, what are your thoughts on the ACC-Big Ten Challenge?

We're excited about it. It's the first time that we've had all 11 (Big Ten) schools in it now that the ACC has got 11. The Big Ten has yet to win this series. So, we're pretty excited about playing it and hopefully we can do our part in getting a win for the Big Ten.

Is there conference pride that goes with it or is it more about winning your game?

It's both. You want to win your game and then you're cheering for the rest of schools in the league because it helps our league. It helps market our league. It helps promote our league. It seems like, whether you like it or not, the last several years the Big Ten has taken a hit nationally with a lot of bad PR for only one reason. It hasn't been for NCAA appearances or NIT appearances or Final Four appearances. The Big Ten has done all of that. It seems like they've taken a hit because they haven't won the ACC Challenge.

What about RPI and conference boost when you get down to March wanting to get that sixth team in?

Right. There's no question. There's absolutely no question. All of that helps. Any time you can play a team out of the ACC and have a chance to get a win, I don't think that's going to do anything but help your RPI as the season goes along.

Why do you think the ACC has dominated the series?

They've won it every year. Several of those have been by one, if I'm not mistaken. We had one year, maybe two years that was lopsided. The others were awfully close, I think. I don't know why. That's a tough one to call. For those three days, they've done a nice job.

Some of it, not all of it, has to do with scheduling. I'm a firm believer in that. There is a big difference in, for instance, Iowa going out of state (to Chicago) three and a half hours away to play a neutral (site) game versus a Maryland driving 15 minutes from their campus for their neutral game. I like this format of all home and road games a little bit better. But there's not question they've won it. There's not really anything that you can hang your hat on other than they were just better than we were on those Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights in November.

Which league is better?

Well, I'm bias. I'm a Big Ten guy. I played in this league and now I coach in this league. When you start looking at all statistics over the last 25 years, the Big Ten would compare any stat that wants to be compared as far as NCCA appearances, NIT appearances, postseason appearances, Final Four appearances, attendance, you name it. Our record stands for itself.

With that said, the ACC is a tremendous basketball conference. That's what makes this challenge a great challenge.

You said that you boil things down to five-game segments to the season. How does your coaching change and what kind of expectations are going to be raised now after the first five are done?

I don't think anything changes. We just look at what we've done in these first five games and improve on it. Defensively, it's not getting beat over the top so much and making sure we're following defensive principles. We look at these five games, see where we got hurt and where we have to get better in practice defensively. Offensively, what was taken away from us? Why was it taken away? We need to continue to drill our offense so our guys get better on reading. For instance, if you take this cut away, then another cut is open, read that. Don't stop and stand. Maybe, it's board play.

It's never just five games, but the way that our schedule broke up, you've got five games now in a 10-day stretch. Then, Arizona comes after an eight-day layoff. You're going to go from the middle of December all the way to the first of January with just four games. So, this is a very pivotal stretch because you don't have a lot of days to prepare. You've got five games in 10 days versus four games in about 14 days.

Has there been anybody that has stuck out, where you say "Hey, he's really improved more than I thought he would"?

Doug has been very consistent through five games. Adam has gotten better every game. He's starting to get a pretty good rhythm. Bru has been pretty consistent. Jeff has been consistent as far as handling the basketball and taking care of his team. That's why our assists are up and our turnovers are down. Erek has improved. He missed some lay-ups in the San Antonio game, but his blocks, his activity, his board play, is getting better. It was great seeing Alex and Carlton off of the bench doing the things they're doing. And I've been very pleased with what Tony has done. What he's been able to do, especially at the defensive end, has been crucial for us. His offense hasn't kicked in. He's a good shooter, and he can really score. But the thing that I'm impressed with is his defense, and doing that against some veteran guards.

What do you think of the experimental rules?

I've always liked them. It takes some of the judgment away from the official on the block-charge call. I like the expanded lane because that's going open up more movement and get rid of all the banging and holding and pushing that goes on in the lane when cutters are trying to cut through. And if you're going to expand the lane, you're going to have to expand the (3-point) line. I'd be shocked if they changed the lane and left the line where it is.

On offense, what type of changes have you made when you're going against a zone defense?

There aren't a lot of changes other than just trying to get better. We've done a very poor job of getting gaps. We've done a very poor job of reading things. And what I mean by reading is using pass fakes, using shot fakes, making two guys guard the ball so it opens up things. We use the term "engage" more. We've been disengaging. We've been going towards the time line instead of really going at you and attacking you like we've done in our man offense. So, the next two days will be spent on that. We've spent a lot of time in the film room with the guys just trying to show them that. It just seems like they have a lot better feel with our man offense right now than they do zone offense. That's something we've just got to continue to work on.

Are they standing around too much?

Probably. That's part of it. We've got to get more movement and a better understanding of what to do.

What does NC State do on defense?

They've been mostly man. But we've struggled a little bit against zone, so we've got to prepare for both. But Herb has basically been a man-to-man defensive coach. Being undefeated and doing things well, I would assume they're going to do the things that they do the best and that would be man-to-man defense.

You've got Tulane coming in this weekend. Obviously, they've had a lot of problems in the aftermath of the hurricane. There's no school there now. They're over at Texas A&M. What do you imagine that's been like for them?

It's been very difficult. And I apologize, but I haven't had a chance to even…you know, someone the other day had to tell me who we were playing on Friday night. This has been a very difficult stretch and NC State is a big, big concern for us. We'll move our attention to that game…I can't imagine…schools in the south have done a very good job of trying to assist and help out and lend anything they can. Obviously, we're going to do our parting the weekend that they're up here. I think that's the one thing that I've been impressed with since I've been here is just how well our tournament is ran and what our people do as far as really running a very good tournament. That's why we've never had a problem filling our tournament and we've had a lot of repeat teams come back because our people really do a nice job of making them feel welcome and feeling at home. So, we'll do our part to help them out as much as can. I hope that means just one win. But we'll do our part to help them, not only now, but when they leave here. Anything we can do to assist, we'll do.

You're playing great programs like Texas, Kentucky and NC State. Is Iowa at that level yet?

We've got a long way to go. But it's good playing teams like this. Those are great basketball schools. They've got incredible facilities. It's a huge commitment there. We're trying to get to that point. We've got a long way to go. But that's why you play the games. If you get some wins under your belt, it just helps the marketability of your team, your program and hopefully the commitment to basketball as well.

Can you talk about the challenge of balancing basketball with school?

It's a tremendous challenge. There's going to be a lot thrown at our guys. Finals week is supposed to be the week leading into Arizona State. It seems like most of the finals are prior to that, which is at Northern Iowa and at Iowa State. There are a lot of demands that are going to be put on our student athletes here in the next three weeks. They know what they've got to do. They've got to finish strong. We've had a very good semester so far academically. They have to finish strong and play five games that are really key to set up our break time. We're going to be on break from Mid December to almost Mid January. These are really pivotal five games to set up that break time.

You've always emphasized keeping turnovers at a minimum. This year, you're doing a great job taking care of the ball. Is it a case of experienced guys playing a lot together or are they doing something different?

It helps when you've got a veteran group that understands. And then they understand the emphasis on that. We can be really good offensively. I don't have the exact stats, but we've got to be averaging in the mid 70s point wise and we're not shooting the ball well from the line, from the 3-point line or from two. Yet, offensively, we've done a lot of good things. It hasn't frustrated us to the point of getting anxious and turning the ball over. Our turnovers are down. Our turnovers are inside 14. We want to see that continue to drop. In our two big opponents in Kentucky and Texas, we had two very good turnover days that allowed us to win one and stay in another game. Our young guys have done a nice job. Tony has done a nice job of taking care of the ball. As our shooting kicks in and we start making shots, we can be a very dangerous team as long as we're not turning it over and having empty possessions. As I've told the guys, I'm never going to complain about missed shots if you're taking good shots. It's when you get anxious and try to make homerun plays and you're throwing the ball all over the place where we get no shots, that becomes a problem. A missed shot is a lot better than no shot because we can still rebound it. We can still set defense. You get no shots and people are running off of your turnovers. That then puts a lot of pressure on your defense.

What was your system when you were juggling school work with basketball?

That's getting so far in the distance now, it's hard to remember. That's one of the tough things about being a student-athlete. It's very demanding. You've got your classes coming to finals. With the school rules of not being able to play for a nine-day period there, and I'm not saying that I'm not in favor of that, but it does crunch you on the front end and on the back end because of the Christmas holidays. I've never really liked playing over both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I like for guys to get one of those holidays to be able to go home and spend with family. This year, they're going to get three days in over Christmas break. So, it really crams your games. The other factor is that you're normal student population starts to leave. Now, the campus changes. You can get out of rhythm there as well. There are a lot of different distractions that you have to deal with as a student athlete at this time of year. That's how you separate your good ones and your bad ones. We have to do a good job of making sure we're very consistent on both ends over the next couple of weeks.

Coach Sendek on his teleconference said ESPN determines who plays who in this challenge. Is that true?

There's communication there (between the Big Ten and ACC conference offices) but I'd say ESPN has an awful lot to do with it.

So, they can pick the games they want?

(Smiles) I'd say they've got a huge influence. (laughter)

Is that why Illinois is playing North Carolina?

I'd say there's a huge influence. (laughter)

Coach, you said you're not worried about Jeff's shooting, but as a great shooter, is there something he's not doing?

It's all been balance. He shot it well against Texas-San Antonio. He was 4 for 8. His last two were just tough shots that the game is a 30-point game and he knew I was getting him out. When you see that right leg kick in the air, that's a balance issue. It's about getting more comfortable in going straight up and down with it. His free throw shooting has been outstanding. I love the way that he's taking care of the ball. It's not as big of a concern as maybe it is for others with me right now. As long as he's taking good shots, he's eventually going to make those shots.

NC State has talked about not having the star power with Hodge gone and it working to their favor because they're balanced and deep. Do you think you're in a similar position and match up well with that?

We hope so. We thought Kentucky was awfully deep. They were going nine or 10 deep on their bench. NC State will do that as well. They apply a little bit more pressure full-court wise, so it's a little of a different animal that you're defending against. Their starters, almost all five guys are in double figures. They've done a very nice job with that. We've just got to hope that it's their first legit road game. The only time they left home was in a neutral site game in the Wooden Classic. That's where our guys' focus at the beginning and the end of the game is going to be essential to make sure it's our style that's getting put in right away. One of the reasons why I took five starters out two minutes into the second half (on Saturday) was because I have to keep emphasizing the first four minutes of each half. I want them to know the importance of it so that our style and our system is how the game starts, not who we're playing dictates that. It's kind of that punch first mentality. That's going to be vital in this game. Our fan support is going to be huge. It's a nationally televised game against a Top 25 ranked team. This is a great game for fans, and we're going to need a lot of support.

Did you have any input into the unusual scheduling of the women's game before your game?

No. My only input, and this will tell you how much weight I carry, was that we play Friday and Saturday in our own classic. And we haven't been at home since "99 in the (ACC-Big Ten) Challenge. I would have liked to have had a home game and I would have liked to have played in Monday or Tuesday. That was my input. Not only do we not play on Monday or Tuesday, but we get the last late spot on Wednesday. So, we'll get out of here at about 11 o'clock on Wednesday night and we have to turn around and play Friday night. That's the input I had. (laughter)

Hawkeye Insider Top Stories