Big 10 Tourney Preview: Coach Alford

Iowa Coach Steve Alford met with the media Monday for the last time before heading to the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis this weekend. The Indiana native talked about the possibility of a media crush in his home state, injuries to some key players, preparing for a game without an opponent yet, his choice for Big 10 MVP and more in the Premium Quotebook.


When you don't know who you're going to play, how do you prepare?

Well, we won't do a lot today. We'll get a lift in, get some shooting in. Not playing until Friday, this gives us a chance to really…Bru is banged up a little bit. Jeff is banged up a little bit. Erek. It's just been a long grind. We want to take advantage of having that extra day. We took (Sunday) completely off. Today, we'll lift and spend about a half an hour on the floor. They don't need to be taped. We're not going to go at one another today. We'll resume normal practice for Tuesday and Wednesday, travel and a light practice in Indy on Thursday. You've got to prepare knowing you have to play three games in three days. We told the guys that the practices will slow now as far as going at one another. We'll start watching film again (Tuesday). As coaches, we've got a lot of work to do because we've got to break down Minnesota and Michigan and we've got to break down Illinois and Michigan State. We can't control that other bracket. We'll just take all tapes if we happen to make it to Sunday. Most of the work is done by coaches trying to break down four teams.

How's Bru's ankle?

He's fine. Yeah, he's fine.

You guys have avoided all of the speculation but you are going back to Indiana. Is there anything that you're kind of dreading as far as the media swarm that could take place there?

No. No. I've been at this long enough. I can handle all of that. And I don't mean for this to come off that way at all, but we really are focused on what we're doing. This has been a tremendous ride. What this team has accomplished this year has been phenomenal. We're excited it's in Indy. Not only is it in Indy for the Big Ten Tournament, but the Final Four is there. It's a neat time for Indianapolis. We get back to Indiana a couple of times a year playing Indiana and Purdue. We're excited about going back this time. We're excited about having the No. 2 seed. This is going to be a lot of fun. We've got to really stay focused this week on trying to get better. If we do that and get healthy, which I think we will be by the time Friday gets here, we're excited about the start of the tournament.

How do you handicap this thing?

I'm not a big handicap guy. That's the one thing at golf I don't understand and I don't like because you end up throwing out your bad rounds. I don't understand that. I just as soon tee it up and you play. You know, I don't know. This is going to be a very interesting tournament. Regardless of who you root for, this would be a good tournament to just go and watch every game, all 10 games. All 10 games are going to have an awful lot of excitement. I think you have seven of the 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament. Then, you've got another three teams at or above .500. You've probably got three teams making the NIT if one of those three don't advance and win the Big Ten Tournament.

Is this an odd situation where you might not have a team needing to win a game or two to get in?

I do. I think all seven of us are in regardless of who wins the tournament. It's really a Big Ten Tournament where you're determining seeds for the NCAA Tournament. It's nice knowing our resume is good and we're in and now we can just go and play. It's just a different kind of pressure. Going there and knowing you're good enough to win it is another pressure. I like this pressure a lot better.

How high of an NCAA seed do you think you can get?

That's hard. Just guessing, depending on what we do in the Big Ten Tournament, we're anywhere from 3-5 just looking at resume. We finished tied for second in the best league in the country. We won 22. We've got nine wins over the Top 25. UConn, who's probably going to be a No. 1 seed, has won as many. Nobody in the country has won more games against the Top 25 than we have. You look at the Top 50, it gets even better from there. I would think we're in the 4-, 5-seed bracket right now. We can enhance that by doing well in Indianapolis.

You didn't win the outright title, but how excited are you to earn the No. 2 seed?

We're very excited. The goal is to win a conference championship. You have to give Ohio State credit. They went on the road. The even lost a home game and still finished 12-4. They ended up getting five wins on the road. They did what they had to do. You have to take your hat off to that.

You had a lot easier time with Michigan than you had with Minnesota. Did you just catch them at the right time? What it the match-up?

We shot awfully well. That was our best shooting night of the season. And we only played them once. We know regardless of who we play it's going to be a very difficult game. Michigan is very big. You've got several match-up problems there. It's a Minnesota team that knows they have to continue to advance to help their postseason. That's scary because they have so many seniors.

Is there one that you'd rather play?

(Smiles, chuckles) No. (Laughter)

Does it help to have a veteran team that's been through a lot of these Big Ten Tournaments?

Oh yeah. And nobody has had any more success than those guys in our locker room. Other than maybe Dee Brown and Augustine, there are no guys in the Big Ten that have had more success in the Big Ten Tournament than our seniors have. We've got experience. We've done well in Indy. We've done well in Chicago. We'll carry a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence. It's a neutral setting. You've got to be able to make shots. When you're not making shots, you've got to be awfully good defensively. We've really defended well all year, but the Penn State and Wisconsin games were as good as we've been with help defensive all year long. And that's saying something. We haven't had this kind of field goal percentage defense here since the early ‘60s. It's been a long time since a team has defended the way that these guys defended. That's our staple. And that's what you've got to do in postseason. But it helps to make some shots. When we won it in '01, we shot the ball at a high level. You have to go to a neutral site and be able to make some shots.

Who is the MVP of this league?

Bru has done an awful lot of things for us. He would get my vote for what he's done consistently throughout the league. But I've always been a big proponent of the MVP going to the league champ just as I am a proponent of the all-conference selections going to the upper level teams. And we've been at the other end. We've been in seventh and eighth place before and our kids haven't been awarded anything. That's the way to do it. Teams that go through a two-month grind and win games are deserving of the all-conference selections. And the MVP is probably deserving of who wins it. And if that's the case, Dials is probably the most valuable in this league.

What one or two plays stick out from this season?

I don't know if there are one or two plays because this team has been really consistent. We've only had two two-game losing streaks. The first one happened when Jeff goes down. The next one was at Minnesota and Illinois. So, it's been a very, very consistent season. It's just the continual development. We're better now than we were in December. We're better now than we were three weeks ago. That's a credit to the players. They've done a very good job staying focused. It's really hard to stay focused during the length of the season that you have in college basketball. To get better every month is something special. We've done that.

How much of a Hawkeye contingent to you expect in Indy?

I would hope very good. In years past, we've traveled very well. Having Chicago and Indianapolis for our sites are very convenient for Hawkeye fans. It's an exciting time to follow us. The momentum that we've garnered here at home with our fans hopefully will just go on to Indy and just have a lot of fun.

You think Michigan is in but they might not feel that way. Are you concerned that both Minnesota and Michigan might be hungrier than you?

I don't think they're going to be any hungrier than we are just because I know our guys. It's a difficult match-up whoever it is because Minnesota needs to keep winning and Michigan might not want to leave anything to chance. We know whoever that is we're going to get their absolute best.

So how do you prepare for each?

We'll do things in practice – Michigan's point zone. They change everything out of timeouts. Minnesota changes everything out of timeouts. Minnesota will press a little bit more. We'll know their offenses so in our defenses drills we'll have to sprinkle a little of both in there. As soon as we get into Indy, we'll go right to the gym and walk-through drills with whoever it is we're playing. Films this week will be more on us. The practice floor won't be as much talking about Michigan or Minnesota as much as it will be coaches putting them in different positions during different drills based on both opponents like to do.

You said before that Greg Brunner is fine. Is that 100 percent fine?

He'll be 100 percent by Friday. If we had to play today, he'd be able to tape it up and go. We're going to go easy with it today. I would anticipate him being close to full go (Tuesday). That would be almost four full days before we play again. So, I think he'll be fine.

How much different will you use the bench with three games in three days potentially?

Reason tells you that you use it more. But looking at '01 when we won four games in four days, we basically played seven and Smitty was our eighth guy. He played, but he was playing less than 10 minutes a game. I don't think you change a lot. This isn't the time to really start experimenting. We're going to try to stay in the same rotation that we've had. Foul trouble dictates that. I would assume we'd be pretty much the same rotation we've had.

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