Coach Alford: Monday Press Conference

Iowa Head Coach Steve Alford met with the media on Monday to discuss the state of his team coming off of three losses in a row. Alford also spoke on the return of Mike Henderson, the Hawkeyes' ACC-Big Ten Challenge opponent, Virginia Tech and More in this Premium Q&A.

Anything new on Mike Henderson?

Well, it's just great to see his hand. His cast is off. He's running. Now, he just starts his extensive rehab. I've not talked to any medical staff to get a good read on things. We're really optimistic and hopeful we could get him by the end of the week. But a lot of that has to do with just how flexible he can get again. His wrist is tight. It's been in a cast for a month. That's just guessing. It might be Northern Iowa by the time we get him back. We don't know yet. But it's good to see him out there. He was on the floor running and doing some things. Now, he'll just to extensive physical therapy to try to get the feel back and everything else.

Is he shooting at all?

No, not yet. It looks good. All of the pins were taken out. From what he said, the medical staff said it looked good. But I have not talked to anybody on the medical staff. Mike would just as soon play tomorrow. I've got to talk to them to get a full report.

So, you don't know at this point about Virginia Tech?

That's probably a real long shot. I would imagine it's the weekend if not Northern Iowa.

Will you ease him back in?

Probably not (laughs). We can't afford to ease a point guard in, Rob, we need a point guard right away. That's the hard part with the injury. We're going to get into December and only have one home game. That doesn't guarantee success, but it's been a very difficult stretch. It's going to help us in the long run. It helped prepare us for Arizona State. Mike helps us (in a lot of ways). He's a ball handling point guard. He's a senior that can make decisions. And, he can really guard. He's in good shape. I don't think that conditioning is a problem. He hasn't had that on the floor in shape for a while. I'm sure we'll ease him back, but right now, I'd just as soon throw him back in there.

Playing this type of schedule might help in the long run, but are you worried about getting buried?

You get worried about it because you don't like losing. But I see some bright spots – Kurt Looby getting seven and seven for us through five games. Those are good numbers. Those numbers are both higher than what Erek's were as a senior. Kurt is going a lot of positive things for us. Cyrus is really starting to come. It's starting to click now, He's starting to get a little bit more familiar with what we're wanting to do and his role. Justin Johnson is starting to come into his own. If we can get consistency out of Adam and Tyler, things are starting to get solid. Tony is fighting some things. It's a big role for Tony. We have to ease some pressure from him and let him get comfortable again. He'll be fine in the long run. Having Mike back will help him a lot. But we've seen some bright spots. We thought that it might not show up in wins early. I'm probably more worried that I don't want them getting frustrated. I don't want them losing confidence. I want them to see themselves getting better. And in areas that we're struggling in, whether it be dribble-drive defense or baseline help or whatever it is, then they've got to learn from that. If we can do that, than we have a chance as we get everybody healthy to be pretty good.

What leads to a team being lost in the last five minutes?

A lot of inexpierence. Adam was the only guy on the floor in the last five minutes that had any experience of late-game situations – The only guy. And if you look at last year, even as prolific of a shooter as Adam was, I don't think he was the focal point of the offense in the last five minutes. Adam was on the floor, but he didn't have that target on his back. He gets 25 (against ASU), but he didn't score in the last nine minutes. He has to understand how important he is not just through what he's doing but because we're so inexperienced we have to have him scoring in the last 10 minutes of the game. Their faces and how they came back to practice today, that really bothered them (that they didn't finish off ASU). It's an experience they had. Hopefully of we get in that spot again, they'll learn from it.

On the defensive end, is it the concentration for 40 minutes that's missing?

And the concentration per possession, and a lot of this is new experiences. Things that we're breaking down for them on tape this year are a lot different than last year. This year we're breaking down tapes on how teams get on runs on us. For 32 minutes, we played outstanding defense (against ASU). But the other eight minutes were so bad, in enabled us to lose a game. Mike has affected that. Of all the guys returning to our team, Mike was, without question, our best defender. He was our best defender last year, he and Erek. There hasn't been that guy in practice that says, hey, this is the way that we guard. Once he gets back into the flow of things, that will increase our intensity on what we can do defensively.

What have you thought of J.R. Angle so far?

His attitude has been very good. Maybe for his first year and a half, he's been more of a guard. This year, we've gone with him more as a forward and he's done some good things. As long as he'll block our and guard at one end and then just do the things that he does well on offense…it's like everybody else. When you get out of character, then he gets exposed. If he is who he is, he'll be really good with spot minutes for us. He was a key in the Arizona State game of just giving us some energy, some life, got a biog loose ball, made a big three, really got us going there in the first half.

With all your new guys, he looks like one of the guys that understands what you're trying to do?

Here he is in his third year, and he does get it. Sometimes that's hard to put a price tag on.

What do you know about Virginia Tech?

It's a scary game because they've got so many seniors. Their guards are seniors. We've got left-handed guards to deal with, so that's a little bit different. Of the 11 ACC schools, eight return three to four starters. The Big Ten kind of lost an opportunity last year with six home games and us having the experience. Now, it's the other way around. Virginia Tech is experienced. We know we're going into a very difficult place to play. They've got a very good home court there. They're coming off of a loss. Any time you come off a loss and now you get a home game, that's tough. They've got good bigs. They're shooting 49 percent of the floor. Traditionally, Coach Greenberg has changed defenses. He hasn't done as much of that this year. So, we've got to prepare for a lot of different things that could be thrown at our offense. We know this is a difficult match-up. They're undefeated at home, and we're battling the experience factor.

The ACC has been the better team in these challenges. Is it just a better league?

I tell Coach Neal that it's just been tough breaks, but he hasn't bought into it. It's a hard thing to argue. In the challenge, they've been the better league. I don't see how you can look at it any differently. In the early years, there were some discrepancies. But last year, when it was a true challenge, we got beat. There's no way you can look around it. We got beat 6-5 and we had the home court advantage. There aren't any excuses.

Are they recruiting better players, more NBA players?

I don't know about that. If you look around our league, if you look at what Michigan State lost last year to the professionals. If you look at what's going on at Ohio State now with what they've got. Michigan has an awful lot of talent. Illinois had two guys get drafted last year. I don't think it has to do with that. It's just that they're great match-ups, but one or two of them didn't go the way that we'd hoped.

How big is the ACC-Big Ten Challenge in the world of the RPI and such?

It always helps you. We're in a tough stretch where we've had to play SEC, Big East, PAC-10 and ACC. A lot of people say that there are six power conferences. If that's true, we've played four power conferences in a row here ending with Virginia Tech and none of them at our place. We're competitive. The coaches were up until 3 a.m. in Phoenix and we had a 4 o'clock wake-up call. We're back here last night and we're trying to crunch for Virginia Tech. So, we're as competitive as anybody. And we hate to lose. But we really like this team. This team has the potential to really grow. We just can't beat ourselves up. That was a tough loss and we don't like losing that way, but we've got to move on.

Are you still thinking of Justin ahead of Tony in the starting line-up?

It could happen. We like what Justin is doing. We're just a little worried with Tony right now. It's not so much how he's playing. It's just easing some pressure from him. There is an awful lot on his shoulders. I don't know if that is going to happen for sure. Tony is going to get his minutes. I just want him to relax a little bit. He just seems really wound tight. Sometimes when you relieve some of the pressure on somebody…we saw that with Justin. You could see a lot of changed line-ups this year game to game this year just trying to find the right rhythm and the right mix.

Are you still comfortable with Gorney and Looby in there at the same time?

We're looking at a lot of that, too. There are some possible changes there as well. I'd like to get to the four-guard line-up but not without Mike. When Mike gets back, we still will have guards on the bench to sub. If you go four-guard line-up now, it's really a hard sub pattern. That creates some problems.

Are you putting Justin in because the offense flows a little easier with him?

And Tony. The point guard has to have a calming effect. He can't speed up the offense. You want to play at a quick pace, but you can't play it in a hurried pace. There's a difference in playing quickly with a crisp, clean pace versus playing hurried. We've got that backwards right now. We're a step slow on defense and a little bit to quick on offense.

Is Mike Henderson not having traveled with you a detriment?

No, because he's heard my song. Of all the players I've had here, Mike can tell you that he's heard plenty from me. (laughs)

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