Coach Alford: Press Conference Jan. 22

Steve Alford met with the media Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Iowa coach discussed recruiting, how his team matches up with other Big Ten teams in terms of talent, the struggles of Mike Henderson, mistakes on defense, Wednesday's matchup with Penn State and more in this premium press conference transcript.

You often talk about getting to the free throw line. What got you away from that the last two games? Obviously, they had dominant post players. Is that it?

Yeah, and you're playing on the road. That's always more difficult when you're playing on the road to establish that. If we all did research within out league on free throw attempts home and road, most teams are shooting more free throws are probably shooting more free throws at home. That's just kind of the way that it is. With that said, we're always done a good job of getting to the free throw line regardless of where we play. These were two games where we struggled doing that. We've just got to get more aggressive. It's more of an aggressive mindset of how you screen, how you cut, how you move the ball and not just play out on the perimeter. We talk about all the time that you can't dribble laterally. You have to go north and south. You have to attack the basket. I don't think we attacked the basket near what we should have. The Ohio State game is hard to do that when you have a presence like that have. So, it's a little more difficult, I think, that what the Indiana game was.

How do you think your overall talent compares to the rest of the Big Ten from what you've seen?

Well, Ohio State, that's a special team when you look at talent of guys that come out of high school. I don't spend a whole lot of time of how those kids are ranked because there have been a lot of kids that aren't highly ranked that end up doing pretty good. You know, Greg Brunner wasn't ranked very high and he ends up being first-team all-Big Ten and the school's all-time leading rebounder. But as far as talent, we're right there. It's not so much the talent as it is gaining the experience. What really hurt us was losing five individuals in one year, Alex (Thompson) transferring and then losing another individual because of not making tests. If Alex is in the mix and we don't lose one to a grade issue, we're a lot deeper at the position that we're really vulnerable at right now. But when I go looking at talent, especially back court and those things, our back court is as talented as any of them.

You have one scholarship left for next season, is that right?

Yes.

What's your preference at this point? If you fill it, what would you be looking for?

Oh, point guard would probably be at the top of the list. But I think Dairese is going to be able to play that position. Jake Kelly can play that position a little bit. You've got Justin back. You've got Tony back. But just a natural, pure point is probably still the missing piece to our recruiting class.

Is Palmer developing?

Yeah, you have Palmer coming in and Jarryd Cole, so you don't lose any of your bigs. They gain one more year of experience and you add Palmer and you add Jarryd Cole. Those are two big bodies. Those are two Big Ten bodies that I think help us immediately up front. You lose Adam and Mike. The rest of the guards return. Then, you add Jake, Dairese and hopefully one more.

So, whether this year is a blip or not, you'll be OK?

Well, we hope it's not a blip. When you start looking at things, we're 2-3 in the league. Our three losses have been at Illinois, Ohio State and Indiana. We still have five road games left. Last year's team won three of those. So, we've got to find a way to win two or three of those five games on the road and then it depends on what we do at home. Obviously, last year's team was a special team and it's not about comparing teams, but we can't assume we're going to go undefeated at home. It's only happened one time since Carver has been opened and that was last year. So, how many of those road games we have to win will depend on what we do at home. That's why we've got to make sure we're doing the job at home and playing well at home. That's where our crowd and fans can really help this young team have some success in their own building.

How do you feel about your team's defense right now?

We're not very good. We didn't do a very good job defending the last 20 minutes at Indiana and for 40 minutes at Ohio State. So, we've had 60 minutes of not guarding the way that we're capable of guarding. That's the thing that I've been most displeased with on that trip. I liked how we competed. I like how when we had runs against us we fought back. But our attention to detail and how we guarded, especially our help side defense, the last 60 minutes has just not been typical Iowa defense. The next two days in practice, that's what we've got to get back to doing. We're not going to make all of our shots all of the time, and that's not near the concern for me as will you step up and guard every night? And for whatever reason, the last 60 minutes has not been our defense.

Do you have any ideas as to why that may be?

No, obviously the opponents you play in their building, I mean I don't want to take anything away from Ohio State and Indiana. Those are two really good teams. We know we were playing two confident teams that are playing well right now and that will have a lot to do with it. With that said, I still would have liked to see the shooting percentages down. I would have liked to have seen the point production down, especially Ohio State. We gave them too many runs. But in both games, our rebounding has been better. Those are two very athletic, big teams that we held our own in rebounding with them. We haven't done that in a while.

How much does the defense have to do with the post with guys getting in foul trouble?

There were a lot of things that disrupted out flow defensively. You've got to give the opponents credit for that. But when Seth goes down hurt and Kurt gets three fouls in a minute to start the second half, Cyrus was already in foul trouble, we were pretty depleted at that point.

Back to recruiting for a second if I can. When you made your staff changes, you said you wanted to beef up your recruiting. Is it too early to tell or have you noticed anything yet in that regard?

Tim and Billy are the new guys and they're doing a terrific job. Our '08 class is building up very special. Our '08 class is going to be a very special class. It's easily got the makings of a Top 10 class. The '07 might not be as high as that, depending on who fills out that next scholarship. Billy and Tim have been instrumental. When they got here, Dairese, Jarryd and Jake were already done and some of the '08 was already done. So, in fairness to them, a lot of their work has been in finishing '08 and with the one left in '07 to get us in position to get a good selection there in the spring.

Why do you think as a senior Mike Henderson has needed to be challenged so much to be more of a leader?

Well, because that's what seniors do. Seniors have got to be leaders. Some guys aren't leaders as juniors, like Adam and Mike. Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner were leaders as juniors. They had two years of it, and that's just kind of the way that it goes. Jeff and Greg were leaders of an experienced group. Mike and Adam are leaders of a very inexperienced group. There's a lot more pressure in that. The umbrella gets pressed a little bit and everybody gets exposed. Those two are doing everything they can. Are we asking them to do more? Yeah. That's what coaches do. They're trying to play well themselves while learning the importance of their teammates playing well, too.

Mike hasn't reached the things he was doing last year. Is his progression the biggest thing you're missing right now?

Well, we're 5-3 with him in the starting lineup. He really just had a tough road trip. But we had several guys have a tough road trip. He wasn't by himself. We'd like for the seniors to play at a very high level all of the time, but we know that that doesn't happen all of the time. The thing that we've tried to focus on with Mike is that in Big Ten play when he first got going off of his injury, his assists were way up and his turnovers were way down. In Big Ten play, he and Adam have more turnovers than assists. That's not the trend that we want. You have to have your seniors valuing the ball, taking care of the ball. They're the ones setting the tone of more assists less turnovers so that the other guys can follow in those footsteps.

Is there some reason that it's happening? Have you analyzed that?

No, it's just getting back in the flow and getting comfortable. The competition has changed. It's a little bit different than the non-conference. You're scouted very well. We made some tapes of him from last year and showed him those. We're really just trying to get him to relax and go out and play. He showed some signs of that in the Ohio State game. The assist-turnover wasn't any better than what it was at Indiana, but he seemed a little bit more comfortable about attacking again. We'd like for him to be a little bit more active, get four or five rebounds a game, get out in transition, do some of those types of things. And the big thing with him is how you guard. He always started our defense last year and we need for him to do that this year.

What do you mean by that?

He's the first to guard as the ball comes up. He's got the ball. So, if he's getting beat, if he's lackadaisical in his approach, if he doesn't have active hands, if he's the first to get beat, then everybody else is in a closeout drill and a help-and-recover drill. So, it's important that he starts our defense on a solid note to where we get the ball going east-west, we get it going sideline to sideline. If it's going at the basket, that's a problem. It's the same way he starts our offense. He's usually making our entry pass. So, if our entry pass is way out on the floor or it's a turnover, that affects our offense. So, there's obviously a lot of pressure on the point guard position because you start offense and defense.

He's an interesting kid in that he's had some outstanding games, like against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament and against Kentucky. I know you're not looking for him to score 17 points a game, but…

He can. That's part of playing. You have to go out and play and do those things. He played very well in the two games against Penn State last year. We're hoping a similar thing can take place this year. They've got most of their guys back and their guards do a very nice job. But that's why you play the game. You have to throw it up and you have to make plays.

In the preseason, some knowledgeable basketball people thought Penn State might be able to make a break through. Do you know what they've been struggling with?

They've had two home losses to Indiana, who is playing very well, and Michigan State, who they hit at a high level, too. They shot 68 percent from the field. We can't be naïve enough to think we're going to shoot 68 percent against Penn State. They've had a couple of tough home losses to some very good teams. You take that away, they haven't had the easiest road games as well. We've got great respect for them because we know how experienced they are. They're very potent offensively, and that's the scary thing. They had Purdue beat. Michigan got away from them early. This is going to be a game that's very pivotal for us and I'm sure they think it's pivotal for them was well. But their experience does scare me. They've been in this position before and their guys know what it's like to have to go in and get a big road win.

You shuffled the lineup the past couple of games. Are you going to continue doing that?

It's a great question. That's something we've got to keep looking at. They don't start four guards. We just played two teams that we were just trying to match four guards there. We could end up going back to a three-guard lineup, we're just not for sure yet. We have to go through two days of practice and see how it looks.

In the Big Ten stats for all games, you don't have anybody in the Top 20 in rebounding. What do you see there?

Well, we kind of knew going in that that was going to be a hole to fill. We're seeing how spoiled we got with Greg Brunner and Jeff Horner. We got spoiled with those two guys – Jeff controlling the ball and what Bru did on the backboard. I don't know if that will change. If you look at the guys in the Top 10, those are guys playing all the time. When you look at our bigs, they're right at 20 minutes probably. So, they're playing about half the game. You could see Tyler move up in there. Tyler is close to five rebounds a game. Hopefully our guards can do a little more of the rebounding. But (rebounding) has improved. We're a team that if we can keep that board play close, that helps us. I don't know if we're going to be a team all year that runs away from people being a great rebounding team. If we can be an adequate rebounding team this year that's probably where we're going to be at.

Do you expect (Penn State) to play a zone against you?

That's what we expect. Ninety percent of what they've done has been a zone. They might change things up and we have to be prepared for that. But most of what they've been doing has been zone defense.

It's kind of come full circle. You need Mike to be more aggressive and you need to get back to the free throw line?

Yeah, that road trip just got us frozen a little. That's our job as coaches in the next two days to get the team loosened up; getting them back to having some fun here at home. That's what tough road trips can do, they can kind of knock you down. We don't want them thinking about things. This season is a long season. We have to make sure we keep them fresh mentally as much as anything else. The challenge I gave my staff today was that we have to do a really good job as coaches of getting them ready for this game was far as just getting them loose and just having some fun and get them out of the deer in the headlight look that we got on the road this past week.

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