Steve Alford: Tyler is the only one as far as serious medical attention, the x-rays came back good. It was dislocated and got popped back. It ends up being sore and what we call buddy taping it. That is uncomfortable because it's his shooting hand. For the next week to ten days, he will have to tape it together to protect it.
Q: How does that affect his game?
Alford: It's a nuisance. He is a tough kid, and I know it bothered him in the Wisconsin game. That is not fun when your finger is going two different directions, and when someone messes with it, its back in the same spot. That is different when you have never had that happen. We have told campers that, it's hard to play this game when you have tape on your fingers. That is his shooting hand, so hopefully he can get a few good days of practice with the tape on it and get adjusted to it.
Q: Is Looby good to go?
Alford: I think so. I just appreciate his toughness, because I haven't seen too many feet like that. It's an amazing deal. He is toughing it out and going through it. We have to give him some rest and hopefully the top of his foot can heal. But I appreciate the effort that he is giving us.
Q: Is the Big Ten in danger of getting just three teams into the NCAA tournament?
Alford: Boy I hope not. I really think that there has been more attention given the other way. The finish will be big for all of us. What we do as a league, how we finish, and that will be important for us. We don't know how many get in, but I think there will be more than that get in. You can see anywhere from four to six that will end up making it. How we all finish will have a lot to do with that. We have broken it down into seasons for our guys. This first season is Northwestern, Michigan State and Purdue, then we get a week off and finish it with Penn State and Illinois. So we have to go game by game and that is Wednesday against Northwestern.
Q: If you finish 4th, is that a good accomplishment?
Alford: Everyone in the world had us picked 9th. There wasn't one that said sixth or seventh. Going into everything, losing everyone that we lost, I don't know of too many teams in the Big Ten that lost more than we did the last year. We lost four guys that played an awful lot. We lost five seniors and we are currently alone in fourth place. I think our guys have done a tremendous job. When you look at the last 36 Big Ten games that have been played, which involve the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State is one game ahead of us at 26-10. Us and Wisconsin are 25-11. That is over two years. So over two years, we are at the top of the conference and it's a power league. I think the guys have done a good job of carrying on what was established, not just last year but the year prior. I hope we can finish. We have worked hard. We took 48 hours off and we will get back at it. We will be back here next Monday, and will be saying the same thing, but here on out, each game has incredible meaning to it and we have to take care of business Wednesday.
Q: Did getting picked 9th put a collective chip on the shoulders of your players?
Alford: I hope so. I hope that lack of respect of what the program was able to do last year, we sure hope so. It's five crucial games. We can stay in fourth or we could drop to 9th. There are a lot of games still to be played. We have a lot of work to do. We have showed great improvement in the last month, individually and as a team. Now we are banged up a little bit. Can we keep improving, to do what it takes to get wins down the stretch setting up the Big Ten tournament? Those answers will come each game we have the rest of the way.
Q: Northwestern plays at a slower pace than you have seen in a while.
Alford: They are doing the same things. They average the same points. They average 57 and give up 57. They are playing a lot of young kids, some kids that are doing some nice things for them. More than anything, this game has to be about us. Too many times in Evanston, we have worried too much about them and their style. We need to make sure this is Iowa basketball on Wednesday.
Q: Your team has struggled some defensively in recent games…can you put a finger on it?
Alford: That will be a high emphasis the next two days. Our offense is starting to click. You have to give Wisconsin credit, but in all of our Big Ten games we have played, I think 11 of them, we have had really two games where we have taken bad shots and that is both games against Wisconsin. You can't do that against them. In games recently where we have taken good shots, we are making them. The flip side is that guys have gotten more complacent on defense and we can't do that. We have to be a good defensive team. If we are not, down the stretch, then we are going to be rolling the dice because we are not going to score in the 90's like we did against Minnesota. That was a night where everything clicked. We will have nights where we shoot in the 40(%). We have to hold teams to 60, so our defense has to get better. We are not doing the little things. I might help but don't recover. I get to the baseline too late and foul. We play good post defense, and they kick it out, and a good post offensive player reposts and I don't guard him and he gets better position. Transition defense, dominating the backboard through four games then getting beat up against Wisconsin. Those things are huge.
Q: Did you spend extra time in the spring or summer looking at NW tape, trying to figure them out?
Alford: No (laughs). Not really. It's that word, Northwestern, Northwestern State, we have had a hang up in the last few years with that word. You have to change. Sometime you have to get the worm going the other way with that name. We have played that system before. We scored a lot of points at Saint Louis two years ago. Air Force, same way two years ago. But when you play away from home, and we have not played well at Evanston. Last time they were here we played well and scored points. But this is an inexperienced team, and that is a concern, as they have not seen this style. But again, we can't spend time talking about their style. That is the mirage you fall into. We have to focus on what we can do. They do a good job of spacing the floor on offense. They have over 100 more assists than they do turnovers. They are not having the lack of success in our league because of taking care of the ball. They do that well, they move it well. They just have a lot of young players, and that can take a while. We have to know that they are not going to beat themselves, that we are going to have to go win it.
Q: A few games ago Justin Johnson lost some minutes due to defense…what did you think of the job he did on Alando Tucker?
Alford: He got our defensive award. Whatever minutes he lost, the message was sent and he responded. That has been great with this team. When we have sent messages, talking to them, starting verses subbing, they have responded to that. That doesn't always happen. It's a credit to the players. He responded well. I thought he did the best job defending Tucker. I think he has a chance to be really good, he just needs good experience.
Q: With guys being banged up, what do you plan to do minutes wise and with your bench?
Alford: We have to see how practices go the next few days, how we go into Wednesday's game, health wise. Tyler is a special talent. Even with the dislocated finger popped in, I still like putting him out there. I don't anticipate a lot of changes in our substitutions. That could take place. JR is in our 9th spot in the rotation, which is a tough spot right now. Sometimes we don't go to 9. I can see him getting minutes.
Q: Is Tate's shoulder OK?
Alford: He is fine, its more of a bruise, his upper bicep has a bruise on it. It's painful when it gets hit.
Q: Talk about your backcourt rotation as of late.
Alford: I thought both Mike and Tony did a great job at Minnesota. I thought Tony responded. He got us going against Wisconsin. He made some things happen. He had a couple of turnovers, but as long as they are aggressive, I can live with that as opposed to a passive turnover. I thought at that time he needed a rest. I didn't get him back in in the flow, and after watching tape, I wish I had done that because he was being aggressive and was attacking Wisconsin, and that is what you have to do to give you a chance to win.
Q: How balance that…sometimes too far, still trying to find that medium
Alford: He is a sophomore. I have always said, the majority of college basketball players need a fifth year. The majority of them do. In our profession, kids don't like to redshirt. I am not saying that just in Tony's case, most sophomores are that way. Tate is that way. Both of them are improving. Tony is so much farther ahead than where he was a year ago, and we will see Cyrus and Tony keep getting better. Tony is as fast as anyone in the league, he just has to learn how to use that speed. He hasn't learned how to efficiently use that speed all of the time yet. He is just young. Once he learns that, he will be an explosive player.
Q: Can you teach that?
Alford: You have to watch tape, talk to him about it. He has a tough time on pivoting, because he wants to catch and go. He needs to catch, pivot and look at his guy and know the guy can't keep him in front. He has had some success doing that, and once he can do that consistently, he will become more efficient.