Iowa's Alford brings unique perspective
Steve Alford's phone has been ringing quite a bit this week. He's not saying from whom.
The word is that Alford knows all about the Final Four. He should. He's the lone coach to play all four teams this season.
The results? Iowa went 2-4 against the Final Four.
The Hawkeyes beat Louisville 76-71 in their second game of the season at the Maui Invitational before losing to North Carolina 106-92 two nights later in the event's final (after beating Texas in the semis).
In Big Ten play, Iowa lost to Illinois 73-68 in Champaign on Jan. 20 when the Hawkeyes still had Pierre Pierce. After Pierce was dismissed from the team for his alleged role in an altercation with a former girlfriend, the Hawkeyes then lost to Michigan State 75-64 and to Illinois 75-65, this time at home.
The Hawkeyes did beat Michigan State 71-69 in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals in Chicago, a win that essentially put Iowa into the NCAA Tournament.
We're fairly certain, with six games total against the four teams, that Alford qualifies as a capable scout.
Click on the links for his take on each Final Four team:
How to beat them: "Control Roger Powell. If Powell has double figures in points and rebounds, then you're finished. We were close in both games because Powell wasn't a factor. If he is, they're almost impossible to beat. The three guards (Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head) are going to get theirs. One might be off but the other two will produce."
Achilles' heel: "Depth. If one guard gets into foul trouble and they have to play Richard McBride a lot of minutes, there's a big dropoff. He's a shooter and must play off the others. If Deron Williams gets in foul trouble, Dee Brown has to go to the point and that slows them down. If one of the bigs gets into foul trouble, that's OK, but if one of the guards does, there is too big a dropoff."
How to beat them: "They have the best talent of any team we played. They are a big-time team in transition. The strength for them is their offense and that's how they have to win games. How do you stop them? Playing a team like Michigan State could do it because they will guard them. We played them the third game in three days in Maui and we were exhausted. They scored 106 points but we still scored 92 and we didn't have fresh legs."
Achilles' heel: "Defensive intensity. North Carolina has to score in volumes. Wisconsin scored 82 points against North Carolina. The Badgers didn't score 82 in any game in the Big Ten. If you play Wisconsin in our league it's the first one to 60 wins. They scored 82 on North Carolina! I think Michigan State will guard them and Michigan State will score easier than Wisconsin will. Wisconsin hurt North Carolina with an undersized four man in Alando Tucker and Michigan State has an undersized four man in Alan Anderson. That could be a problem, too."
How to beat them: "First of all, the pressure is off those kids. That senior class has had enormous pressure on them, like our juniors had in getting to the Tournament. Those kids arrived when Michigan State had been to three straight Final Fours and won the Big Ten. They hadn't done either, and hadn't beaten Duke. They've played with a lot of pressure. Now they've beaten Duke and are going to the Final Four. They are relaxed.
"How do you beat them? You have to come out to fight them on the boards. We outrebounded them and had to do a good job with transition. You've got to make the Spartans play halfcourt and run their sets. They want to fly up court. Michigan State and North Carolina have the two best transition teams. That's what is going to be interesting: who gets the easiest baskets? Both teams pride themselves on getting into the 80s or 90s and easy baskets. The key matchup would be Raymond Felton and Drew Neitzel at the point, the experienced against the young one."
Achilles' heel: "Paul Davis can get pouty, and if he disappears, then Sean May dominates. If it's a wash, then it goes to the point guard. If Paul Davis isn't in the flow early, then he'll disappear. If he disappears, then the Sparatns don't have another low-post scoring threat in the halfcourt."
How to beat them: "The reason Louisville is better this year is that Juan Palacios gives them a scoring four man and Ellis Myles is a legit low-post threat. They didn't have that last year. That frees up their guards for 3s.
"They have players that really understand the game and understand how to play. Like Illinois, Carolina and Michigan State, they move the ball and are unselfish and make the simple play. You have to make them play halfcourt. You have to make them go for their in-between game and don't let them get free for 3-point shots. If you can, get them inside the arc and make them feed the post to Myles and Palacios and not let them drive and kick."
Achilles' heel: "You've got to take away the drive-and-kick game. That's the go-to move for the Cardinals. If they are able to do that for Taquan Dean and Francisco Garcia, the Cards can win. If that gets taken away, the Cards are in trouble."
So who wins, Steve?
"We've played all four of them and of the four teams we've played, Illinois and Michigan State were the better defending teams. All four are great offensive teams but to win the Final Four when there is equal talent, you have to get stops and Illinois and Michigan State can tweak their defense to a level that I'm not sure Carolina and Louisville can."
So, Alford has an all-Big Ten final. No surprise. And the winner is, Steve?
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.