Complete Transcript of Northern Iowa Coach and Player Press Conference

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MODERATOR: We're joined by Northern Iowa's head coach Ben Jacobson. We'll start off with an opening statement about his team being back in St. Louis and then we'll go to questions. 

COACH JACOBSON: We've had a good week of preparation. The guys have done a very good job of really working to get ready for tomorrow night's basketball game and fully understand the challenge that we've got in front of us with Michigan State. 

They're so good defensively, rebound the basketball so well at both ends of the floor, and then really, really good in the open floor. In terms of pushing the basketball. So we've got a real challenge in a number of different areas. And our preparation has been good. We're looking forward to tomorrow.

MODERATOR:Â Questions.

Q.           Ben, kind of a two‑part question. First of all, how would you describe the impact that O'Rear has when he enters a game and how much of a luxury is it for you as a coach to be able to kind of split the time between him and Eglseder?

COACH JACOBSON: Luke's got such a good feel for out of play that he's able to impact the basketball game in different ways. I think that's really the key with Luke, is that he isn't a guy, as we know, that's going to come in and get you 15 points or just come in and not be able to get anything but he's going to rebound a little bit or just a guy that can come in make a few hustle plays. He can do all of those.

He has a good enough feel that if he's got to get some baskets for us, he's going to work hard to do that. If we don't need some baskets, he's going to do everything else for us. 

So I think that's why he's able to have a major impact on our basketball team, is his versatility and understanding for how to play. 

And being able to play, the two of them, I think it's ‑‑ Jordan is in much better shape and condition than he was a year ago, and able to play longer. That keeps him out of foul trouble and that's been good for our basketball team, but he's also able to play fresh, if you will. His minutes, he can go as hard as he can for three and a half, four and a half minutes at stretches and play at a high level. 

There shouldn't be times in the game when Jordan is tired, because we've got Luke who can play 18 to 22 minutes as well.

Q.           Your dad is an accomplished singer. Wondering whether you got any of that or if you have any extroverted qualities at all?

COACH JACOBSON: No, I think he kept all those to himself. He's the only singer in the family. And he loves it. He's got a passion for it now. And he can entertain. But he kept all those to himself.

Q.           Former alum of the UNI and retired quarterback Kurt Warner called you after the Kansas game. What did he say to you about coming to the Sweet 16 here in St. Louis?

COACH JACOBSON: There were a lot of neat things, a lot of special things have happened for our basketball program and our guys. Kurt's phone call came on our way to the airport. We stopped to eat and he tracked us down while we were at the restaurant and I had an opportunity to visit with him for five or six minutes.  We had a nice conversation. 

And when I got off that call and passed it along to the guys, they lit up about as much as they did following that basketball game. I mean, it had a real impact on our guys. And it was really

neat of Kurt to reach out. He talked about our team and he said he sat and watched that entire Kansas game and was cheering for us. He just talked about the hard work and the unselfishness. He said you guys look like you're prepared. And I asked him some about what he does. And he just said it's all about being prepared and you can accomplish a lot. And obviously Kurt has. It's all about being prepared. 

So those are some of the things he talked about. But, it was really a special phone call for our program.

Q.           When you watch the different teams, some like Michigan State, it's more businesslike. Your guys were yelling up in the stands during practice to your fans, telling them what hotel you were staying in. Is that the fact they're so loose and excited to be here, does that continue into play even into week two?

COACH JACOBSON: They've been ‑‑ they've got a unique way of combining being focused and staying loose. That isn't something that I've seen with all of our teams, in my team as an assistant or head coach. 

These guys have a unique way of doing that, being very focused in our preparation, while at the same time being loose. And they've continued to do that this week, with certainly more things on their plate, a new step for our program. 

They've continued to be who they are all year long, and I think that's been ‑‑ it's helped in our preparation, and it certainly helped the way we played last weekend.

Q.           Talk about with all this hoopla, has it been different in trying to gear the guys and getting them focused up? And the second is with the extension yesterday, talk about what that means for the program and maybe stability moving forward?

COACH JACOBSON: In terms of the guys, we haven't had to do anything different as a staff. We got together on Sunday to watch Michigan State and Maryland, and from that point it's been game week. 

And because we've got seniors and juniors on our team, and they have a real appreciation for being prepared. They understand that that's been the key. And so has the week been a little different? Sure, it's been a little different. But because we've had the experience we do, the leadership that we do, the guys have done a great job. Their feet have been on the ground and it's been game week since Michigan State and Maryland got over, and because of that our preparation has been very good. 

And my new contract, I'm excited, thrilled, to be able to get that done and know that I'm going to be able to be at Northern Iowa. We've got so much support from our administration, from our community, our student body. The guys that we've got right now, the guys that we've got coming, it's a special place. And it's that way because there's great people. So we're obviously excited to work hard to keep this thing going.

Q.           You made an allusion to Jordan's conditioning, and I noted in one of your preseason analyses that you made quite a point about the need to improve the conditioning of between last year and this year. How much of a factor has that been in your being able to be here right now?

COACH JACOBSON: Well, that's been I think for Jordan specifically, it has really ‑‑ it's certainly changed his, the year he's had this year as compared to last year. He isn't a lot different in his ability to make shots, his ability to score the basketball. That isn't ‑‑ last year he could really do that. But he wasn't defending at a high enough level last year. He couldn't play long enough stretches last year. And he addressed those things through his conditioning this offseason. 

And because of that, you know, he was consistently playing at a much higher level. He's much better defensively because of his conditioning. And just able to play longer stretches at, again, a higher level. 

And to our team, I think last year's game against Purdue in the tournament, we learned that we have got to become a much stronger basketball team. We've got to become a much better conditioned basketball team if we want to be able to compete at the level in which Purdue did in that basketball game, and Purdue does all the time. And be able to play in this tournament beyond the first game. And that was a real ‑‑ that was a great motivator for our guys.

Q.           Coach, who is the guy or two when you look at Michigan State's lineup that makes you think, "Okay, that matchup concerns me just a little bit"? 

COACH JACOBSON: I could use the rest ‑‑ if we're halfway through it would take me the next half to go through their lineup. They've got ‑‑ the versatility of their guys, you know, the versatility of their lineup is really impressive. 

They all play at the highest level, competitively on each possession. They all defend at the highest level. They rebound the basketball. And when they do, they're as good in terms of moving the ball from end‑to‑end. We played Siena, of course, who does that very well. Kansas does it as well as anybody that we had seen and watching Michigan State, they do it as well, maybe better. And that's a tremendous challenge. 

On top of that, they've got some guys individually that can really, really get you. They've got quality guys up and down their lineup. So again without getting ‑‑ I'd have to talk about too many of them, because quality guys that are very versatile. And they all just play at the highest level competitively each possession, and that's a real challenge.

Q.           Ben, I know that coaches usually don't like to get involved in this kind of a deal. But with Kalin Lucas out, what changes, from your standpoint, from their standpoint?

COACH JACOBSON: The only reference I have with our basketball team, Johnny Moran, one of our starting guards was out for two games, two road games. We were able to win both of those road games. We had a couple of guys, one guy, obviously, had to step into the starting lineup and he played better than he had been because he had more of an opportunity. A couple of young guys had to play more coming off the bench, and they played better than they had been because they had an opportunity. We missed Jordan for three games towards the end of the season, and able to win two important and very big basketball games. 

We had guys that, again, Luke started and played very well. We had a guy step in that hadn't played all year and had a very good week for us. So from our standpoint, that's the experience we've had when we've missed a guy. And I think what happens is the guys rally around that. Pay more attention to some of the detailed stuff. And really take it on as a challenge, as a team. 

So the one thing I do know is they aren't going to play any differently, in terms of how hard they play, in terms of what they do. When Lucas has been out of basketball games or missed a couple of games, they look like the exact same team, either he's been subbed for or hasn't been able to play in a game or two. But it's a program thing, watching Michigan State. 

And I do need to say. Very unfortunate. You don't like to see this happen to anyone on any team. Especially at this time of the year, when he's such a big part of what they've done, of course. So you feel for the young guy. You don't like to see it happen. It's very unfortunate. But like I said, they're going to play the way they play, and that's a real challenge.

Q.           Ben, as well as you all have played lately, the one thing that jumps out at your results this year is you guys lost very late in the year at Evansville which had a very tough, tough year. What was gained from that game? Because I remember when it happened, people were saying if they loose the valley tournament, they may not get an at‑large bid. It was a jolting loss at the time. What happened? And what came out of that loss that maybe helped you in the long run?

COACH JACOBSON: I think two things happened. One, Marty Simmons is a terrific coach. Most teams in that position, that late in the year, don't play very hard. Or they don't execute very well. And he is a ‑‑ he's a big‑time coach. Those guys continue to play so hard and execute so well. They've got a young basketball team. And he kept them going.

And that was number one what happened. Number two, we had previously on Tuesday had beaten Creighton for the outright league title. On Friday our Bracket Buster game against Old Dominion, a lot of people were able to see that game, we had won both of those basketball games. We were the outright league champs. Big win over Old Dominion, an NCAA tournament team. These guys have been great all year, with their focus and attention to detail. We went in missed a couple of shots early. 

Evansville played extremely hard and extremely well and they beat us. And mostly because Marty Simmons can really coach and he has young guys that really care. Going forward from that, I give our guys a lot of credit, because they hear ‑‑ we don't talk about it as a team. But they watch TV. They read newspapers, and they were able to focus. And we played some great basketball against Illinois State and into the Valley Tournament, they found a way to play great basketball.

          Q. Michigan State's success in this tournament is well documented. For your team and having beaten a team like Kansas, does that reduce any fear factor or awe factor or anything like that at all for your team?

COACH JACOBSON: You know, I don't know even last weekend that there was really that for our team. These guys have done just a terrific job of taking things in stride. Whether that is positive things in mid‑January with cracking the top 25 and being in Sports Illustrated and having to play more games, the loss at Evansville late in the year. These guys have done a great job in taking things in stride and understanding that being prepared is the most important thing.

At the same time, having a tremendous amount of respect for who we're playing and knowing that Kansas was Kansas, and they're the number one team in the country for a reason. And Michigan State is Michigan State. And they've been to five Final Fours and won a national championship and they've been here 13 years in a row. 

Our guys certainly understand that and have tremendous respect for this year's basketball team and for their program. At the same time, they've been able to take things in stride and be prepared and then play as hard as we can. 

Q.           Ben, what if any conclusions can we now draw that you've signed this extension or letter of memorandum of understanding? Pursuant to you personally and professionally not availing yourselves potentially to a bigger job bigger conference and life‑altering money, what conclusions can we draw personally and professionally about Ben Jacobson?

COACH JACOBSON: Personally, the University of Northern Iowa has been a great fit for my wife and I. Our boys are four years old and six years old and we're just getting started with our family. So it was a very short conversation with my wife. And really feel like that right now this continues to be a great fit for what we're doing as a family and for the relationships that we have on campus and in our community. We feel great about it personally. 

And professionally, you know it's about the fit. We've got tremendous support from our president and from our administration. This basketball program has moved forward light years in the nine years that I've been on campus, because of the support, because of the things that we've had happen from a support standpoint. We've been able to recruit better student‑athletes. And those guys have done a terrific job of representing our program and have moved us forward. And I love that about the guys that we've got, about our university, and about our community. 

It is a great fit for myself, professionally. It is a great fit for my wife and I and our boys. 

MODERATOR:Â Thank you.

We're joined by student‑athletes Jordan Eglseder, Ali Farokhmanesh, Adam Koch, Johnny Moran, and Kwadzo Ahelegbe. We'll have an opening statement from Ali and then we'll go to questions.

ALI FAROKHMANESH: I think we're just happy to be back in St. Louis. That's it. 

MODERATOR:Â Questions.

Q.           Ali, what's life been like since you've made that shot against Kansas?

ALI FAROKHMANESH: It's been fun. I mean, there's been a lot more attention coming towards the program in general. So it's been a lot of fun and overwhelming at times, but it's definitely been a lot of fun.

Q.           When you saw the seedings, and you knew that after you disposed of UNLV, which I assume you would, you'd be facing Kansas. Did you go "ooh" or did you go "bring 'em on"? 

ADAM KOCH: Honestly, I guess when we were watching the selection show, I don't know about the other guys, but I wasn't really expecting our name to be called at that spot. But at the same time that's the best thing about the NCAA tournament you get to play the games out. Someone else, the committee decides your seed. And then we get to play the games. 

So I guess it was a great opportunity, a lot. It was a big game for our program, I guess. And we really looked forward to it more than anything.

Q.           Ali, do you guys see yourselves as a Cinderella, you've been tabbed that, you're kind of the team everyone's talking about, do you guys see yourselves as a Cinderella?

ALI FAROKHMANESH: I don't think we necessarily see ourselves as a Cinderella. That's something we've been labeled with. The fact we're a 9 seed, that's probably why we've been given the Cinderella label. But I guess we don't probably look at ourselves as a Cinderella.

Q.           What's the most animated you've seen Coach Jacobson, either happy or angry, and can he do it?

JORDAN EGLSEDER: The most animated? Coach, Jacobson, he's usually pretty chilled. You don't get too much emotion out of him too often. After we won that game, I mean, he was pretty excited. So besides that, I'm not really sure. You don't get too much emotion out of him.

Q.           Ali and Jordan. Ali, first talk about the Michigan State guards, what you see on film, because how you play. And, Jordan, if you would assess their inside game, primarily Draymond Green?

ALI FAROKHMANESH: They're quick. Probably some of the quickest guards we've seen the entire year. I think the biggest thing will be to stop their initial break. That's what they're really good at. They get into their sets quick. And they get the ball off the rim and go. 

So we're definitely going to have to be ready on the defensive end to get back in transition and be ready to block them off and set up a wall.

JORDAN EGLSEDER: As far as the rest of their bigs, for Draymond, he's a good shooter. He likes to pick and pop. They're going to be a tough matchup, their bigs, like I said, they're really physical and they play really hard.

Q.           Adam, with what you've done the past few years and what you've done through this tournament, do you feel like you've earned the right not to be considered an underdog anymore? 

ADAM KOCH: You know, we feel like the past few years, just even before we were here, with Coach McDermott, I think we've done a pretty good job getting our program to a different spot than where it was before. 

And as far as being an underdog and stuff like that, it's not something that we tend to worry about too much, I guess. We don't look at ourselves that way. We don't feel ‑‑ we feel we can play with everybody. It's not something that we're really worried about, being called an underdog.

Q.           Ali, as far as the junior college experience on this team, how has that helped get this team to this point? 

ALI FAROKHMANESH: I don't know if it's had anything to do with the team, necessarily. I think it's just ‑‑ I mean I was the only one that went to junior college. So I don't think it's affected the team that much. But so I guess none, really (laughter).

Q.           I know the word Cinderella and underdog are being used, but with the injuries that Michigan State's had, Kalin Lucas being out, maybe some other guys, a lot of people are also picking you all to win and maybe putting you in the favored position. Is that unusual, or what are your kind of thoughts about that, or have you been hearing that as well? 

JOHNNY MORAN: Well, obviously Michigan State's a great team. So we've had guys go down, starters go down throughout the season, and it just gives opportunities to other guys to step up and I'm sure they'll do the same thing.

So I don't think we're too worried about being favored or being an underdog, we're just going to go out there. They're going to play hard and we'll have to play hard for 40 minutes.

ADAM KOCH: Sometimes losing a guy for a team is never good, can be kind of a rallying point, I guess. So we're not expecting them to, I don't know, come out soft or anything like that. We know they're going to be ready to go.  It's a big game for everybody. And he's a great player. It's tough for them to lose him. But we don't expect them to lie down by any means.

As far as being picked to win, I guess that's not something we worry about, I guess. We're just confident we can play with everybody.

Q.           Adam and Ali, two‑part question here. How much have you guys heard the reference to this being Kurt Warner's ‑‑ where he has some of his greatest moments of glory, and how big of a deal is that to you at all? I don't know how old you guys were when that was going on, and how much you remember about it. And, two, I asked the coach about this. You guys, as great a year as you had, you had a late‑season loss to Evansville, which really had a tough year, which I think jumps out when you look at all the success you had. What went wrong that night? What did you take from it that maybe helped in the long run a little bit?

ALI FAROKHMANESH: I think it's great to say that Kurt Warner went here. He was an amazing athlete while he was here and an even better athlete when he got to the pros. But as far as knowing what he did at UNI we were all pretty young back then. But we all know what he did while he was at the NFL. It's great to say he went here and he's part of what we're doing now. And part B was? 

Q.           Evansville. 

ALI FAROKHMANESH: Evansville, we didn't make shots. Simple as that. We didn't make shots. Our defense, we played them tough on the defense end. We were up at halftime. We weren't making shots that night. When you don't make shots, sometimes it gives the other team confidence, and once they had a little bit confidence rolling, they went with that, and they got up on us ten points with five minutes to go. It's always tough to come back on any team when you're down by that much.

ADAM KOCH: I guess for the Kurt Warner thing, he actually called I think coach Jake after our win, so that was kind of neat. I guess he's kind of a big deal in cedar falls Iowa. And Evansville thing, as far as Evansville I guess it's just one of those games ‑‑ it makes us realize we can beat anybody, we can lose to anybody, we've got to be on top of our game the whole time. And I think that's kind of what it reminds us of.

Q.           Kwadzo, Kansas started putting pressure on late in the game. Do you expect Michigan State to do a little bit of that or try to get you guys earlier as you're bringing the ball down court, have you prepared for that? 

KWADZO AHELEGBE: Yeah, Coach has prepared us for these past couple of days, giving us different sets, obviously press breaking sets. 

But, yeah, if you watched us, I would probably press us too for a little bit. But we're prepared so we'll be ready for that.

Q.           What has your walking around Iowa, have you guys been recognized a lot more since the win over Kansas?

KWADZO AHELEGBE: I mean, yeah, there's a big difference. Especially for Ali here being on Sports Illustrated. It's great knowing that you have that much support in your community and adding to the support that we already have. It feels great knowing that you have a community backing you like that.

JOHNNY MORAN: Yeah. I'd have to agree. I mean, it's been ‑‑ people have been recognizing us a lot more. And it's just fun. Everyone's having fun with it, and everyone's excited. And we just hope we can keep it going on Friday.

Q.           Defense seems to be a big part of your guys' team, if you had to sum up your team's defensive philosophy in a few words, what would they be?

JORDAN EGLSEDER: I'd just say toughness. I mean, at the end of the games lately it's been a lot of close games, to be able to have the toughness we do at the end of the games has been key for us all year. And just blocking out and rebounds has been huge for us, too.

ALI FAROKHMANESH: Just team, I guess. That's how we play defense, as a unit. We don’t play it as individuals, I think that's the biggest thing. When somebody messes up you know Kwadzo will be behind me to step up and make a play for me if I screw up. I think that's the biggest thing, is that we rely on each other so much on the defensive end. You say you rely on your teammates on the offensive end, but I think we rely more on each other on the defensive end.

Q.           Ali, what can you tell us about the Koch brothers, what do they bring to the team and what special characteristics? What makes them effective players?

ALI FAROKHMANESH: I mean, they're brothers but they're so different in so many different ways to be honest. Adam's pretty shy, but Jake on the court is shy. So it's completely different. Adam on the court is going to go at everybody. He's making plays for every single person. He's more of an enforcer out there. And Jake's the outgoing one off the court, but on the court he should be a lot more aggressive but he's a little more nervous about himself out there. 

But I think that's the biggest thing, is that they're just so different in so many different ways, but we love 'em, I guess (laughter).

Q.           Adam, what do you think it says about the state of college basketball as a whole when a team can lose to Evansville, turn around and beat Kansas and get to the Sweet 16 and possibly go deeper than even that?

ADAM KOCH: Yeah, I think it shows a lot of depth I guess in college basketball. There are a lot of good teams out there. And it's not something where anybody's just going to walk over a team every time. 

We have a lot of tough games. And I guess you kind of have to be focused every game, you can't go out and expect to win and walk over a team and have that happen every time. I think that's what it says most, is if you go out there and execute and do what your team's strengths are, you'll have a chance to play with everybody.

Q.           Ali, I'm sure almost every team that starts virtually says we're in this to win, and yet realistically most teams aren't going to have a chance to win. Did you start off with the honest assumption or feeling: We can win this thing? If not has the feeling caught on now that you're here that it's really possible?

ALI FAROKHMANESH: I think we just came into the thing looking at UNLV. That was the biggest thing, we just wanted to win that first game. It had been 20 years since we won a game in the tournament. I think we were more focused on winning that first game. 

Like Adam said, we weren't too concerned that Kansas was going to be in the next round. We were more concerned that we had to win that first game to even have an opportunity to play a team like a Kansas.

Q.           Johnny and Kwadzo, when you look at Michigan State, they've got about three great athletes, guys like Raymar Morgan. When you watch them on game film, what jumps out that you're weary of and impressed by?

JOHNNY MORAN: One thing they're aggressive. They get out in transition and run. They get the ball off the glass and they're gone. They do a great job of scoring in transition. So that's one thing we're definitely going to have to do is get back and set our defense up.

KWADZO AHELEGBE: Yeah, they're a long, lengthy athletic team. And for us obviously for me Johnny and Ali, we're kind of on the small side. But we'll be prepared. Coach has set us up for obviously to compete at the end of the game and have a chance to win at the end of the game. And we're going to thrive off of what our coaches have prepared us for.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. 


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