DES MOINES - Iowa coach Steve Alford was asked to list three reason his struggling basketball team is 3-5 in the Big Ten. He wasn't sure where to begin.
"I don't know if there's just three," Alford said Monday.
One of the preseason favorites for the conference title, Iowa has staggered into a tie for ninth place at the halfway point in the race. The Hawkeyes are winless in four conference road games and haven't been able to protect their own court, losing at home to Indiana.
Alford said there's plenty of blame to go around for the Hawkeyes' troubles.
"From my end, I'm doing a poor job communicating what I'm trying to get accomplished," he said. "That falls on me."
Iowa is relying on some young players, including newcomers Pierre Pierce and Chauncey Leslie at point guard. Pierce is a freshman and Leslie a junior college transfer.
But Alford said he has been most discouraged by the play of his veterans.
Luke Recker, who spent the summer recovering from a broken kneecap that kept him out of the final 17 games last season, still isn't in peak condition, Alford said.
"His weight, what it was in October was just inexcusable," Alford said. "Now he's fighting those things to get back into shape in late January."
Guard Brody Boyd took a long time to recover from a knee injury and is shooting only 31 percent in league games. Forward Reggie Evans is finding life under the basket to be tougher in his second Big Ten season.
Evans managed only four shots and six rebounds in Saturday's 73-68 loss at Purdue, and Alford benched him for a long stretch because of lackluster defense.
"Guys that were freshmen last year and are now sophomores are realizing, and that includes Reggie, who was in his first year in the league last year, that you're not surprising anybody anymore," Alford said.
"Coaches and players know you well. You've got to prepare yourself mentally and get yourself ready for the kind of battle it's going to be."
Defense and turnovers also have been a problem.
Alford said the defense has broken down both inside and on the perimeter, and the Hawkeyes aren't creating any offense by stealing the ball and forcing turnovers.
When the Hawkeyes do get the ball, they've been careless. They've had more turnovers than assists in all but one Big Ten game and committed 22 turnovers at Purdue.
"We're one of the worst in the Big Ten at taking care of the basketball," Alford said. "Whether it's a lack of concentration, I'm not for sure what it is. We've got to find that rhythm and get it back here in February"
Iowa has a chance this week to try to regroup for the second half of the Big Ten season. The Hawkeyes don't play until Saturday, when Penn State visits.
"We've got five days to figure things out and get them going in the right direction," Alford said. "We have played well at home this year. We've got to hope that continues."