East Lansing, MI
While Spartan fans are a DEFCOM 5 with consternation you wonâ€™t find that inside the MSU basketball offices. How would I know that you ask? Because I was there and spent time with Izzo less than 24 hours after their loss to the Nebraska Huskers today.
With the loss MSU fell to 16-4 (3-4) on the year. While that certainly is something that requires attentions, anyone who has followed Spartan hoops over the last 21 years knows that it isnâ€™t reason to panic.
After the loss last night I mentioned to Spartan senior Bryn Forbes that Izzo insisted the media not blame the players, but that we blame him. When I told Forbes what Izzo said in the locker room after he said to me, â€œI donâ€™t agree with that. We made a lot of mistakes. We being players, a lot of mistakes on defense and on offense. Itâ€™s hard to win when itâ€™s mistake after mistake after mistake. This isnâ€™t on Coach, we as players didnâ€™t do our job.â€
So while I was with Izzo today I asked him about Forbes and the quote he had. The Spartan head man said, â€œThereâ€™s not a better kid that Bryn. You know what, nothing discourages me about this team as far as what kinda guys I got, what kinda people they are. All those things. Whatâ€™s been discouraging a little bit is I thought we would be a little more cerebral on some things. We are making some mental mistakes and that inexcusable. If you got on the scouting report, guy goes right, guy goes right, guy goes right. My mother at 90 called and said does that guy go right, Tom? Yeah, mom, he goes right. Those kinda things are really inexcusable. Why I donâ€™t blame them, if my mother can see it and I canâ€™t get it through to them then thatâ€™s my fault. When I said it was my fault, I wasnâ€™t trying to take all the pressure off them. We gotta do a better job, too. Usually when you struggle, everybody has gotta do a little better job and everybodyâ€™s gotta pick it up a little bit better.â€
Izzo went on to add, â€œAs fun as the yearâ€™s been because Iâ€™ve got unbelievable guys. You guys interview them, they are great guys. This injury thing and the fouling thing are the two things that have made it really difficult to deal with in some ways. Iâ€™m just trying to wrap my arms around that and figure that. I know how good we can be. I really do. I think we will be. We gotta figure out how to be a little smarter and maybe we donâ€™t run as much. Maybe we shrink the game down a little bit. Weâ€™ve gotta save Denzel some. We canâ€™t put everything on his shoulders. We utilized a couple other guys, but bottom line, guys, if we miss free throws, if we miss wide open shots, if we donâ€™t execute down the stretch with a four-point lead, it doesnâ€™t matter what anybody does. Those are things that have to happen. Nobody tried to miss a free throw. Nobody tried to miss an open jump shot or open layup. Did we try hard enough not to make a couple cerebral things? That I have a problem with and Iâ€™ve stated that. Other than that, but that even comes from people moving around. I know the analogies are off the charts with me, but you donâ€™t take a running back and make him a quarterback. Itâ€™s not quite the same in basketball, but, boy, thereâ€™s just different responsibilities and different things and when a guy comes back, heâ€™s not back, as weâ€™ve always talked about.â€
Izzo tried to put the injuries into perspective. â€œSchilling should be back now, just by now. Denzel, I thought, is really almost back now, but at Wisconsin, I really didnâ€™t think he was even though he played pretty well. itâ€™s not always just how you play. Itâ€™s how you do all the other things and whether you can bring people along with you. Last night, I saw more of that from him. So two steps forward, one step back. Two steps forward, one step back. Pretty soon, itâ€™s going to go two steps forward, then three then four and I feel very comfortable about that. Iâ€™m not trying to sell you. Itâ€™s been disappointing and Iâ€™m going to live with that. Iâ€™m going to outwork it. And we are going to get back. Thatâ€™s the way I feel.â€
So with Izzoâ€™s team hosting ESPN Gameday against a very good Maryland, his team must learn from these last three games to get back on track. Izzo agrees.
â€œWe felt like we executed on offense and some things that were really good to be honest with ya. We felt like we executed on offense, we felt like we got a lot of shots, we just didnâ€™t make some shots. We made a couple of mistakes and they capitalized on them. Probably the most concerning is why these 13 points a game guys are getting 25 and 30. You know it doesnâ€™t make any sense to me. We are trying to put certain people on certain guys more by default then the way it is. Those things are what bothers me the most. We are not even looking at the game film today. We are moving on to Maryland. We are going to try to figure out a way to play a little smarter and a little bit better.â€
Frustrating for Izzo is that against Wisconsin and Nebraska MSU had the effort to win. Even the stats and that is what made the last two losses even harder to deal with than Iowa in which they were just beat down.
â€œThe last two games there was enough effort there to win for most of the game. There was enough decent plays to win for most of the game in both games. Both teams are good teams. When you are missing your defender at the point of attack, it creates some problems for other people. So we are trying to figure out how we can get a little bit stronger at the point of attack and how we can get Denzel a little more rest. 38 minutes in both games is probably a little bit too much for him right now. Have to see how we can make some adjustments.â€
I have said for year and believe it 100%. You judge Izzo in March. Not November, July or even January. The sky isnâ€™t falling. This team is looking adversity in the eye. If we have learned anything over the last 21 years, there is no place that makes Izzo feel more comfortable than that.