East Lansing, MI
The #2 Michigan State Spartans 24-5 (11-5) are visiting Rutgers 6-23 (0-16) tonight in their second to last Big Ten contest of the season. While the Spartans are feeling the love nationally on the precipice of a #1 seed in the big dance, Tom Izzo has a lot of reason to be excited.
As a coach he has had so many great players over the years, but he has never had a team like this one. They crave the instruction, the teaching and the constantly being pushed that comes with being a pupil of Tom Izzo. I’ve seen players walk away from him before or stare off into space ignoring their coach. It is difficult to get young people, especially those who are already at a top with their unique talents, to learn to love coaching. These Spartans do.
So how is Izzo embracing a group that takes every small or large piece of correction almost asking for more?
“I tell you what I honestly attribute it to. I think for some reason I just think everybody has been on the same page. My assistants have done as good a job as they’ve done since they’ve been with me and some have been with me a long time. It’s one of those things that we talk about in a meeting, ‘Hey watch some film with this guy on this and that.’ I think my senior leadership, as a group, is really good. Costello does his own thing. Colby is gonna be a guy that nobody will appreciate but me, but he’s done a great job. And I think we’ve got both leaders and learners. Sometimes you’re either a great leader or you better be a great follower. And I think some of those young guys are a lot better followers than you would think. Deyonta, who you never know if he’s leading or following because I don’t think he says anything either way, but I think he’s following a lot more than we think because he has responded to some things a lot faster than I thought he would. Matt McQuaid is a sponge. He’s trying to learn something every day. The next class of the guys that are playing, Tum is the best at that and I definitely seen improvement out of both Alvin, but especially Schilling in wanting to get better and realizing what he’s not doing. So when you got leaders like Denzel and Bryn, and when you got workers as they all say, when your hardest workers are your best players and your best guys, you got a chance. That’s what we’ve got right now. We’ve got a group of guys that are working hard. Even Eron Harris, you think about where he’s come defensively they were, the Big Ten Network was doing some things on him I guess yesterday showing his different defense … we never thought that would happen. And so, even he late last night was in here watching film of Sanders because everybody knows that kid’s a great player. He’s trying to figure out what he’s gonna do and I heard from two of my GA’s that he came in late. Those things I think are why, to be honest. So give all the credit to the players and the assistant coaches on that.”
That was a very long answer, but it is a very big reason as to why this team is favored by many to win Izzo his second national title. But this team has very few flaws and continues to garner the love nationally from fans and pundits alike. That scares Izzo.
“God, you’re scaring me. I’m feeling like everybody’s thinking we’re better than we are. And I say that respectfully so. I don’t have as many, we didn’t shoot as well from the line (vs. PSU), but we’ve been shooting in the mid-70s most of the year. I keep thinking our three-point shooting is gonna go down but we’ve been pretty consistent. My main concern these last couple weeks has been the consistency with our good decisions at the end of some of those games, because I thought coaches and players did a poor job of that; the consistency of our defense half to half; even though we’re leading the nation, I did not think we were rebounding as well. And if you don’t defend and rebound as well, I just think that hurts you in the tournament. So we have put a lot of emphasis on that. We did put some emphasis last week when we had an extra day just on our offense, and put in a few sets and new plays, and another out of bounds play or two which is great at this time of year to be able to do.”
After giving us a litany of reasons to worry, the sly Izzo let a smile come back to his face as he admitted something that should send all of Spartan Nation’s expectations through the roof.
“So do I feel more comfortable than I have in other years? I would have to say yes because we are doing well defensively. We are doing well rebounding the ball. We are doing well shooting the ball. We are passing the ball. We are shooting better from the free-throw line, which is the special teams part of my stuff. I do feel better about that. I don’t feel we are as consistent as the stats show, so maybe that’s the paranoia of me more than what we’ve accomplished. I’ll still find some good things we’re not good enough at. I promise you that the next weeks. Trust me, there are more than a few. To win a conference championship in the Big Ten Tournament, there are people predicting five different teams that could win it. I might even go one beyond that because somebody always sneaks up. Then when you get into the NCAA Tournament, it’s going to be as crazy as everybody has talked about for over half a year. Which means, does Michigan State have a good chance to advance? Probably, but do 20 other teams have a good chance to advance? Probably. That’s the way I’m looking at this whole thing. That’s why Wednesday’s game is big because, you know what, if we’re a one or two seed, then we got a 15 or 16, somebody is going to be saying something with that. Was it just a couple years ago when Duke was a two seed and they lost? (It was Lehigh, but TV lifting bro says how they lost to Mercer as a three … which was not the comment). Two, three, it gets my point. That’s one of the more storied programs. What I look at is Kansas went through it a few years earlier. That’s why these games are just as important. Wednesday’s game to me is just as important in this respect, how are we going to handle that kinda situation? Everything we’ve done over the last week and a half, I’ve said is to prepare us for the one-and-done time in either one of those tournaments. I will still stick with that. I still like that. I like the approach by my staff. I like my approach that my team has taken with that, either pressure or whatever you want to call.”
The MSU Rutgers game tips off at 7PM tonight and you can see it on BTN.