East Lansing, MI
Soon after the #2 Michigan State Spartans decimated the Ohio State Buckeyes to end the season on Sunday 91-76, Tom Izzo stepped to the platform for his post-game press conference. His eyes were red from crying on that memorable senior day, his cheeks heavy from the smiles of being with a group of kids that has touched his heart. He was content. It was a rare moment to catch him in.
Tom Izzo is a lot of things, but I have never written that he was content before. Famous for looking for something to complain about with blowout wins, he offered a halfhearted pang for his team’s defense, but he couldn’t hide his joy. His words told it all.
“Our offense was phenomenal and we’re moving forward. But next week we’ll talk to you about what we have to do defensively to sure up a little bit. Right now, we’re just going to enjoy the moment and tell you that I’ve never been prouder of a group. And the group is players, managers, assistant coaches, all the auxiliary staff. My AD, my President. Everybody was here today to do something. And special day. It’ll go down as one I’ll remember as long as I’m alive.”
So with the calendar switching to this morning those warm fuzzy feelings are gone. It is officially tournament time and Tom Izzo is heading to Indianapolis with his band of green warriors. They will be hunted as the best team in the nation in my opinion, but unlike many great teams, they still have a hunters mentality.
The Big Ten tournament was not something Izzo embraced wholeheartedly for years, but thanks to an aggressive conference and his growth as a coach that is changing. The Big Ten tournament has gone from a distraction prior to the real dance, to something Izzo fondly likes and enjoys.
“I think they’ve done a helluva job marketing it. I thought our game with Ohio State, our game with Wisconsin, our game with Michigan, you look at some of these championship games we’ve played in have been – I remember sitting in the huddle in all three of those games before the games started and I just through the place was electric. I said, ‘Man, this is what it’s all about.’ They were excited and I sure as hell was. That’s one thing.”
But Izzo’s attitude has changed because with Big Ten expansion you never know what a team’s schedule really means. The Spartans blew out Indiana this year, but they only played them once. Indiana won the Big Ten regular season title right out, but with the benefit of an easy schedule. That simple fact has Tom Izzo lying in wait in Indy looking for his old protégé and the Hoosiers like a cheetah hunting on the Serengeti.
He said of the Big Ten’s new scheduling and how with a round robin format of old is gone, and the new scheduling has diminished the regular season title in lieu of the Big Ten Tournament.
“I think, too, the changing of the schedules and these not playing certain teams in that, makes you think, well, I don’t wanna say this, but it makes you question – I said it at the beginning of the year, so there’s nothing wrong saying it at the end of the year – are the best teams going to win it or are the best schedules going to win it? Where, when you into the Big Ten Tournament, you have to earn all three. Now, I think you still earn the regular-season (title), so I don’t wanna downplay that. But there are more breaks you can get then than I think you can have having to win the tournament, maybe that’s why.”
The Spartans will be facing either Penn State or Ohio State on Friday. In both cases they have blown out each team twice this season. The game will tip on BTN Friday night at 6:30 PM. The Spartans last won the Big Ten Tournament in 2014 versus arch rival Michigan.