East Lansing, MI
When Tom Izzo’s Spartan go marching into their 19th straight NCAA tournament on Friday against Middle Tennessee, don’t expect them to just be thrilled to be in the dance. This team is favored by many to win the title. Every team has warts and certainly the Spartans do as well, but heading into the time of year that most excites Tom Izzo, he thinks they are on the rise.
“History was not made by getting to our 19th straight NCAA Tournament. History was made as I was walking to my office today, just two minutes ago, and my secretary showed me a paper of a headline that even the media makes mistakes. History was made this weekend. Glad we’re a 1 seed, and I hope it helps us through the tournament. It is an honor to be going to our 19th straight. I don’t know if you would ever — certain things you don’t dream about, and that probably would be one of them, the longest streak in the Big Ten, is something that has been earned by a lot of players and a lot of assistant coaches over the years, and I’m just proud to be a part of it.”
So does he think they are ready? “I think this team has prepared well for the tournament. The Big Ten now with all the number of new coaches we’ve had over the last couple years and the change, and we have so many different styles, and then the games we just played, we might have played one of the biggest teams that you can could play against in the NCAA, and you played a very athletic one in Ohio State, and then maybe as talented a one 1 through 5 as any in Maryland. We played against different styles. I think we’re as prepared as we can be.” So were the Spartans able to address some concerns this past weekend at the Big Ten Tournament? “Last week we were all talking about what happens if Bryn doesn’t shoot well, or I was bringing up to you that I don’t want to be a team that’s living by the three and dying by the three, and still our defense and rebounding has to be a staple, and I think it was a great example that he didn’t shoot well, we didn’t shoot necessarily really well, and we still found a way to beat quality teams. I think that’s the mark of a good team, whether it be by a pass or by a play or a blocked shot. We found a way to win some games with us not shooting as well.”
Forbes did struggle offensively this past weekend, but to his credit his defense has so improved that he was able to stay on the court because of it. “As far as Bryn goes, it really doesn’t worry me. I thought, well, we got some better shots, I thought the first shot of the game and the first shot of the second half there was nobody near him, and just the ball didn’t go in. But when you watch him shoot every day, it is the least of my worries. If we can play that well and not shoot well and win games of that magnitude, I like our chances to win more games because I think he will shoot better and so will we.” There is a silver lining when Forbes struggled. How can that be? They still won against some solid teams. “But we did show we could win games in different ways. What do we got to focus on now? It’s tightening up our offense the second half. We still got a little sloppy. I think we made a couple errant passes. I think we took a couple of bad shots, and I think we missed a couple of lay-ups. Those things are not going to be able to be tolerated if we’re going to move on in this tournament. We’re going to spend a lot of time this week on cleaning up our own actions. The execution of things was pretty good. I thought we ran better after a sluggish go in the first half of the — second half of the Maryland game. I thought we pushed it better.”
Another great sign heading into the Big Dance is that LouRawls “TUM TUM” Nairn is improving. Hindered all season with severe plantar fasciitis his minutes are growing and more importantly his production. Izzo said of his improving Bahamian that, “I thought Tum played better. That was encouraging. But this NCAA Tournament is arguably the greatest event in sports, and with that goes a lot of distractions, and everybody — I get more calls today about our seeds. The hell with the seeds around the country. It’s the games that matter, but that’s the fault of all the NCAA Tournament, and there’s just so much out there, there’s got to be programming for everything.”
So while Izzo is never satisfied, at 29-5 he has his team ready. They will be tipping off against #15 seed Middle Tennessee (24-9) on Friday in St. Louis, Missouri at 2:45. You can see that game on CBS.