St. Louis, MO

The 29-5 Michigan State Spartans are the #2 ranked team in the nation and #2 seed in the Midwest region of the NCAA tournament. They will tip of their quest for the national title here in St. Louis on Friday vs #15 seed Middle Tennessee. The 24-9 Blue Raiders aren’t here because they’re a bad team and can’t be overlooked.

One thing that the Blue Raiders have not seen is a team as deep as Michigan State. Like waves in the ocean they can come at you over and over. During the Big Ten tournament Izzo went with 12 guys in his playing group and as many as 11 in the rotation.

So was that more out of necessity with three games in three days or simply based on talent? Was he doing it just because of fatigue? Izzo said, “You know, it really didn’t. I pulled some guys really early. I let them know that certain things we’ve got to do, and I pulled Denzel early twice, and sometimes for 30 seconds just to tell him, you know, we can’t — we’ve got to do the things we need to do to win, and sometimes all of us make mistakes, including me.”

Izzo discussed the process of playing that many people, “That’s how it started out. With the bigs we thought we’d have a rotation of — I don’t know if anybody in here has wrestled. My cousin was a college wrestler, and Mariucci’s dad was a wrestling coach, so we used to wrestle some in the summers and work out with people wrestling, and you’ve never seen a sport where you can get some tired in three minutes. Well, my big guys were wrestling with monsters in there, and so it wasn’t going up and down, just the grappling and wrestling and moving, I think it fatigued you more than sometimes the physical running.”

So how did it come about coach? “That game plan was there. We did get in a little bit of foul trouble in the perimeter might have aided some of that, but we also started feeling some confidence Tum was feeling better, Alvin was playing better, Eron got in a little foul trouble, and we were worried when he got the one foul right off the bat in the Maryland game. We were worried that we can’t lose him because we needed him for Trimble, so we looked at things that way.”

Imagine this Spartan Nation. This is Izzo’s 19th straight NCAA tournament and he is going for his second national title and the third in program history. He is also in hot pursuit of his eighth Final Four appearance. Those are just some of the reasons he is a slam dunk to be named to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Houston at the Final Four in just over two weeks.

So has he changed his process or tweaked the way his team prepares for this year’s tournament? “I think I made the biggest tweaks this year in my mind, and it was forced on us because of the fact that two, three weeks left we were almost out of the race, as strange as that is. I did go to this one-and-done approach in trying to make guys understand it. I heard somebody talking about it on TV last night, and they said, a coach said, you know, you’ve got to make players understand that in one-and-done time, it’s different than the regular season, and I just laughed in my own office, to say, yeah. And we have to coach that way, too, though, and that sometimes doesn’t go over big. We have to make sure that that means a guy that’s always on people has got to almost double and triple it. That’s hard, and it’s hard for a coach because you have to balance it. You don’t want to get him going too early.” He added, “Well, with this team, I just felt like I can get on my best player. I can do it every day if I wanted to. I can do it every day if I needed to. When you have that, that makes it so much easier for the rest of the guys, and so I mean, I started texting and talking and bringing ‘Zel in three weeks ago and talking about this. We’ve got to prepare a little different if these are your goals and this is what you want to accomplish because the parity this year is so close. I said, there’s going to be 8 seeds, 9 seeds, 10 seeds that are going to be really good, and the difference in those and the 1, 2 and threes is going to be so minimal that little things are going to matter. So I think that’s where I’ve probably changed the most. That doesn’t mean it’s going to work or not going to work, but I do think we’ve got to always adjust a little bit and tweak things.”

Winning is the only thing that matters and if Izzo is ready that is all that counts. The Spartans tilt with Middle Tennessee tips of at 2:45 in a game that can be seen on CBS.