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Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference

Jan. 16, 2018

East Lansing, Mich. -

Michigan State men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo met with the media on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the team’s games last week and to preview the upcoming game against Indiana.

The Spartans, 16-3 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten Conference, are ranked No. 9 in the country in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls.

MSU is back in action on Friday, Jan. 19, hosting Indiana at the Breslin Center. The game will air on FS1 at 7 p.m., with Gus Johnson calling the play-by-play and Bill Raftery serving as the color analyst.

A full transcription of the press conference can be found below.

Opening statement…
Well I spent a lot of time looking at a lot of film and trying to figure out, you know, maybe, what we’re doing a little different. And, one interesting thing we came up with, and in three games that we lost, four guys had career nights.

Duke, you know, it’s been interesting watching Grayson Allen get 0-for-5 and 2-for-9, I think last night. So I think one thing we got to figure out is, you know, this team is…. People are going to play their best games against us. And whether we’re ready for that or not, too young for it, it seems to be a little bit of a problem.

I’ve tried to talk to them about that, but it was a tough stretch, long season, still got a long ways to go. I don’t think anybody’s lost any belief in themselves. Our goals are still in front of us, still the same. With this week, it gives us a better chance to maybe look at those films, spend some time, spend a little more time on us. That’s what we’ve tried to do Sunday and Monday.



As far as Indiana goes, they’ve won three in a row, they’re playing good ball. They’ve got a great, great forward in Juwan Morgan, who’s averaging 16 and 7 or 8. Maybe more importantly they’ve got two or three senior guards, one fifth-year, that are all playing pretty well right now. It’s probably more about us than it is about them, got to take care of our own issues. Got to get the ball to Nick (Ward) more. Got to get the ball out of double teams a little better. Although when I go back and look at the film, it hasn’t happened as much as you’d think. He’s not doing a good job of getting deep, we’re not doing a good job of passing it in and the coaches aren’t doing a very good job of figuring out how to get it in. That’s what we’ve been working on and what we are going to work on.

As you can see, the league is crazy. Some of the games are, they’ve just been, teams around the whole country are that way. I’ll be honest with you, I thought we’d probably drop into maybe 20th, with the two losses. When I looked at it and why we didn’t, it’s because everybody’s got the same issues we got, which is what I said before. Right now I’m not sure anybody is able to handle any success. Teams are losing two in a row, teams are losing this and that. I talked to some guys that don’t have very good teams that have taken good teams right to the wire, I just don’t think there’s as much separation and sometimes you got to get lucky too, and some teams have done that. Questions?

On the problem of Nick Ward getting double teamed…
Well it shouldn’t bother us as much. One of the biggest two problems start right before he gets double teamed. He’s not posting very deep so he’s getting pushed out, he’s getting the ball out 16 feet from the basket. We’ve been complaining that our guards aren’t getting him the ball, but it’s hard to make a pass when you’re at the 3-point line to a guy that’s almost standing next to you when there’s two people guarding you.

So, we don’t think our break has been very good and we were getting the ball in there some, he was getting some buckets there and so was (Joshua) Langford. So we just think we got to space it out a little bit more, run a lot harder and we can get our break going which means our guards got to push it a little bit better than they’ve been pushing it. So when it does go into him, we’re working on a couple of schemes that we think will help eliminate their ability to double, whether we do some things on the weak side that we’re talking about, but Nick’s really… It’s not all his fault on getting doubled but it has been a problem on where he’s posting and that’s what we’ve gotten out of yesterday and today.

On if screening is affecting the offense…
Grabbing him, holding him, yeah. You know, I don’t think we are screening as good and I don’t think our setup has been as good. But the biggest thing that has not been as good, and we’re still scoring a decent amount of points, is our break. And again, if we’re going to turn it over, take the Michigan game. We shot 50 percent the whole game, 56 in the first half. So I don’t know how bad the screening was, how good the screening was, but I think it’s easy to pick everything apart that you can pick apart.

We can’t turn the ball over. We’ve got to get our running game, that’s who we are. And we’ve got to do a little bit of a better job at getting to the offensive glass. Nick does get frustrated. He’s handled it a lot better, he’s been more stagnant. I think we’ve been doing way too much dribbling and not enough passing and the ball has been kind of standing still and that’s something that’s going to change one way or another.

On if ball screening has anything to do with the turnovers…
You know, I mean, I don’t think that’s had to do with our turnovers. I think our turnovers are because guys aren’t moving, the ball’s not moving. It’s dribble, dribble, dribble, and then pick it up and look to pass. That’s… You can’t screen that. I don’t know. I’ve looked at so many things but I don’t think that’s one of them.

On how to get the offense settled closer to the top of the key…
Run. Balls got to be pushed, wings got to run deeper. Nick was getting so many over the tops and easy things in there, we just got to run better. They haven’t necessarily taken that away, we’ve taken that away. I think we’ve done a poor job of running and I think we’ve done a poor job of pushing the ball. And so, those are two areas that, it’s harder to double team a guy if we can get the ball to the wing and get it in there before they get down there, and that’s what we were doing so well.

I watched, yesterday I watched all three losses. I watched the Duke game again today, what did we do different in that game and what did we do different? The most amazing stat of all, so I think we can’t get over carried away with some, but I showed somebody that Ohio State game. But the most amazing stat of all was in 2:10, I think there were 18, 17 points they scored. You know, there was a 3-point play, there was a foul on a 3-point play where they fouled underneath the basket and they got it out and another 3-point play was my technical, there was a couple of horrendous calls. From 1:15 of the first half to 19:07 of the second, I think it was 18 points they scored. So those things are kind of just freaks of nature too, that happens our ways.

You know, whenever things don’t go right you pick apart a million things. We’re still shooting the ball better than most teams. If you look at Michigan for example, in that game, what did we want to take away? The 3-point shot. Get to the free-throw line. Out-rebound them. We did all those things. We didn’t take care of the ball. I don’t think there’s… It’s still my favorite time of year because when the NFL playoffs are on, that’s all those guys talk about and there are some ridiculous turnovers. There’s going to be guys now, you know, that we’ve gotten a year and a half in, some of them better change some of that stuff or we’re going to make some changes.

On the importance of the leadership during a time like this and if Tum not being as involved has an effect…
Well he’s got to be more involved. That’s one thing. We’ve got to get him… We never, ever intended to play Cassius (Winston) 31, 33 minutes. You know, and that’s… I just don’t think he’s built for that right now. That was, like I said, that’s my fault. But Miles (Bridges) has to step up a little bit in that area too.

The chemistry is not changed any. We lost a couple games. I mean, it’s really, it looks like such a bad loss at Ohio State. I just told you, it was two minutes of a bad loss. Now, that doesn’t look the same to you, but that’s the way I look at it. The game the other night with 18 turnovers, I don’t know how we were in the game for that many points, 28 points or something off turnovers. I mean, some of those things are fixable. Same shots didn’t go in for the same guys last night as went in the other night. We’re going to have to learn. We’re going to get people’s best shot and we’re a little young to learn that. You know, concerning a bunch of juniors and seniors, they’re coming in this week that have been through the wars. And so, we’ve just got to grow up quicker and you know, I think we’ll do that, I really do.

On if Ben Carter is at a place now to impact the team…
No. Ben is a nice player. He came back and he sprained that ankle and it was worse than we thought and it kept him out for two weeks, and he’s been out for two years. It’s not about replacing guys, guys don’t go that route.

If you ask me, can Ben help us some? There’s part of me that on one of the issues we’ve had is everybody’s going small, so that is not the direction we’re looking right now. I think he can help us. We’re putting him on the scout team because it’s helped X (Xavier Tillman) so much and Ben, but he couldn’t even do that until this week because of the ankle.

He’s in poor shape. It’s not his fault. He’s had all those, but we’re searching. You know, I’m not going to…. Let’s open it up, our football team was in here, played basketball yesterday on their off day. I wasn’t down there like this, can I get somebody to play on my team? We’re kind of going a little crazy here for a two-game stretch and I’m not going there. I got to get better play out of the guys that I know can play better, to be honest.

To be honest with you. I don’t need to replace anybody as far as looking for guys that haven’t played for two years. I’m hoping Ben can give us six, eight minutes a game, and I really was, but you know, right now we’re struggling to get minutes, you know. We’ve still got to keep Nick (Ward) in the game. We’ve just got to do a better job of getting him the ball.

On freedom of movement not getting called…
I’ve not been very pleased with it. I mean, I don’t think it was as bad as another game I’ve had but it wasn’t, there was a concerted effort. You know, I heard a great line today that they said on the NFL, they said the goal with Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) should be to hold him and foul him until they call it, because you ain’t going to stop him otherwise. It is funny, the freedom of movement thing. It’s almost a joke, and you know, and that’s where maybe when you’re a little bigger, you can get banged a little bit more, athletes that can run and move, but I have not been thrilled with that part of the game.

On the adversity helping…
Yeah, I think adversity can help you a lot. I think kids look at film a little different. If I had to say one thing, and this is, I told my team this, so I’ll tell you this. I don’t think we got cocky. I don’t think we have those kind of guys. I don’t. Do I think that maybe I overestimated good people from complacency? Maybe a little bit, you know? And then, do I think that – I looked at my team as good team, but I looked at 10, 12 other good teams. I knew the youth would be a factor, and if you went back and looked at your stuff I think I brought that up at the beginning of the year.

But I think teams have, you know, really geared up for us, too, and Duke goes through it, some others. Sometimes I don’t put us in that category. We were playing so good, and you know, it was Fourth of July and Christmas at Ohio State and that has no bearing on the Michigan game, because that should be Fourth of July and Christmas if one team won one or one team won 21, it doesn’t matter, but you know, got rocked a little bit there and there’s so many ups and downs, you know.

If you watched the Maryland game last night, that could’ve gone the other way, and (that’s) a team we just beat here by 30. We have to understand who we are and what kind of bullseye we got on our back, because I think the bullseye is a little bigger this year. The social media is a little more important than it was seven, eight years ago, and all those things that I think complacency without egos is maybe a better way I’d say it. With our team, I just don’t think we’re playing with the same sense of urgency, and I don’t think it’s anything that we think we’re better than we are. I think it’s something that just comes with having a lot of success and then not realizing the opponent is going to play at a different level, too.

On youth being a factor…
Oh no, youth is definitely in that. I talk to all the guys with youth, just youth is definitely a factor in that, especially, you know, when there’s a lot of youth in there. I mean, again, I said this in the beginning of the year. Don’t compare us to Kentucky and Duke as far as the youth, and you know, and it’s kind of funny because if you watch Duke now, I mean Grayson Allen hasn’t scored as many points in five games as he scored in our game, but he’s still a senior that’s been through the wars and you watch him out there and he does rally his people. I mean, one game he was 0-for-5 but he had 11 rebounds, and I definitely, our youth is not, I told you I thought they were prepared to play.

I said this two weeks ago, I think they’re prepared to play the game. I don’t know if they’re prepared to handle the bullseye and all the off the court things that go with that kind of ranking, so that’s part of the growth problem. It’s part of growing up.

On if he’s evolved in how to handle a young, talented team…
Yeah, I think I’ve evolved and learned how to. I don’t think I like it. I don’t think I like to do that, but when I went in the hall of fame, it didn’t say up there, you know, are you more patient? Are you more, you’re in the hall of fame because you’re softer, you know. Those things, it’s very hard to tell players, media, parents, my wife, you know, it’s very hard to tell people that times change. But to be successful at the level you want to be successful, whether in your job or my job, things don’t change a lot.

It was so great because I talked to Draymond (Green) last night, and you know, I mean that team has still carried the same mentality through these last few years and arguably, he’s a big part of it. But when I got done talking to him, there was a show that came on that was on Kevin Garnett, and it was ‘Championship Moments with Kevin Garnett,’ I think was the name of it. Kevin McHale did the interview, and it was half hour deal and it was, you know, he said when he went to Minnesota with his good friend Flip Saunders for the second time, everything was great. When Flip died, things changed. Things changed in the front office, and he said he really enjoyed working with the younger guys until things started changing even more and he started realizing, and he must’ve used the work AAU in a negative way about six times, and he said entitlement.

Well, entitlement is part, you know, Jaren (Jackson Jr.) was on my radio show last night and he says, ‘Well Coach always says that our generation is more entitled and we want things faster.’ And I looked at him, and he said ‘He’s probably right, you know, and maybe we don’t know how to understand the process.’

Well, I think everybody thinks these things are just going to happen, and they don’t just happen, so am I panicked over it? No, I’m not. I mean, I’m watching this and I watch a million games and I watch a million teams, you know? How could a senior-laden team like West Virginia, how could that happen last night? I mean, it’s almost impossible to happen, and it’s, I think it’s dealing with the pressure that everybody’s got to deal with, and how you handle those things. I thought we were handling it pretty well. As I look at it, I don’t think we handled it very well, but you never get to see how the other team, you know, how are they feeling about coming in and playing you? And when you go on the road, it’s really, you know, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot and with a younger team that’s harder to deal with. So we’re going to make progress on it and we’re going to get better at it, but we do need to be held accountable, coaches and players. Because what happens is when everybody’s kissing their butt, and as time goes on and you try to adjust to the times a little bit, and realize you can’t be as demanding on my own kids or on them, and then when I get slapped in the face I say, yes you can if you’re trying to accomplish the ultimate.

I mean, how many good teams were there in the NBA 10 years ago? 15? I mean, a lot of great teams in the NBA. How many are there now? Four, five? That’s a good answer. Somebody else said four, goes to prove you guys are smarter than I give you credit for, but there is. There’s four or five, and some of the reasons is everybody’s so young, and everybody’s so this and that, and everybody’s so screwed up, they can’t handle the adversity of things that are going on. That’s what we’ve got to handle now, and so that falls on me and I’m excited to take that challenge, to be honest with you.

On Kyle Ahrens
Yeah, he won’t be back. He will not be back. He is walking, but he’s another month away from being able to practice, and they’re not going to take any chances since it’s kind of similar to what happened, so no Kyle. Hopefully a little bit of Ben (Carter) because I love Ben, but it’s probably not going to be, probably not going to start him tomorrow, or Friday.

You know, it’s about the guys that have done it getting a little better and it’s about getting a little more out of a couple guys. Gavin (Schilling) gave us a little more in the last game. It’ll be about sometimes playing a little different. Maybe we’ll move our lineup around. Maybe we’ll be a little smaller at times. Maybe we’ll do some things there. There’s going to be some adjustments made. We just can’t keep letting people drive us to death and not run our break, because those two things are staples, but as we say that, one team shot anything that we would call really good against us in the last 20 games, I think and that’s Ohio State shot 52 percent. I think Michigan shot 41 with that dunk at the end. They were under 40 the whole day I think. Rutgers was in the 20’s. And our defense has been okay. It’s turnovers and maybe our lack of running that I’m most concerned about.

On getting more out of Cassius Winston
Well if I could insult you to insult me on one thing, I would say not an Izzo-traditional point guard, winning point guards. Point guards that do what they have to do to win games in any place. To win at an elite level, you know, Garnett said it so well. He said, ‘so many guys are willing to do what it takes to win games, there are not many guys out there willing to do what it takes to win big games.’

And you know, I think Cassius had been playing pretty well. I don’t think the last couple games he played as well and I think he knows why. And he’s gotta work on just being a little more aggressive especially on the offensive end – pushing the ball, being more, looking for his own offense because he’s capable of doing that and he’s done a great job of that. But understand this too, everybody’s going to put different things on you too now. You get into conference season and they look at you a little differently. But Maryland looked at us differently and, you know, we were able to do that and maybe Ohio State looked at us differently, we weren’t able to do that, but it’s part of the ups and downs that we’re still in the growing process.

On a potential smaller lineup…
You know I don’t know what totally what it might look like, but it could mean Kenny (Goins) in there some more, it could mean moving Jaren around a little bit. You know, I mean I don’t think I brought it up several times, if I did, it wasn’t in the back of my mind.

I don’t, I don’t plan on changing a lot of things except a little better job of what we do when they double the post. And really, when Nick kicked it out a couple of times against both teams and we missed wide-open shots, especially against Ohio State, you know, I don’t think I’d change much on that. I think the biggest thing is we’ve got to get Nick to post deeper. We’ve got to do a little better job of getting him the ball.

On Cassius being despondent after the loss…
I love when guys are despondent, I really do. I think everybody has to…you know I was despondent too. And I think when you’re despondent – that’s not a good word for me – when you’re down in the dumps, you know, or you’re bummed out, sometimes that happens when you kind of finally figure out that I’m not doing what I need to be doing. Sometimes it hurts.

All those things are positive, especially for young guys. Learn how to make something hurt. Learn how to care about something enough where it bothers ya. I’d much rather a despondent person than one that just goes on with another day at work. You know, I like when guys are upset. You know me, I like when guys are mad in my huddle. I like when guys… you know, Cassius doesn’t show a lot of emotion. If he showed you despondency – if that’s a word – I say that’s exciting for me because that means it really, really bothered him, it mattered.

So, you know, getting down on yourself, despondent people to me, you know, see it, figure it out, get mad about it, cry about it, whatever your emotions are, but most importantly do something about it. To me that would be a positive despondent action. That’s a tough word for me to use a lot.

On if Jaren Jackson Jr. potentially gets moved to the 5 spot and how that would impact him…
Well it wouldn’t be a major change. I’m not going to start Jaren at the five. I’m not moving Nick anywhere. This is what’s hard about even bringing things up, you guys are already gone to the place that… I don’t know, you guys must be hell of coaches.

What I’m saying is during a game, moving some people around, us going smaller sometimes is maybe one area if we’re… But that has nothing to do with us not running all of a sudden, you know? To be honest with you, I’m going to take a lot of blame for a lot of things, that’s not going to be one of them because that’s been one of our staples here, that’s what we do. I did not think we were doing it as well. A little bit at the beginning of the Ohio State game we did and then we didn’t do it as well.

So I’m just saying, getting even more athletic and hell, we might go bigger in some positions to be honest with you. We’re going to look at… We’re going to put some pressure on everybody. You guys put it on me, fans put it on me. I put it on them. Because pressure is a good thing. You’ve asked me a lot of times, would you rather not be ranked high or ranked high, I’d always rather be ranked high. I’m not saying we always handle it well or I always handle it well, but if you ask me what I’d rather do, it’d be that.

Because pressure, if you’re in this job, is a good thing. It means that you’re where you need to be and it’s not easy to stay there. It’s not easy to hang around there. It’s not easy to be in that neighborhood, but I like that neighborhood.

So Jaren, to be honest with you, has made as big of improvements of everybody because Jaren was hanging around the 3-point line forever. Now he’s posting up, taking balls to the basket. He’s making moves, he’s getting to the free-throw line 13 times. I was pleased with the play of some different guys in the last three games, but none more than Jaren. I think he’s made as much progress as anybody and he’s smart enough that if I put him at the three or the four or the five, it’s not that big of a deal that it’s going to make any difference to him but there will be no wholesale changes.

Knowing your editors, no insult intended except the one I’m speaking about, the headlines will be, ‘Izzo Playing Jackson at the Point,’ you know, we’re changing everything. There won’t be none of that. We’re not changing anything but we are going to hold people a little more accountable to what they need to do at the position they play.

On what they are and aren’t doing when it comes to offensive rebounding…
To be honest with you, we had a big meeting about this this morning. We’re not playing our war game very much, you know, because society acts like that’s barbaric and brutal. You think you worry about injuries… I asked Mike Garland, in the 10 years that we started that thing, how many injuries we ever have in that other than a couple stitches above your eye or, you know? When Al Anagonye was here, I mean, he was a demolition derby, it was an injury waiting to hit somebody, but how many injuries? None. Zero.

I think that, you know, when you asked the thing about despondence, it’s also about reassessing and I think Cassius was reassessing things, that’s why he was bummed out. I think, I mean I reassess things all the time. I do, whether you believe this or not, I blame myself for a lot of things. I look in that mirror and not only don’t I like what I see sometimes, but I want to change what I see and I think that’s one area.

Now in saying that, we’re leading the country in defense, we’re one of the top in offense, we’re very high up in rebounding. I mean, we’re turning the ball over too much and that still leads to a lot of things and that’s why I love these football playoffs. I loved… I wanted Pittsburgh to win, Le’Veon Bell… I just, I just love their coach. I wanted Pittsburgh to win, personally. But when those two, the pick and the fumble and they returned it, it was just… Then I could come back and tell my team, see two turnovers matter. You’re all shaking your head because it’s easier to see in football. It’s more accepted in basketball and probably most accepted, since you’re here man I’ve got a hockey guy, it’s most accepted in hockey. But good teams don’t just turn it over, even in hockey. So that’s probably as big a problem as any for us.

On if he could use anything from other sports like football to help the team…
I always watch those sports. I never feel bad about it. I never sit there and say I should be spending more time on basketball than watching because I do learn. I do learn. I never watch a game for any other reason but to learn what I can help my team. I watched, at 1 o’clock last night, about Kevin Garnett.

I don’t coach Kevin Garnett, he ain’t playing no more. I’m just learning and I do that. I learn from you guys. I learned something from you last night. Got a chance to watch you for five minutes and I learned something and I swear to God to that. I mean, God strike me dead. I do do that. I do that when I talk to you, when I’m mad at you, I do it when I’m happy with you. That’s part of the deal. When I think that I’m two, three times the age of my players, and I’m still learning and I wonder why they’re struggling at 20 sometimes, it’s easy to figure out guys. It’s not that difficult. It’s doing something about it that’s difficult and trying to wrap your arms around it. Push hard enough that you get through to them and hug them hard enough that they understand that you’re trying to help them. That is really what it’s all about.

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