Coach Izzo Press Conference
 
 
 
 
March 14, 2017

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, March 14 to preview Friday's NCAA Tournament First Round game vs. No. 8 seed Miami.

Below is a full transcript of the press conference:

Opening Statement...
Well we got a chance to start practice again yesterday, which was good. I think our guys were excited. I think it did them some good to get a couple days off, haven't had that in a long, long time. We really didn't play for almost two and a half days, there was no practice, they just got to relax and get their bodies right which I think was good. This is a new experience for a lot of people on our team. It's not just our freshmen. When you look at Tum (Lourawls `Tum Tum' Nairn Jr.) and Alvin (Ellis III) have played more than 15 career minutes in the NCAA Tournament. (Matt) McQuaid played like 14 last year. No one else has had any minutes and so it's going to be kind of a new experience for everybody. As far as Miami goes, it's not the tallest team up front, even though they're 6'10" the two guys up front. What their advantage is, they have 6'6"-6'7" wing guys that are long too so they're long, athletic and aggressive. It's the first thing they talk about is how hard they play. They've had wins over North Carolina and Duke. They've had a win at Virginia. They had a suspension so they had a guy miss three games. Ja'Quan (Newton) so that was one of their better, actually their point guard. They've got an eight man rotation and it does include three freshmen. Both their leading scorer and rebounder are seniors. (Davon) Reed is a hell of a player, can do almost everything. He can put it on the floor, he's good offensively, he's good defensively, and he's a good rebounder. At 6'7"-6'6" he can do a lot of things. (Kamari) Murphy at only 6'8" is very athletic. He's long and is their best rebounder. They don't average a ton of points, it's not like a team where their guards are averaging 20-some points a game. What they have are a lot of guys averaging between 10 and 14-15 points a game. Freshman (Bruce) Brown is turning into a hell of a player for them. He is averaging 12 a game and he's on a lot of lists. Murphy is a redshirt senior since he transferred; he was third leading vote-getter for ACC defensive player of the year. What they have is a very tough team, a very physical team, and a very athletic team. They can shoot the ball, they control tempo. They controlled it against some of the best teams in the country. We've got more than our work cut out, but I'm also excited because it's a chance to play a good team. We are going to have to play at our best and that's what we are telling our players. I think for us to be successful we have to keep them out of the paint, they penetrate very well. I think we also have to shoot the ball like we have most of the year, not like we did in the last game. Our rebounding is going to be paramount. We are going to have to rebound, especially our wings. This is where you kind of miss an Eron Harris who could do some things stopping penetration and cutting people out, but we have enough to make up for it and are looking forward to it.
 
On where this team is at and how far it has come and if this was one of the most challenging but best years...
I really think it was. It's definitely our most challenging year just because different things happened throughout too. It wasn't just the start of it in losing the two bigs. It wasn't just the freshmen and it wasn't losing Miles (Bridges) and it wasn't just losing Eron, it was just a combination of the whole thing and kind of each month took on something new. So, that was challenging and I guess frustrating at times. I mean this when I say it, it's been enjoyable, for as painful as some of its been, to work with incredible guys. To work with a player like Miles to say the least one of the better players I've had that can take coaching, that wants to get better, wants to work on his game, wants to be a blue collar guy, wants to be a great teammate. Those things are a joy and a treat so I'm going to embrace those parts of it. All those freshmen have been good kids. Our seniors embraced the freshmen, that doesn't happen. I've talked to a few programs now that are struggling with that. So there's been a lot of good. The other good is I've had to change the way I coach, I've had to change what I do. I have to look at ball screens, look at this different. Try to make some adjustments to some negatives that we have and try to take some positive that we have, getting the ball into Nick Ward more. It's been an evolution of things throughout the year that's been ever-changing and here we are still. I just got done with my practice plan. We are still working on some fundamental things. We are still tweaking some things that you just don't do this time of year but it's been good, it's been good. Like I said I think I became at peace with it at the Nebraska game down there, just understanding everything. By the way, as I'm sitting here in the background I see those guys in their 24 hours of whatever and it's about time the media guys work like coaches so pass that on to Jay Bilas. Same with you guys (media), they're working like coaches now. I've really enjoyed the chance to appreciate what we've had here because I don't take the time to appreciate it. Do I like it? Nope, but I want to go through it. Hopefully I'm done in my career going through it. Once every seven, eight, 10 years would be fine but don't want this to be a regular stop, but I have appreciated the players, how they've hung in there. I've appreciated what they've done. Probably even you guys and the fans, I think for the most part you do understand the way it's been. It's just been different than any year I ever dreamed about here. The two other years when we were on bubbles were for different reasons than this year. This year it's been an enjoyable bubble if there is any such thing, an enjoyable bubble. I've kind of had a very good appreciation for it and now I'm hoping that we can take it and go somewhere. I do think and I don't want to convince you and I don't have to convince me, we are good enough to lose any game we play right now, but we are good enough to win them and we are just going to have to play at that level. Our defense has to shore up a little bit, our rebounding, we are going to have to make shots but if we continue not to turn the ball over, if we continue to shoot better at the line. When you watch all these other teams, meaning I'm watching Miami against Duke, Miami against North Carolina, Miami against Virginia, Miami against Virginia Tech, Miami against Georgia Tech, Florida State, Clemson, all the teams that you've heard so much about you start saying, `Hey wait a minute, they don't cover that ball screen so well either. Their junior isn't closing out on that guy or that senior didn't cut that guy out.' It almost gave me even more of an appreciation. We are all going through the same things, it's to try to get consistency within your program, which I think 20 years would give us some consistency in the program but then each team needs consistency. That, I don't think we've had as good this year and we are still working for it. 
 
On liking or disliking the matchup more or less since his initial reaction on Sunday...
Well they do some things that I think will create some problems for us. The length at the guards and wings position I think creates a little bit of an issue for us. I like the fact that they don't have a true post player to go in to like Minnesota did. It's not like they have a pick and pop five like some teams have so there's some advantages there. We've always prided ourselves on being one of the tougher teams and that. We aren't quite that this year and this team is that. The way they control tempo is going to be interesting to see if we can still run against them because they've done a pretty good job, they held Duke to 50 points. It's not like their defensive field goal percentage is that good. Somebody said they play like a very athletic and longer Wisconsin team, which means they can control what they want to control. Jim  is a very good coach, he's done it at different levels, so they're playing that style with even better players so that'll be the challenge. 
 
It was frustrating for over half the year because he really wanted to play this year. So that was frustrating when it became apparent that it wouldn't be in his best interest or ours. I think he turned it 180 degrees. His dad flew in from Germany. It was really fun. We had a meeting and we talked about his goals and his dreams. Just yesterday he was jumping and shooting for the first couple of times where he's really jumping. The knee is coming along. Ben Carter has been a God send for him. Our trainer and our strength coach have just spent hours with them. I'm glad you asked me because I said it in a meeting last night -- we had a meeting last night at 7:30 just to go over some film from the practice and from them -- every practice this year, there has not been one practice where Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter have not made. There hasn't been one practice since Eron (Harris) got hurt that he hasn't been there doing his rehab. I don't know, maybe guys always did that or maybe there were times they were down in the training room, but I've never seen a group that stuck with a group through every meeting. They don't say, `I've got class. I've got this. I'm not playing anyway.' Gavin Schilling, I think, has become an even better leader going through this. So your question is kind of good timing because I think I'm as proud as I have been of anybody who's been injured and sat out a year. What I watch him do physically in the weight room and now what he's doing on the floor and what I've seen in the meetings, this kid has grown in leaps and bounds. I said this last year, I thought that he might be the starter over Matt (Costello) even, but he got injured then and it set him back. Then this year, everyone knows he would have been and then the injury. The way that he's handled it is a lot better than I would have handled it. He's worked his butt off. I think it's really helped having Ben with him, who's gone through that injury. Then, he has a partner to go through everything with. Those two guys have been just, and Tum said it at the banquet, they've been an inspiration to all of us and now they're dragging Eron in with them. But Gavin himself, I think, is going to be an even better player next year even with the injury. I think he's going to be a better person and a better leader. If there's any truth that some things happen for a reason, I think he might be a walking example of that.
 
On Nick Ward being doubled in the post...
Yeah, we have worked on that some, but Miami hasn't shown that much. It's not like he's getting 25 points a game, but you are right. In our league he gets doubled more often than not. We've worked on some things with him and Miles that we've changed some things where we feed the post. Sometimes we're getting doubled from the guy that fed the thing. The big thing is what you just said, getting Nick better at shuffle dribbling and kicking it out when he has to. He holds on to the ball too long, and again it's a new experience for him. We're working on it and I think he's doing a better job of it. He's starting to realize that if he kicks it out he can get it back in. He can handle a double team better, or, what we call digging where the team acts like they're doubling, but doesn't. He's doing a better job with that. It's easy to talk about, but unless you actually do it in a game, it's hard to put it in the works. Especially with our scout team not being real big we have some issues there. Except for him, nobody's really big, but we have tried doubling him the right way. I think the biggest thing is him getting it out and then reposting it.
 
On having less pressure in the tournament than last year...
I agree. With last year's team, I don't think we lost that game because of the pressure. I hope and think that when you come here, after 20 years, that you almost embrace the pressure. You talk about in the summer. You talk about it with the former players. You embrace the pressure. It's a privilege to have that pressure. I do think that these guys feel the pressure. Maybe the feel that they haven't lived up to Michigan State standards and they feel some pressure. I don't think it's the daunting pressure weighing on your shoulders. I think it's the good pressure that will hopefully help them focus in more. If there's any problem that a freshman has, it's focusing in on the task at hand. A little pressure doesn't hurt. It won't be what last year's was and that would probably be too much for this team. I feel like they have something to prove and something to live up to. I would be crazy to not want that pressure on me or them, but I have to make sure that they handle it the right way and use it the right way. I think we've talked about it enough. This period, from the Nebraska game on, has been another good thing that's happened to me this year. It's had me do things differently, not only on the court, but off the court. Whether it be talking to kids or parents, or changing a few things, or doing things a little differently in the pregame meal or locker room that I wouldn't normally do, or put those pressures on them or take them off. I've just learned a ton and I think it's helped them and I think it's helped me. I think we're going into this thing realizing, yes we're not overpowering anybody, but we've beaten some really good teams this year. We've played with some very good teams this year. We've watched other teams beat some good teams. It's about a one-game matchup where you have to be better for one game and then find a way to be better in the next game. That's what this brings and I think they're ready for that, I really do.
 
On Nick Ward's continued development ...
If Nick can understand and really believe that he didn't play as well -- that's not a knock on Nick -- we had a hundred guys that didn't play as well. But for him to see it is a new experience, and I thought that was a major plus. Nick has been great in practice, and we have talked to him and showed him a lot of film. And when he starts to look at film like we do, that's a good thing. He's been lucky, but he's been unlucky. The lucky part is does he have me over the barrel? Do I have enough guys to put in? He's been really, really god about that. I think he understands that I'm crazy enough to lose if we have a guy that's doing something wrong, which he hasn't. The unlucky part is because of our lack of size, he doesn't get to go against somebody to get better. As good as he's gotten under these circumstances is really a tribute to him and DJ (Dwayne Stephens), because he doesn't get to go against the same competition that 90% of guys have gotten to go against every year. Even our walk on, Dave, who's 6'8", but not really a polished player, but he had two things; he was 6'8" or 6'9", and he liked to hit Nick. So Nick was getting fouled all of the time, and that size and body was good, and he hurt his knee. It's remarkable where Nick has come. When the year is over, I'm going to sit there and say, `Wow.' I'm not going to say that to him now because he'll believe it. But I do believe that under the circumstances he has progressed as well and rapidly as many players I've had -- not many players have done a better job of that than he has.
 
On getting Cassius Winston prepared ...
We have to spend a lot of time on Cassius this week. I think he is still a critical component to everything. Just putting a little bit more emphasis on some things, and trying to figure out if he sees these same things, as smart as he is. But I think this week it will not only be critical that he plays well at the point, but so that I can still play those two smalls together a little bit again. Which I almost need to do with Eron being out. I sometimes feel like I'm wearing out Alvin a little bit. He's making it through it, but it was a big change. Plus I think we need his intelligence and ability to shoot the ball, and his ability to make plays. There are things he needs to continue to improve on, and that's what we'll be talking to him about. And I think he agrees and he sees it, so I'm expecting a lot out of him this week.
 
On changes made to pre-game preparation ...
It's funny, because having Brian Gregory here for a little bit, we were talking about those early years where we got into the tournament. And if you remember the famous -- someone did an article about it, but the 20-minute sessions before lunch. Then after we came back from the game. After breakfast, before breakfast -- trying to keep it to fifteen or twenty minutes. We still do that, we have done that over the years, but as we got more veteran teams that had the experience, we were able to not. These kids are worried about their time now, how else can you tweet if you don't have time to tweet? So we have to make sure that they have time. So we didn't do as many sessions where it seemed like they were coming down to the film room, watching some film, walking through, eat, walking through, coming back down 45 minutes to an hour later, just so the attention span could stay there. We're kind of going back to that. That's one of the things that we're doing now. Like last night, 25 of film, 10 minutes of walk through, 10 more minutes of film, then go home. We're trying to keep it that way because it is hard, and they have a lot on their minds. I think the things that I've done differently, is that I think I've been even more honest with my team. Telling them where they're at, what they need to do, what the pressures are. I talk about the pressures that they're under out there, and I talk about the pressures that I'm under out there. It's been something that I wouldn't want to do on a regular basis over my career because it's too much BS going on, but for this year's team, I think it's been really good. For me, it's been really good. Whether it's talking about the elephant, whether it's talking about the NCAA tournament, whether it's telling them right out, `Denzel (Valentine) didn't do this as a freshman, I'm chewing you out for something that he got away with.' But I didn't have to play those guys 25 to 30 minutes a game. So you've got a different rank, you have a different responsibility. You have to understand that, because it could happen to you again in life. So all of those kinds of things that we're trying to do to understand what they're going through, but we can't accept that. The program is bigger than the coach or the player. The program stands for this, and if they're playing in that program, then we need to raise that standard quicker. And that's been a fun challenge. Probably one that they've hated. I mean it's hard -- everyday, everyday, everyday. But boy, I think they're really going to benefit from it in the future.
 
On if he makes tempo a big priority heading into Friday's game...
We do. I don't know if I misspoke, but their tempo is semi-slowed down. They will run, but... it was like we always did at Wisconsin. I have always had teams that could play fast, could play slow, could play beat-em-up, could play racehorse. I don't have as much versatility with this team, but we do want to play fast and they have done a great job in the games I have seen of controlling tempo with some teams like North Carolina, who plays as fast as anybody and they held them down. They will still run some, but he does a great job of controlling tempo and we're going to have to do a pretty good job of imposing, where normally, I say, `Ok, you want to play slow, let's play slow. You want to play fast, let's play fast. You want to play knock-you-out, let's play knock-you-out. You want to play touchy-felly, I never like that, but if you want to do it, I'll do it.' I don't have those same luxuries right now. What I do like is we're running the ball better and better and better. Now, to do that, you have to be able to rebound the ball and this is a pretty good rebounding team, so that will be one of our challenges.
 
On if he loses a voice with Brian Gregory taking another job...
No, he is probably bolting. He came in at 9:15 today, so he's already got his head coaching mold on instead of being in at 7:30. I told him he forgot where he came from. I guess as this thing gets released, it all happened quickly. I'm really happy for him. There is a stigma, like in pro ball, you get fired and the next week you get another job. You go from the Bulls to the Cavaliers, it's just rotating. In the NFL you do that. In college, you get that way because so many guys get fired for the wrong reasons now. Either bad administrators or ADs move. There are just so many different moving parts that you can get fired for a lot of different reasons besides just winning and losing. I thought he got fired for some of the wrong reasons when I look at a guy who took a job at a program that was under three years probation there when he got the job. As Mike Krzyzewski  told me when he got fired, he did an unbelievable job in the ACC his last year. Won 21 or 22 games. So, I am proud of him, happy for him, excited for him -- I know our staff is. I think he'll do a heck of a job, I really do. So, I will probably lose the voice. I told him this morning that now he has a day job. This other job is over, so get the hell out of here and make me proud. So, he will be here today and then I think he will be bolting. It's all good though. It's all good. As a good coach would do at this time in your career, you thank him for the 14 losses he created for you, and he took definite credit for the 19 wins. And I let him know, there has only been one or two seasons that I've been through this and since he came back, this is one of the seasons. If you interview him later on, he will tell you he did a hell of a job to get us to 19 wins. I'll tell you he's full of stuff and we go from there.
 
On Jim Boeheim being critical of Syracuse not getting into the NCAA Tournament...
Jim is a friend of mine now and I think that maybe it was more of a shot at my AD since he was on the committee, because if you look at the schedules and that and look at everything... but I will say this, I said it yesterday and I'll just say it briefly on his behalf and everybody else's, I have heard on my committee that I have been on , that the RPIs matter none. And I don't think there is any question that the RPIs matter a lot. Every year it changes. I am not a fan of that if I was a 1-seed or a 9-seed or a 13-seed. I do think we need to get some consistency. I think in the last couple of years they have made it a big deal that your strength of schedule is going to play a part. That is not as easy that will go into my later round table event. That is not as easy as you think to do. Everybody who sits in the media or sits in the rocking chair thinks, like I get this all of the time in letters, `Why don't you bring some better teams?' If any one of you guys can get anyone that will play me home-and-home out of those top-20 teams, you set up the contract and I'll work the deal out. It's not as easy as you think. I don't know his situation, but I do think he is a very good coach. I don't think that was against me or our program. I really don't. If I did, I would tell you I did. I just think there is frustration and I don't feel bad about getting in. I think we have earned our right to get in, and maybe they did too. I haven't looked at everything as closely. But, I do know this, if RPI and strength of schedule matter, our RPI was decent and good enough and our strength of schedule off the charts and maybe theirs was too. It is tough right now to try to figure out which way to go. And the other thing that I will say that is really tough, and maybe this got taken into account either way, I don't know, but this fact that we have no control of who we play in our own conference, that is a very difficult thing to handle. We played at Purdue, we played at Michigan, we played at Ohio State and Indiana, we did not play at Wisconsin. Somebody else might not have played at any of those places and played at Wisconsin. That is going to make a big, big, big difference in your schedule. And that is why it's frustrating just looking at everybody. If I wasn't in, from that Wisconsin game on, I was living with it. I really was. I was ready either way. But, I can understand the frustrations that coaches have because the rules of the game and the rules of the tournament are constantly changing, and so many of them you have no control over. Some we do, but a lot of them we don't.
 
On what the next step in Miles Bridges' evolution that he needs to take in this tournament...
He is getting to the line a little bit more. He's doing a better job on a regular basis of not settling for as many threes. Eleven threes is a lot for anybody to take, and yet as I look back on the tape, I would say that nine of them were pretty good shots. Some of them I set him up, so I can't blame him for that. I just think the confidence in his ball-handling, because he can create. If you ever watch him create and pass, in practice, if he gets McQuaid a shot and he makes it, he's happier than I am. He enjoys that. It's just doing that on a regular basis. Now, being in attack mode more. I think the other part of his evolution is, when he gets it in the post, slow down. He is big, strong, aggressive. He can power-shuffle, dribble, do some things and create some things and he is good enough to kick it out. Maybe not the total comfort level he needs in that. Those are some of the things that he's got to get better at. You talk about pretty consistent, he has been pretty consistent for a freshman. I'd like to see him get to the offensive glass a little bit more. He's getting eight rebounds per game. There is no reason there shouldn't be more double-doubles. Some of that is him not going on a consistent basis. Boy, I am knit picking now. I am trying to find reasons to chew him out. I can always find a couple. The great thing is, he wants to hear them. If he said it to me once, he said it to me, `I want you to coach me. Keep pushing me. Keep pushing me.' No problem. That is why it's a good relationship. I have no problem doing it. He has no problem taking it. The evolution of him has been growing and I still think that when it's over this year, one of the neat things will be that he never got to play in those seven games against teams that weren't as good, where he could experiment a little bit. He played in all of those tough games and then he comes back and is playing in the middle of the Big Ten season. Again, it makes it even more remarkable what that kid has accomplished this year.
 
On how much of an X-factor Joshua Langford is...
I think him and Cassius are big x-factors. I say that because Josh, at 6'5'', he is long enough and athletic enough, he is going to have to guard multiple people in this game who are good, including Reed. He is going to have to guard really well. But yet, he can score. It is a matter of, and I think I've done a poor job with him lately, of keeping him in for stretches. Freshman usually struggle to push themselves past fatigue, because they haven't been there a lot in their career. So, sometimes when Josh isn't doing certain things, maybe more standing around, I think it is my fault a little bit. That's where I have to get Cassius and Tum in together. I feel like I haven't talked to you about a rotation, and I talked to you about it so much early and I haven't even talked about it in the last month and a half, because we all know there is none. If we could get a little bit more of one, where maybe they still play the same amount of minutes -- sometimes, if you just look at the minutes, you wouldn't appreciate it -- but maybe the length of time that they are coming out and length of time that they are in creates some problems. And that is not fair to them. That is all on me. Sometimes, my hands are tied with foul trouble or injury. Sometimes, I just haven't done quite a good enough job of doing that. Again, every program is different. I think these guys need a little bit more of that. I think Josh Langford can rebound, he can score on the break, he's shooting the ball pretty well from three. He's got one thing that nobody on my team has. And it is kind of a lost art as Michael Jordan used to tell guys at the Fantasy Camp I work for. Nobody has a midrange game. He has a midrange game. He can take two dribbles and pull up and shoot it. I don't have another guy that can do that. That would be one of the evolutions of Miles, to get a little better at that. But, Josh has that. I think he's been in as much as anybody. The kid, it has been an interesting year for him from where he came from. It's really been a good year and I think if there is anybody you are going to see enormous growth out of, it is going to be him and I still think Cassius will. Big weekend for him. It really is, because we need him in multiple ways and I think he'll deliver.