Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Coverage
Fourth-seeded Spartans preparing to take on No. 13 seed Delaware Thursday in Spokane, Wash.
March 17, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo held his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon inside the Breslin Center to preview the upcoming matchup against No. 13 seed Delaware in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday in Spokane, Wash.
Below is a complete transcript from Monday's pres conference:
COACH IZZO: When we talked last week, we talked about the importance of trying to play at least two or three games in the Big Ten Tournament, what we had to do to get better. We talked about turnovers because we had three games in a row with 16. We talked about our defense. We talked about getting some of our swagger back.
I'd say in those three areas we hit a home run. We did do those three things. Now the goal will be: Can we consistently do them and keep building on it and getting better because we're still a work in progress?
As much gratification as I saw in the weekend, there's still a lot of work to be done, trust me, as far as where we are and where we need to be.
Sometimes I take it for granted (the selection show). I made sure I told my players, Don't ever take it for granted because it is special. Going 17 straight times I think is maybe the best thing we've accomplished here. The Final Fours are great, but the consistency of not falling off the map... Just about every program has fallen in some ways, and we've been as consistent as anybody in the nation. That I take great pride in.
I'm excited to hit the road, continue to see if we can get this team to the level they were at at the beginning of the year.
Delaware presents some problems. You got a scorer in Saddler, who has scored over 2200 points. That's a lot of points. When you have three guys that have averaged somewhere between 18 and 20 points a game, the only team in the country that has three over 18, their other two are averaging 11 and 11. It's a group that is very talented offensively, has struggled some defensively, but they do a couple things that concern you.
They get to the free throw line 26 times. The one kid has been there 250 times and hasn't even played in all their games. They turn the ball over only 10 times a game mostly because they're getting shots up quickly.
They played Ohio State, lost by 12 there, but Villanova by 4. Notre Dame, when they had the guard playing for Notre Dame that got injured, they lost by 5. When you watch them, sometimes you see a team that looks like one that isn't as good defensively, isn't as good a rebounding team. Then you watch them another time and they're playing teams that I know are very good and they're playing them right to the wire.
As always, when you get into the 12, 13, 14, 15 seeds, it's harder to get a perspective on teams. I think we got a decent one on them. Again, we'll be preparing for three teams because after my first year here, you learn the Duke way of playing for the weekend, not for one game. That's where our program is at. So we'll be doing some of that.
What we'll really be trying to do is get our guys some rest after a long weekend and yet really prepare for what we've got to do, the time change, all the different things. Breakfast with Jud. It will be a real interesting week. Questions.
Q. I was talking to the coach from Delaware this morning. He talked about there obviously is a mismatch. If they do have anything that a lower seed normally doesn't have is experience. He says still David and Goliath. Will you talk about their experience?
COACH IZZO: They do have some veteran guys, veteran guys that are able to score points. I think if you can shoot a three, they've got an inside guy who is very effective, but if you can shoot a three, and you got a kid like Threatt, I don't know if he is a nephew of the one that played in the NBA or son, the Saddler kid has scored over 2200 points, and the Usher kid is a 6'6" left hander who can really shoot it.
They can shoot threes. They have a post presence. They got to the foul line a ton. That can change the game.
I don't think there's any question that the way the games have been called this year, that will be probably the biggest issue of the NCAA tournament. Are they going to continue to call it? We're going to have a lot of players on the bench because maybe the coaches and players haven't adjusted to the new rules yet. If so, and you got some of your best, here is a team that draws fouls. I always say that upsets are by three point shooting, and now I think fouls and free throws have to be in there just because of the way it's gone all year.
Yeah, when you add experience to those two things, you draw more fouls, that is a concern.
Q. Where does Adreian Payne rank among players you've had in terms of their development as far as players and people?
COACH IZZO: I would say if you looked at both, we always talk to recruits about becoming a better player, a better student, a better person. Are you going to improve athletically, academically and socially? I'm not sure I've had many.
I look back on Morris Peterson as one guy that I'll always have in the back of my mind that I thought made progress in all three areas. But Adreian Payne has done that with even more adversity, losing his grandmother, not having the family support at times that Morris had. I think he'll rank number one. He's just gradually improved. He's played through some injuries, especially his freshman year with the shoulder.
He's had a remarkable career. If you looked at improvement, if you looked at improvement in the classroom...I wouldn't say much improvement socially, I would just say continued to grow socially. The stories and the things that he's done with children around here has been incredible.
Yeah, I'd say he's the full package. It's so good to see him having success and playing well. I got to get him to figure out how to enjoy it a little bit. He's probably trying to figure that out about me, too. Maybe we're in the same boat.
Q. Obviously preseason there was a lot of hype nationally with expectations. Things quieted. It seems nationally everyone yesterday seems to be picking Michigan State. Is there a part of you that says to get those guys to pay no attention at all to those things?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, it's probably the fouls and the free throw shooting of this team, the fact that they can score, then dealing with the rollercoaster of not you guys, but there are people around here that pronounced us dead a week ago. All of a sudden we went from the ugly duckling to the prom queen.
That is hard. It's hard for an 18 , 19 , 20 year old to handle. I look at what an Appling has gone through in the last two weeks. It's the nature of the beast, what profession they chose. You still have to remember who they are.
Getting out of here really was more because of the plane because we would miss school if we left. We did it a couple years ago this way. And we've come off a tough weekend, now bounce right back into a Thursday afternoon game. I have some concerns about that, as you always do about things.
But I am concerned. I told them, you know, if it was me, I'd be checking that phone in at the local bank and put it back somewhere where it's locked up because I think we are going to have to deal with those things.
I'm ecstatic that people think we're going to be good. But they thought that at the beginning of the year. If you look at some of the things in the Big Ten, some of the teams that were picked early, everybody went through their rollercoasters. Wisconsin did especially with that five out of six game losing streak. They're sitting there answering the bell at the end.
I would say this. I mean, we're not back yet. We just made some giant steps. There's still so many inconsistencies when you look at the film, why are we doing this. Our substitution pattern has to get better. We have to get more out of our bigs. To be a championship level team, we still have a lot of work to do.
I'm not going to beg them to; I'm going to demand that they do. One thing that I know that they don't, I've been there, I've been around that Final Four type place. The bad moments in a game, the dumb fouls, those things, in one and done time, that can take you right out of everything.
We have so much growth yet and we got to do it in a quick period of time.
Q. You mentioned the rest. Talk about the turnaround of the three games in one weekend coming back with a quick game on Thursday. Also, I guess the position you're in, as well. All these teams are East Coast teams, the time zone differential.
COACH IZZO: The one thing we had, I don't know, Cincinnati and Harvard, (Cincinnati) played (Friday). Those are the other two in our bracket. Delaware played way earlier.
So, I mean, look, we're playing. Some coaches are saying if you're playing good, keep playing. All these different theories. It comes down to if you win, you did the right thing. If you lose, you did the wrong thing. If you win, you went out too early. If you lose, you went out to late.
I'm concerned because we've been in a hotel for four days, now we're going to go back in one. The Thursday turnaround, then playing at 1:00 or 1:30, whenever we play, it is quick. Guys are in class today because they're going to miss so much class. We're going to have a brief practice today just to acclimate ourselves, get a little bit of a sweat up. We're not going to do much today.
But then you get out there, your first day of practice, now you're getting used to the time change. Then your second day, we get to practice for you guys. There will be seven people there watching. That takes up a part of your day, the interview time. It's not a great day, Wednesday, for prep. At the Super Bowl and all that, they cut it off so many days before. Football, they do it.
For us, it's right up until the day before the game. It makes it a little harder. I am concerned about that. That was one of the big things in our meeting today with our staff. Should we do more today because Wednesday is a lost day? How many days to get to prepare?
Nobody understands except maybe the coaches because it's more difficult to go through. The players, they'd as soon have today off and Wednesday off, but we know that's not the case.
Q. You mentioned Keith a couple weeks ago. Can you compare that to now, not only what you see, but maybe what you hear with him.
COACH IZZO: Well, as I told you guys after that game, it's been the toughest two months of my career just because you watch kids go through stuff, you know why they're going through it. The worst thing is some of your own fans are so down on them.
You have a great understanding. I mean, I never questioned where this team could be. I questioned whether we'd run out of time, and we still may. I mean, who says Michigan played great? Who says Wisconsin played great? I mean, we played good, we really did. But maybe they're sitting in their meeting saying, We didn't play very good.
I'm trying to compare us to where we were at the beginning of the year and where I thought we'd be now. We're still a long ways from where I thought we'd be now if I look at the beginning of the year.
The Keith Applings of the world, that kid had his whole dreams, you work all your life for that, it's like they were taken away. That's the way he felt during those couple of weeks. There were more psychology meetings with me and him than there were basketball meetings. I don't blame him. I understood it.
But it made it different. Thank God actually his high school coach came up and we sat and talked to him last week. Just kept reminding him of a couple things: This is where you were. Seven or eight games dissipated to not making one of the three All Big Ten teams. I think at the time we said, You have potentially nine games left. As fast as it went down in seven, it can go up in nine. Just tried to talk to him about all those things.
He is healthier. I think the best thing I saw in the game, his penetration was better, and his lobs and things were better because he had a feel for who he was throwing it to. That to me was the most frustrating part about these meetings, trying to explain to everybody how difficult that is to get in sync.
Steve Kerr said something to me before the game. He came back in the locker room. Meet with them for a few minutes. It was really good. Anthony was in the same boat. Everybody talks about your rhythm and chemistry on the offensive end. He said, When I think back, playing in pro ball and everything, they forget that happens on the defensive end, too.
I was trying to explain on the ball screens or the switching. No insult to you guys or anybody out there in the community, but you can't explain that. You really can't get it through to anybody. Nobody understands it. They don't see it every day on film. They don't watch it.
You saw us do a much better job in the areas we needed to do a better job. It started with our head. The head is the guy at the point on our defense and our offense. That was Keith. He did do a much better job. Guys played off him. Branden is starting to feel more of a part. There were a lot of lobs between Keith, Branden, A.P. and (Denzel). Branden, A.P., and even Gary, that when you don't play together, they don't happen.
That's where we are. We're moving forward. A lot of it has to do with our guard play. But a lot of it has to do with playing together more than getting back our injuries and spending time together.
Q. Was that your best defense of the season yesterday?
COACH IZZO: No. Kentucky was our best. Bad coaching in the end of that game as far as what we were doing with Randle. I mean, we should have been doubling him and doing some other things. Great play on his part. I'm not sure he's played that well since. I'm not sure we defended the post that poorly since.
If you look at the game plan going in, what we wanted to do, how we played, I think defensively those were some of our best games early.
I'd say this is the best game since the Big Ten season started. But I thought we were really good against Kentucky. Even though they got back in the game and everything, we went in with a game plan yesterday, we were still sometimes on those ball screens on the back foot instead of the front foot. A couple of those switches on the shuffle cuts we weren't as good as we needed to be.
They're starting to learn how to play together, have a feel for one another. Where this could be a positive, they've had to learn to communicate a little bit better because they don't have a feel for one another. So every time somebody makes a mistake, I say, Well, if you tell them. I went into the game, Think nobody knows anything. Don't think they know anything. Think everything has to be explained.
When Keith threw that ball, it went out of bounds, I think it hit Byrd right after a timeout, we were running an out of bounds play. It looked like it was Byrd's fault. It really was nobody's fault, which means it was the passer's fault, the quarterback's fault, which we switched to a zone. They kept running. Russ was going to screen in. Keith thought he was going to go out. I looked at Keith, I said, That's totally your fault because you didn't tell him what to do. That's your job.
I'd say that those are the things we really need to get better at this week.
Q. You've had a pretty good run of kids that stay with the program, making Final Fours. Does that weigh on your mind or the players' minds heading into the tournament?
COACH IZZO: Well, it better weigh on Appling and Payne's minds. It doesn't weigh on mine as much. We're going to try to do what we can do to keep a streak alive.
It's the players that don't get another chance. If we don't do that, I get another chance next year to get to one. They don't. They become that team, when you have reunions, there will be a lot of players getting after them. Sometimes fair, sometimes unfair. It's just the way it is. Like the 53 game home winning streak, you don't want to be part of the team that lost that.
But this team, we have not made a big deal about it at all because I think we've been through enough. They've had enough pressure on their helmets to not have to be thinking about that, too.
If it becomes a motivating factor as we move on, great. But I'm not throwing it at them. All the other things that have been thrown at them, I'm not using that like I would probably have used it with Travis Walton. I'm not going to do the same thing to these guys right now because we got enough other things to take care of because of all the cards we've been dealt.
Q. Did you spend in the early years more time working on the second opponent than you ever do now? Has that changed over the years at all?
COACH IZZO: That's a good question. I don't remember what I did earlier. Real early, I was still celebrating getting in the tournament. I was just happy as hell we were in the damn thing.
I think I have learned from other people that have done it. That's what you always do. You figure out who has done it. Nobody did it better than Duke. I listened, I watched, I learned.
I think you have to prepare for all three teams if you're Michigan State now. The trick is, all year long you have to tell your players why you're preparing. It's like if you have two big games in the same week in the Big Ten, one team presses, you only have one or two days' prep, maybe the Sunday before the Thursday/Saturday game, you're prepping a little bit differently.
If you do that during the year, then it doesn't look like you're looking ahead. You have to remember, too, each four year group that comes in, maybe some of them haven't been as big a part of that, so they don't really know.
I have to be like a point guard. I can't assume they know; I've got to explain to them why we do it, I've got to explain to them how it works, and I got to be honest with them, I think.
So like today we might work on a little bit of press because some of the teams press, work a little bit on zone because some of the teams zone. In the film session tonight, I'm just throwing this out, they don't even do it, but Delaware diamond presses the whole game. We're watching film. They never press. They know I'm lying to them and I'm in trouble.
I go in there and say, Listen, we're semi preparing for three games now, we're going to run a little bit of what each team does, we're going to hone in later. Tomorrow it will be Delaware, Delaware, Delaware. We only have one day prep in between for Harvard or Cincinnati, if we win.
Q. Two quotes that came out of yesterday that I wanted to ask you about. Someone asked Gary Harris what he thought about your seed. He said that he doesn't take going to the tournament for granted, he's just glad to be in. When someone asked Branden Dawson about it, he said there's a lot of good teams that don't make it, just be glad we're there. That's a maturity factor you haven't always had going into the tournament.
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I remember standing up here in my day and complaining about an eight or nine seed, still to this day I think rightfully so. Back then the difference was I think it made a huge difference. Now when you start looking at some of those second games, I mean, do I see it right, I haven't looked at all of them, could a one seed like Wichita State play Kentucky in the second game? Are you really feeling good about being a one seed? It just doesn't matter anymore.
I'm glad he answered it like that. I get a lot of questions from national media today about, Did you think you'd be a three seed? Did you think you'd be this? I joked with them that my AD was on the committee, he must be mad at me.
But the truth of it is your body of work usually gets you where you are. But I think sometimes, too, the committees go like the rest of society: What did you do for me today? That means more, how did you finish.
I was a big proponent, when I was on the board, I hated that last 10 game thing. What if you played six or seven on the road? What if you played two of the top teams twice late in the year? That was completely unfair to even be a factor in this whole thing.
I look at our record. We have the same record of a lot of teams that are a two seed, teams ranked fifth, sixth, seventh in the nation, and we're ranked 22nd. You look at the injury thing, that's supposed to work to your advantage if you get the players back, if you have any significant injuries.
Maybe I've grown up like the players. To me it doesn't matter. I guess the only thing that matters to me, it would be nice to win enough that the pod system works in your favor. We didn't do that. That would mean being closer to home for, one, travel reasons two, travel reasons, but one, so parents could be there to see their kids play. That would be the only thing I'm disappointed in. If we could have won another game or two, we probably could have put ourselves in that position.
We didn't get what we deserved because you don't deserve to have those kind of injuries. But I think we got exactly probably where we should be. Could have moved up a little bit. You're usually that not moving up a lot in that last game, you're really not.
Q. Off the beaten path. You were able to get the walk ons on the court last night. The Iron Mountain Group, where did that come from? Why do you use that?
COACH IZZO: Because I was a walk on. Mariucci was a walk on. That's what we were. We were walk ons. We were our own Iron Mountain Group. Life turned out pretty good for both of us.
One day I was thinking about those guys. It's kind of funny. I'll tell you something that did happen last night. I got on the bus. They were the first people I thanked. The scout team, as I told you guys, we were preparing a lot for Iowa, then all of a sudden here we are Thursday night realizing we're going to have to play Northwestern. It was rechange everything Friday night, Saturday night.
Of all people, sometimes I question how much basketball means to him, my staff, who did the best job. You know who was in this room the most? (Alex) Gauna. I was joking. Was he over there playing XBOX? He was over there at the computers by himself? They said by far he was the most in here, was the most helpful to everybody. I think that's why you have such an appreciation for him. People think they just go in the last minute or two.
The job they do in quick turnarounds is incredible. I've always appreciated walk ons since I was one, and I always appreciate their value since I started playing in the NCAA Tournament more than anything else.
During the week you can teach some guys in two days how to prepare for Wisconsin four days later. When we play Wisconsin, got back to the hotel 1:00, playing the next game at 4:00, whatever it was, those guys had to do a lot of work, and you ain't doing it before you play because you might be done and you can't really change gears. You're still preparing for Wisconsin. You only had 20 some hours to do that.
I have a great appreciation. Won't be to you guys, but to me that is a total compliment to call them Iron Mountain guys. Tough, hard nosed guys that are willing to work and do the work that nobody else wants to do. Kind of named after two guys, walk ons, that turned out pretty good for those two guys.
Q. How is your team physically after the weekend? Is Harris still not a concern right now?
COACH IZZO: He came in this morning. I talked to him this morning. A little sore. But it was just a stinger, as they call it in football. It wasn't that it popped out or anything like that. Just got hit wrong, went a little bit of a numb ish feeling. That's why it had to settle down a little bit. You see that happen in football all the time.
Other than that, Travis Trice, his back was cramping up a little bit. That's pretty normal stuff.
It's weird because we did get in some foul trouble in those games. The one guy that's been the Ironman played the least amount of minutes he's played in the last two minutes. That was Zel.
A.P., it's hard for him to go three games in a row. Branden got tired a couple times, asked to come out. That's pretty expected when you miss as much time, 30 some days, as he did.
I think our health is great. I think our conditioning is pretty good. I don't see any issues with our health. That won't be able to be an excuse. I used that one for two months.
Q. Some players think this is the best walk on group you played with. Do you agree with that?
COACH IZZO: Yes. I have Chapman in there, who is going to be a doctor. I have Colby, he's smarter than all the others put together. Some prof here gave him a 3.5 in a class. We should fire that prof, because that's the only one he had (joking). It has been all 4.0s for him.
Keenan Wetzel is a good player, too. I think Colby is a guy that I think is going to end up playing some here, too. Dan was probably the black sheep of the family of that group because maybe he wasn't as talented. Every year he's gotten better. Then when you throw Gauna or Kaminski in there, sometimes we throw guys in playing that are walk ons, especially when there's freshmen or sophomores. There's days that they drive us nuts when we're playing, which is reminiscent with guys we used to have, when Cleaves was here, Mike Chappell, we were redshirting a David Thomas, Adam Ballinger.
We had some probably better players playing on a scout team. This group picks it up as fast as any, takes some pride in it. You never see people pull for people when this group goes in. I got to hopefully get them more minutes.
The rest of the bench is so appreciative of them. I think that tells you a little bit about team chemistry, it really does.
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