Michigan State NCAA Tournament Press Conference
Spartans meet with the media in advance of Friday's First Round game vs. Miami.
PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
Q. Starting off, I looked at some of the stuff that Miami was saying about you guys. And for them to compare you to some of the other players around the ACC, is there any comparisons you guys have made from them on tape whether it be players in the Big 10 or other players you've made already?
TUM TUM NAIRN, JR.: No, sir, we haven't really made any comparisons to any other team.
Q. Miles, how are the nerves for you right now?
Miles Bridges: I'm not really nervous. I'm just really excited to get out there and play with my teammates. I love my team. So I just want to show everybody what we can do.
Q. For a team like Miami to have three upperclassmen and to have that kind of senior leadership along with the younger talent, how do you kind of take that as a leader, as a senior on this team and try and use that to motivate yourself?
ALVIN ELLIS, III: I don't take it a certain way. I gotta worry about my team. We gotta worry about our guys on this side. And the younger guys have been doing a great job of listening and doing what we need them to do. So we're worried about our team.
Q. Big Ten tournament you guys got to go out and experience a little bit of D.C., not much obviously, but now you're coming to Tulsa. What's been the mindset difference from just a week ago to now?
Miles Bridges: For the Big Ten tournament, it's teams that we've seen before, but now any NCAA tournament, it's teams that we haven't seen before that we don't know much of. But it's still one-and-done time, so we gotta play every game like it's our last.
TUM TUM NAIRN, JR.: The biggest takeaway is just that it's one-and-done time now. You gotta do everything you can to put yourself in position to get wins at this level at this time of the year. So it's a special thing, but most importantly, just being one-and-done time.
Q. Tum Tum, what kind of motivation do you guys take from last year's early exit in the tournament? Is this something that you guys talk about, something that you've carried forward to this year?
TUM TUM NAIRN, JR.: Well, last year, you know, we gotta leave that behind us. But it's definitely motivating just because you don't want to have the same feeling that we did last year and just coming in with more focus and just take the moment as it is and just do everything you can to get a win. We know what happened last year, but we're not going to dwell on the past, but like I said, we know what happened, but just do what we can to get a win.
COACH IZZO: Well, I had an interesting thing happen to me earlier in the week. I made a comment that these young guys were just taking off the diapers, and somebody sent me a dozen diapers. And it is time to take them off. They're guys now that have been through a lot of wars, and the young guys I think have improved in a lot of ways.
We're a better team from the free throw line. We're a better team from the turnover standpoint. I think we're a little bit more consistent, but we still have our things to work on. So exciting matchup.
I've known Jim Larranaga for a long time. Very well-coached team, and I think it should be a heck of a game.
Q. Coach, I know you're only focused on this year and one game at a time and all that. But is there something from last year's disappointment that you can use to carry forward a little bit as a teaching tool or to put it back in front of the kids' faces, that kind of thing?
COACH IZZO: You know, I can use a lot from last year's loss. The problem is everybody I'm talking to doesn't know anything about it. They weren't there. It seems like, oh, man, we played Kenny Goins a little bit and he went down with an injury three minutes, four minutes in.
And I think between McQuaid and maybe Ellis, they might have played 15 minutes, you know. So that's what makes it so much different. It wasn't only the freshmen, but some of the other guys we've had.
What I can learn, and I saw it again today in a couple of games. NCAA tournament everybody responds differently. I felt bad, I saw it from a distance, but it looked like the kid from Vanderbilt fouled, thinking he was down one. And probably for most people you'd say how can that happen. I told my team, and it happens easy. That's the aura of the one-and-done in the NCAA tournament. And that's what makes it so good.
I can talk to them about some of the things that happened, but at the same time until you live it, until you're out there I'm not sure it hits home the same, unless other players are telling you we don't have enough of them around.
Q. Jim said earlier when he was trying to show his team cutups of your guys for comparisons, he looked at Jayson Tatum and Kennedy Meeks for Nick Ward and Bridges, but he couldn't find anybody for Cassius. He couldn't find anybody in college basketball that compared to Winston and how he plays, so they went to the NBA and started looking at Nash. I'm just curious what you think of that.
COACH IZZO: I think there is some comparisons. I've said all along, I said when I recruited him I think he's going to be one of the best passing decision-making intelligent guards that ever played here. And he is going to be. Everybody wants the process to be sped up so fast. And you know, as he gets stronger and better and a little more experienced, you know, he's working on some things. He's improved. He's had a great week of practice. So I hope Jim's right. But I do agree. He can do some things on the offensive end because he sees the court so well. He can make shots. That's the one thing when I recruited him, I didn't know he could make shots like I see. But since I've had him here, he's really a guy that I wish would look for a shot more. Can he be in that Scott Skile-ish mode, a shooting point guard, some day? I think that could happen, too.
Q. You're back in Tulsa. The tournament's in Tulsa. What do you remember about your days as assistant coach at the University of Tulsa?
COACH IZZO: It was awesome, man. It really was the start for me. I was just about out -- I mean, three years as a GA at Michigan State, kind of running out of money and running out of -- he was probably running out of patience with me. So I almost took a Division II job at Michigan Tech, and all of a sudden I got the call from Kevin O'Neill who had been here, left for Arizona, came down and interviewed with J.D., and it was a short seven weeks.
It probably, as I look back, wasn't fair to him. I will tell you that I got a chance to talk to him yesterday. I hunted his number down from Tubby Smith and got a chance to talk to J.D. and probably should owe him a little more than I have, because he gave me a chance. I couldn't get a Division I full-time assistant job. He gave me a chance.
Seven weeks later Mike Deane left Michigan State. I went back, and as they say, the rest is history.
But I enjoyed Tulsa. I will tell you this, that J.D. Barnett was a drill sergeant. He was a hard worker. So I didn't see a lot of Tulsa. I'd go in early with my little shirt and tie on in the middle of May, 100 degrees down here and I left the office late, and I didn't see a lot of the city. But I loved my experience here.
I remember Lee Mayberry used to come over all the time. He was only a junior, I think, then. So those are some of the things and thoughts I have of Tulsa.
Q. Talking about Tulsa, I know you're friends with Doug Wojcik and did you learn a lot about Tulsa in conversations with Doug?
COACH IZZO: I did. I was all excited when Doug got the job from our place. And sometimes things don't work out like you want them to. But he too loved it here. And I think it's a place that basketball can be important. To me it's a great city. I love this arena. This is gorgeous. This wasn't here when I was here, of course. In fact, there were a lot of just oil wells when I was here, you know. It was booming then.
But yeah, Doug and I shared a lot of time. My wife came down here, visited his wife a couple times. So I have a great appreciation for Tulsa because I still say, if he didn't give me my shot, which we never talk about. I never talk about. I might have been -- at Michigan Tech, where I'm from, there's 11 months of winter and one month of poor sledding. And Michigan Tech, there's flat out 12 months of winter. So that's where I could have ended up.
Q. Your ties to Tulsa early in your career, Coach Self's ties with Tulsa early in his career. To see you guys do what you've done and then you're both back here, what is that like from your perspective?
COACH IZZO: I talked to Tubby Smith about that still. Steve Robinson, you know. I think we played Tulsa in Maui. I think it was the year -- they went to a Sweet 16 under Bill, didn't they? I think it was that year we beat them over there. It was the same year we won the National Championship, I believe. And so I got a chance to follow all those guys here just because I had been here, I had a little appreciation.
Bill's a friend. Tubby is a great friend. We've been friends for a long time. So I do have an appreciation for the place. It's been a melting pot of some pretty damn good coaches that have come through here that were head coaches. I was one of those assistants that wasn't here long enough. But a lot of those guys did a lot of great things at Tulsa.
Q. Coach Larranaga brought up John Gillon of Syracuse as a comparison of Tum Tum and how he went at them and tried to push the pace and get easy layups. How much of a role do you feel like Tum Tum needs to have in this game and what are you telling him he needs to do to control the tempo in this one?
COACH IZZO: It's hard to control the tempo. I compare them a little bit to Wisconsin of old days, and that's not a comparison because Miami will run. They're most athletic. But he has the ability to control tempo, and we'd like the tempo to be high. Tum brings that. We're going to try to push it. But what's been good about my teams most years, if you want to play fast, race horse, we'll play it. If you want to play smash mouth, we'll play it. Freshmen don't understand smash mouth yet quite as good. So we're going to try to up tempo it.
But understand that I think one of their strengths is the way they control tempo, and so don't get frustrated by it if it doesn't go that way. We gotta find a way to win and that's what we gotta do in this tournament.
Q. Coach, coming off that game against Minnesota when the wings and the team really in general took all those threes, didn't make as many as they wanted to. How big is it to get the two and three guys really going early?
COACH IZZO: That was ridiculous on my part. I did a poor job on that. And I say that because, you know, we thought we had good looks, but Michigan State doesn't take threes. And at the same time, we've been one of the better shooting teams in our conference, and we shot the ball awful. So a combination of things hurt us there. But I don't, one, two, think we will or anything else take 30 threes tomorrow. We've been a team that's taking in the low 20s.
I think we've gotta get the ball inside and that was the other problems. Most of those threes were not inside-out threes. If they're inside-out threes, they're a lot better shot than if they're work the ball around the perimeter threes.
Q. Much has been made about the young guys on your team playing so many minutes this season due to injury. What do you think that might mean going into the tournament?
COACH IZZO: I think they're battle tested. We played that hellacious schedule early. They traveled all over the world.
Our league was completely different than last year. Last year we had three, four teams in the Top 10 most of the year. This year we might have had one, but we had probably 10, 12 teams that on any given night could beat anybody. I mean, I think our 13th team in the league tournament was Ohio State, and they're pretty good, well-coached team. And you know, Penn State lost a zillion games by two, three points and were a pretty good team.
So I think it was -- there was no nights off for us, so I think they're more battle tested. We've played the Kentuckys and Dukes, and Baylors and Wichita States, and who else, Arizona. We played Oakland. We played Florida Gulf Coast, who I thought was really, really good. So we've had our share of tough games, and those freshmen had to play in those games. And I do think we got better the last 10, 12 games, even though they weren't always wins.
I thought we got better in how we handled things and what we did, and they're improving. I do worry a little bit about it's a long season. You start having 120 practices and all those games and all that travel. But I don't know. We seem pretty fresh right now. I don't think there will be any excuses except try to win the game.
Q. Tom, now that you're onsite, you walk in the venue, I guess we all know about pretty much a brand new team this year, it seems like, all the troubles, the schedule, injuries, whatnot. Now that you've made it in here, do you have any new, I guess, perspective? I don't know if you ever doubted making it here this season or not, but do you have a perspective on what making it this far means to you or to the Michigan State community?
COACH IZZO: I told our people, to our culture, to our program, to our former players, you know, it was a month ago, and I mean things were rough, and I said it at Nebraska we had a big team meeting. I just talked about the white elephant in the room, and I tried to address it, you know.
Look, I know everybody's talking about us not making it. I know you don't want to be the team. Instead of hiding behind it, it was the first time I've really done that. And I think it was good. Kind of taught me something. And I try not to put too much pressure on them. But, hey, when you've done something for 19 years, me as the coach, them as players, you don't want to be part of breaking that streak. So there's going to be pressure on you.
So I said we gotta find a way to enjoy the pressure and accept the pressure and not let the pressure depress us. And I think we've done a pretty good job of that, so when we did make it, you know, I felt decent when we beat Wisconsin. Then we lost two tough games to two pretty good teams at the time, Illinois and Maryland on the road. And then when we beat Penn State in the tournament, I felt like, you know, you gave ourselves a good chance, but I've been in this thing long enough to know that strange things can happen in conference tournaments and everything else.
So was I sweating out in maybe one of the second or third time in those 20 years of being on the real bubble? Yeah, yeah, I did. So when it came, I was happy for the guys because it wasn't the streak as much as those freshmen getting the chance to experience the NCAA tournament at a great venue like this. Those seniors getting a chance to go out, even Eron Harris, you know, with his leg and Schilling, I mean they got a chance to talk to the team, and hopefully we can send Alvin Ellis out the way Michigan State players should be sent out.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Tom. Best of luck tomorrow.
COACH IZZO: Thanks, guys.
LOCKER ROOM QUOTES
#1 Joshua Langford, FRESHMAN GUARD
On excitement to be in the NCAA tournament…
“It’s really exciting, especially with this being my first year in college basketball, it’s a blessing from God and I’m taking it all in.”
On upperclassmen helping him as a freshmen…
“They have been helping me all year, they have helped all four freshmen this year. They have been telling us the ropes, how to deal with certain things, how to approach the games, how to have the right mentality and focus in each game. They have really been like big brothers to us this whole season.”
On his approach coming into the game…
“More is at stake, so of course we want to come in with even more focus. I want to come in, make sure I do my job, and just try to bring the energy and be a leader for my team as much as possible.”
On redeeming themselves from last year…
“The upperclassmen talked about it a lot earlier in the year, but it’s in the past and we said we weren’t going to dwell on it anymore and try to get back to the NCAA tournament. We want to go out and play like its our last because it is one and done time. Everyone is going to come out and do their jobs.”
#44 Nick Ward, FRESHMAN FORWARD
On what part of his game has improved the most this season…
“Ball screen defense. Last year in High School we never worked on ball screen defense. Coach does things differently so it has just been a matter of learning the defense how coach wants us to. It is important to learn what to do and what not to do.”
On the main focus for tomorrow’s game…
“We need to own the paint. We need to control it both offensively and defensively to control the game.”
#20 Matt McQuaid, SOPHOMORE GUARD
On the team’s focus today in practice…
“Keeping our normal routine by practicing reactions to different offenses and defenses. Doing different walk-throughs and film sessions to put it all together for tomorrow.”
On your team’s strengths…
“Our fast break has been really good this year, and we have been transitioning well. Miami will try to slow us down as we get the rebound, get out, and go.”
On things your team wants to do differently this year…
“We need to go into the game focused. It’s a tournament so we just need to take it one day at a time. Anything can happen, so we need to take care of the little things and transfer that over to the court.”