March 22, 2013
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - On the day following Michigan State's 65-54 win over Valparaiso in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans prepared for Saturday's Third Round contest against Memphis. MSU held a 90-minute closed practice at The Palace of Auburn Hills followed by a 40-minute session with the media.
The third-seeded Spartans (26-8) will take on sixth-seeded Memphis (31-4) Saturday at approximately 2:45 p.m. in The Palace. The game will be televised on CBS.
The following is a complete transcript of Wednesday's press conference.
MODERATOR: We'll begin with questions for the student-athletes.
Q. Keith, wondered about your knee. How is that feeling? When did it first start bothering you?
Keith Appling: Late in the first half when we were in a live play. But it's nothing serious. I'll be all right. I'll be able to play as much as coach needs me to play tomorrow. It's not serious. I'll be fine. I feel like I'm a pretty tough person. I can fight through a little bit of pain.
Q. Keith, can you talk about your point guard matchup that you have here in Memphis?
Keith Appling: I've known Joe Jackson a long time. He's obviously a pretty good player. But at the end of the day, basketball, it's a team sport, and I really try not to get into one-on-one matchups. At the end of the day, I'm going to need my teammates to help us win the game. So I'm not really into one-on-one matchups.
Q. Can you talk about Keith and how he makes you guys go?
Adreian Payne: Keith is that type of player where he can make plays and get his team going, especially when he's playing defense and up in his man. So we just looking forward to him, you know, leading us to win.
Gary Harris: Keith, he's the quarterback of this team. We just follow his lead and he does a pretty good job of it. That's why we win so many games.
Q. Can you talk about going from playing a team where you had athletic advantages to one where all of a sudden the guys you were playing are more athletic equals?
Keith Appling: I feel like whenever we go up against a different opponent, everybody has advantages. We feel like one of ours is our low post presence. So going into tomorrow's game, we're probably going to try to pound the ball inside and let our bigs make something happen for us.
Gary Harris: Yeah. Their strength is definitely athleticism. They like to get out and use it to their advantage, and we just got to play smart and not put it into their hands.
Adreian Payne: Both of what they said is right. We did play some athletic teams in the Big Ten and some athletic people. I think we'll be ready.
Q. Adreian, you guys do have a size advantage tomorrow. How do you guys account for that in the game tomorrow?
Adreian Payne: Just box out. That's the main thing. We got to box out our rebounds. That will take care of everything.
Q. Does this team remind of you anybody that you've seen in the conference?
Keith Appling: No, not really, but, I mean, you could somewhat compare them a little bit to Miami, with all the athleticism and the different weapons they have on the perimeter. I feel like this team is different from all those we played. They are a very fast paced team. They want to get up and down, try to turn the game into a track meet. We just got to try not to play in their hands, and like Gary said, be smart.
Q. Keith, can you talk about how Izzo and the coaching staff prepare you guys for the second game?
Keith Appling: Of course. I mean, Coach Izzo has been doing this for a long time. He has a lot of experience with this tournament. Going into each week, he prepares for two teams for the simple fact because he has faith that his team is going to make it to the next round. You know, at the end of the day, he has a lot of experience in the tournament. We just follow his lead.
Q. Gary, you got your favorite question. How's the shoulder and how do you feel your body's held up?
Gary Harris: Oh, I mean it feels pretty good right now. My body's probably feeling the best it's felt since I've been up here these last few weeks. I mean, just making progress. That's all I can ask for.
Q. Turnovers were an issue early in the season. Yesterday, against a team not known for turning teams over, you guys had a bunch. Now you're going to play against a team where turnovers could be a major issue. How do you address that?
Adreian Payne: I can take that blame for the turnovers yesterday. I had six of them. I got to, you know, be smarter and make sure that don't happen. I watched a lot of film yesterday, seen what made me turn the ball over, and, you know, I learned from it. So that shouldn't be a problem.
Gary Harris: Yeah, I mean, like AP said, we just got to make the easy play and just be smart, not try to go for the home run every time. You know, Memphis is definitely going to be trying to get turnovers again on the fast break. So we need to use that to our advantage and not let them get out there by turning the ball over.
Q. Looking at what they can do, what is it that jumps out at you most? Is it their relentlessness or tell me what it is about Memphis that catches your eye?
Keith Appling: Just the number of athletes they have and the amount of guys on the perimeter they have that can get it going in any given position. We are just going to have to stay focused and prepare to play defense as solid as we can for 40 minutes.
MODERATOR: Coach Izzo is up next.
COACH IZZO: Well, after studying Memphis, I feel just like I thought before. I think they're a well coached team, I think a team that plays hard and is maybe the most athletic team we faced all year. We faced a lot of good teams. Everybody's going to make a big deal. Our conference was the best conference. I don't think there's any question about that, but every team and every conference has it pluses and minuses, and even though our conference was so good and I thought we had, you know, great diversity as far as different offenses that were run, different defenses that were run, in our conference we've never faced a team as athletic as they are in just about every position. So that will be the challenge for us, transition defense, the turnovers that lead to dunks, keeping Stephens from -- you know, I think anywhere they throw the ball, he's capable of dunking it. Those are all things that are different and we're looking forward to the challenge.
Q. Coach, so you're not at all concerned or don't feel Memphis is underrated by the conference they played in at all?
COACH IZZO: I don't. I think what I've learned about these different conferences, it comes up to the matchups that you play in this tournament. I mean, if you can win, you know, 18 straight games or 21, whatever they won in their conference with their conference tournament and everything, that's incredible. You still got to go on the road. You got to do the same things. You got to play different people. That takes some focus for a long time and, you know, I listen to the Gonzaga thing and this and that. I mean, sure, do I think we beat ourselves up in our conference? Yeah, do I think we've been tested? Yeah, I do, but you don't survive that many games in a row unless you've been tested there too. So I'm not buying into that. I think Josh would probably be the first to tell you that we -- yeah, we've played probably more ranked people, but that's going to come down to, in this game, how we match up with them, how they match up with us, and that's the way it will work.
Q. Because you've been so used to playing Big Ten-type teams over the last couple of months, is it more on you guys like really earning your check, the coaches, because in such a short turnaround time you've got to be prepared for a team that is so unlike a team you've faced in awhile.
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I think that's the challenge. I also think that, you know, some teams you're looking at different sets. Some teams have different defenses. This is a team that you got to look at that to a certain extent, but you got to really look at personnel a little bit more. What can this guy do? Where does he go better, right or left? Is he a slasher? Is he a cutter? How are they handling -- how well does he use ball screens. I think this has been more of a personnel and a personnel scout than even the X's and O's part of it. And that's the way it gets at this time of year. I mean, a lot of us, we all steal from each other. We run similar things, but for the most part now you get into personnel and trying to get your team to understand this guy's better off his right shoulder, his left shoulder, whatever things that you can do.
Q. Tom, can you talk a little bit about matching up with D.J. Stephens and what he brings to the game?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, I mean, you know, I had a kid Jason Richardson who I thought was the best athlete, you know, since the Jordan era, in my -- that I had seen. You know, this kid, he just -- he's got incredible hops. I mean, I've never seen a guy -- he's dunking the ball coming down way more often than on his way up, you know, and that -- and he's smooth about it. He's a great offensive rebounder. You got to keep a body on him. He's good in the pick and rolls because when he rolls, it's never a bounce pass; it's always for a dunk. I think, you know, it is different than most guys we've had in our league and he's different than most guys around the country. I mean, he is -- I don't know of anybody that's quite like him, and that's the neat part of these tournaments, is you get to see people like him.
Q. The last time you all played the Tigers, does that come up in discussions in pregame talk at all with this team?
COACH IZZO: No. We burned that tape. We burned the copy of any press book that had that score in it, Doc. We got rid of that thing. I mean, I told John after that game, you know, we were so far down at halftime that if I carried a hankie in my jacket, I would have definitely waved the thing. You know, it was almost worthy of the clock keep running. You know, we were down 50 to 20, and I think it was worse than that. Thank God, though, as good as they are now and as good of players they had, that Rose kid they had, you know, that little point guard, they don't got him, and neither do the rest of us. He was special, and I think because of that, you know, not that they didn't have good players, but he stirred that drink. In fact, if you remember in that game, we laughed about it after, he got the gash above his eye and missed six minutes, and I think we went on about a 14 to 0 run. I think we cut it down to 40 at that point. (Laughter) But it was a little bit of a difference with him in there and him not. If he shows up, I'm definitely going to be upset, I'll tell you that. (Laughter) I don't want even want him watching this game. (Laughter) That's how much respect I have for Rose.
Q. Tom, the Big Ten season, you talked about whether it would prepare you for this run here. You're playing a team that played in a league where they were able to go 16 and 0. When you look for separation, it was not there as maybe it was against Valpo. Is the pedigree of what you guys went through, is that important in payoff for meetings like this?
COACH IZZO: I always believe that competition helps you, you know, when you're in tough games all the time, it helps you. When you're in a conference, everything kind of -- it means the same. I mean, you got to go on the road in the conference. It's hard to win in a conference. Gonzaga has had tough games over the years and they might have been head and shoulders above teams. So I put a little value that we have played. I mean, we can look at it and say we've played the toughest teams in the country, and we have, and a couple of them on more than one occasion. But at the same time, there is pressure on going undefeated in your conference, then bouncing back and winning your conference tournament. You don't do that unless you're well coached, and you can keep guys focused and you got very, very good players. Now, I know the recruiting wars, so I know what kind of players they have, and I think Josh has grown as a coach and has definitely done a good job. He was under a bigtime guy in Lute. So, I mean, I know that he knows what he's doing, but when you get in this tournament, players play the game. And they've got good enough players to play the game with just about anybody in the country, if you ask me, as they did with Louisville and what that score was and things like that.
Q. Can you assess the point guard matchups and how pivotal it may be?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think whenever you got two good quarterbacks, it's pivotal, and ours is playing better and theirs has been playing well and they're both kind of alike. You know, they're both jitterbug guards, both the same size. They can really push the ball, use ball screens. Keith has been shooting the ball better and better. So I think him and Joe ought to be -- that's worth the price of admission right there. And it's going to be an interesting matchup and we just got to make sure that we use that in the right way.
Q. You talk about the athleticism of Memphis and you've got a pretty set rotation. In this game do you substitute a little more frequently to keep the fresh people?
COACH IZZO: You know, the one thing about the tournament, the TV timeouts and the length of them kind of changes a little bit the fatigue factor. You know, they don't play as many guys sometimes. They played nine and they've played seven a lot lately, you know, and because of that, I don't think it's any big advantage. Where the advantage comes in is if somebody gets in foul trouble. So I don't think we're going to be subbing much different than we -- I don't think they'll be subbing much different when you get to this point and you've won 25 or six games, whatever we've won, and 30, 31 games, whatever they've won, you kind of do -- whoever you brought to the dance, that's who you're dancing with. So that's probably the way we're going to do it and I think the way they're going to do. The athletes, yes, we want to stay fresh, but we have good athletes too. It's not like we got racehorses against plow horses, but that is their -- they have exceptional athletes at certain positions, and it's going to be interesting to see how both teams match up.
Q. With their athleticism, do you think that could neutralize your size advantage at all?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, they're six-nine, 262, and six-nine, 250 inside too. I mean, at times they've got a big team and they do play a little smaller at times, but I don't know what will neutralize what. It just depends on how each team attacks the other and how each team defends the other. You know, it will be interesting to see if they come out and trap us all over. I know they do some of that, but I thought they did even more of it against Saint Mary's. You know, what do you do in different situations, you know. They got to worry about some things we do running the ball too. That's where the chess match comes in, and it will be fun to see how it works out.
Q. What do you think about their bigs?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think they're both -- I thought Black played the best I seen him play yesterday. Would you agree? You've seen him more than I did. I don't know if that's lucky or bad news for us, you know, but I thought he played very well. I think they're both, you know effective because they're big, they're athletic, they got post moves. They can do some things down there, but they have size and athleticism. You know, our guys have size and he has quick feet, but not the same athleticism. Payne's got that but not the same strength. So I think that's going to balance out. You know, in our league, we've played against a lot of teams that are one big and some small and they go with four sort of guards at times. So I think we are going to be able to handle that, and I'm sure they'll be able to handle us, just like teams in our league do. It's going to come down to who plays the best, who makes the least mistakes, things like that.
Q. Tom, you talked about Josh Pastner's growth. Can you expound on where you've noticed that. Also, how much do coach matchups play a role in these games?
COACH IZZO: I don't think as much as people make it. I only say that because players play the game. You know, it really does come down to that, especially in a one-day prep and things like that. But I think Josh has used what he learned from John, you know, what he's learned now on his own. It's a hard time to take over when you go from how Memphis was to what they are now. That's not an easy job, and I think everybody always wants it to be a little better than it is. Same at our place. I think he's handled that. I think he's matured. I think he's been able to deal with it. I see a confidence in himself, you know, that maybe wasn't there his first year and why would it have been? You know, I was still a GA when I was his age when he started. So I have great respect for Josh. I remember him writing me letters when he was a GA slash player at Arizona, and the guy was born to be a coach. You know, he puts his whole heart and soul into it. He's kind of came up the same way I did, GA on up, Tom Crean, GA on up. You know, it's kind of a good way to come up, and I think he's going to end up being a great coach before it's over.
Q. You're going to have a lot of your fans here and Michigan's going to have a lot of their fans. How many of your fans are going to turn into VCU fans in that first game?
COACH IZZO: You know, it's kind of -- that's an interesting question. I've said all year that you can't like your rival, but when -- first of all, I have great respect for John Beilein, I mean a good guy and he's done it the right way there. I am 100 percent pulling for the conference, totally. I'm pulling for every team in this conference. I think sometimes in recruiting, it helps when the conference does well, believe it or not. You know, you look at SEC football and they just talk about it being the best conference. And even if you don't go to Alabama, you go to somewhere else. The conference recruits sometimes. I think right now we have so many good coaches in our league and we have so little recruiting issues like some conferences do that it will be interesting. I'm not sure it will be like Illinois and us in the Final Four in St. Louis when both teams 200 percent pulled for each other. But then again, if we both advance, we're in different brackets. I think this is one time it would be great. It's been great for the state of Michigan. You know, I think the governor should put Beilein and I on the economic package and maybe we get paid for this. That would be a good deal. (Laughter).
Q. Can you tell us what was in those letters from Josh? Was he asking for a job or was he asking for advice?
COACH IZZO: Oh, a job. You know, a job. He was looking to move up there. You know, I get a lot of letters like that from kids, but, you know, I followed him. I knew when Kevin O'Neill was there and when I started out at Tulsa, you know, Kevin went there and worked for Lute. Of course, Lute, we played them some. I always had great respect for their program. So he's been under great tutelage, you know, which I think helps all of us when we get mentored by the right people. I think he was and I think I have been, too. I'm sure in some ways I saw a little bit of myself in him. The difference is he got about an eight-year head start on me as far as getting a head job at a prestigious place, and he's run with it. You know, after this is over, I'm going to be proud of him for what he's accomplished. I'm hoping to be playing next weekend and so is he, but either way, I will be.
MODERATOR: Thanks, Coach.
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