Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Transcript
MSU head coach previews Friday's NCAA Sweet 16 matchup against Memphis.
March 24, 2008
COACH IZZO: Well, I think it's the greatest time of year for our team and our program and hopefully for all of you. You get a chance to play again in a retractable dome and trying to think about playing with the roof off and see if we can play outside, and it would excite (MSU Athletics Director) Mark Hollis, if nobody else.
In watching Memphis last night, watching the game, watching some tape during the night, you get a little awe in watching them, and I look at them a couple of times there, they look like the college version of the Lakers when Ervin (Johnson) was there; they have six or eight guys who can get the ball off the rim and go with it. They have great size with 6-6 and 6-7 wings.
(Derrick) Rose is a first-team All American, and he's really good. They have got strength inside, and they also have depth. (Chris) Douglas-Roberts and Rose, they are All-Americans. But they have great depth and they have guys that have started coming off the bench, and very well coached. John Calipari has been in the NBA, head coach there, and he's won at UMass, and he's put three 30 win seasons together at Memphis, so I guess that says it all.
And yes as you watch more film and more film, like everybody would do on everybody, you try to find warts that you can exploit, and I haven't found a lot yet. But it's only Monday, and hopefully by Tuesday we will find a few more.
They are struggling from the free-throw line. That's easy to say because everybody says that. But if you get a big lead like they are capable of doing, they are maybe as good a spurt team as I have seen in 10 years. They can be two up and then be 12 up in a matter of a minute.
And between their pressuring on defense and one of the better defensive teams and their length and ability to rebound and run with athletes, there's no question that this was everybody's No. 1 ranked team a lot of the year, them and North Carolina have been 1, 2, as far as who was the best team coming in, and I think they deserve it.
So, at the same time, you know, I said for a month, we've been playing better basketball. Practices have been better, even when we had some losses at the end of the year. But there's no question that (Drew) Neitzel and (Raymar) Morgan have to play well, and now we are getting to where the three and four, (Goran) Suton and (Kalin) Lucas have to play well. Against better teams, you have to have more numbers of players play well if you're going to advance.
I told our team at the beginning of the year, you know, if you can get to a Sweet 16, from there on, who knows what happens. We've been to seven of them, and it will be our seventh now in 11 years and I'm proud of that, and at the same time, when we've gotten there, we've usually moved on. I don't know why that is. I think it's been because we've had some pretty doggone good players that have helped us. There's no question Memphis being the roadblock, they are one of the biggest roadblocks we've ever had to move on.
Q. How would you compare style of play and quality of play?
COACH IZZO: Well, I don't think there's any question that the quality of play is better in the Big Ten. The style of play, it's so hard to say. Memphis is different than maybe 95 percent of the teams in the country, including their own conference. They run; we run; a lot of people run; but they run with a lot of different people handling the ball and such size.
And they are a good three-point shooting team, but I just talked to John about two and a half weeks ago not thinking we would play, and you know, he was telling me some issues they were having. Wish I would have written them all down.
You know, one of them is that they have been a little inconsistent three-point shooting. They have their nights where they are just burying 3s and they started out the Cincinnati game and I think had six of them and missed 15 of them the second half. So been a little inconsistent on that.
But Rose has continued to grow. He's a 6-4, 200-some pounder. He looks like (Eric) Gordon. He's probably got even more point guard skills, and it will be a heck of a matchup for Lucas.
And I think the styles, they are very good defensively, and a lot of teams in our league are. So they are a different style maybe than that league is, where in the Big Ten, I think in most conferences, the teams that lead the league are kind of the teams that the league patterns itself after.
I don't think anybody in the league can pattern itself after Memphis just because of the number of great players and the number of great athletes they have.
Q. What's the No. 1 most daunting thing about facing Memphis?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think it's the old adage about they put on their pants the same way. They are bigger than most of our wings. That's going to be a problem for us.
But when you play the people we have played over the years, when you look at the Neitzels or even a Morgan or playing against North Carolina, that's the advantage of playing the schedule you play, because nobody should be afraid of going in there. And nobody should be - the only nervousness should be is you're playing in the Sweet 16, and that's good. You should be a little nervous.
But I think our players should feel comfortable that they have faced just about every different style; when you look at a Texas who has similar type game except maybe better perimeter shooters but maybe not nearly as big.
And what's daunting is keeping them out of the lane, which has been the MO for the last two different waves, but if they can penetrate, (Joey) Dorsey becomes a monster, and can clean up on the offensive boards . . . they don't even have to lob it up, he just dunks it. I think if we had to take away one thing, transition defense would be one thing, but transition from the three-point line is going to be a major key, and that means we have to have Suton or some of our 4 men covering guys that can put the ball on the floor.
Q. Talking about the free-throw discrepancy, will it really hurt you against Memphis being that they are such a poor free-throw shooting team?
COACH IZZO: Well, if we get called for the fouls - you mean, in some of those games we got called for? The one advantage, if there is one, is they don't shoot as well from the line. The disadvantage is we have guys in foul trouble, like Morgan in the last game.
But I don't think that was on the dribble penetration. There was some open court. There was a rebound. You know, we have certain guys that we can't get in foul trouble that have been in foul trouble. Morgan and Suton are the leaders of that, and we just have to do a better job making sure they don't fall. They have to do a better job of understanding that sometimes - and I try to tell Morgan this because it's a compliment to him; I can't afford for him to take a swipe or it's like the Bad Boy days where you don't give up a layup. He's got to give up a layup, instead of fouling; and the compliment to that is because I need him on the floor.
So understanding that and learning that and telling a guy, don't put your hand in the cookie jar is okay, but when you're playing and you're playing instinctively, that's sometimes harder to do, and sometimes I don't understand that. You know, I said, let them go. The breakaway where he gets a silly foul - and yet it's easy to say from the sidelines and harder to do when you're playing. If there's an area he and G have to grow in, they have to understand their value to us is more than two points sometimes, and that's a hard thing to do deal with.
Q. Would you say this is the most athletic team you have played, starters, bench wise for the year?
COACH IZZO: I would say athletic with size. We've played some very athletic teams, but not that are 6-6, 6-9, 6 9 and a 6-4 point guard who is the strongest and maybe the best athlete of all of them.
So I guess athletic with size, like Texas is very athletic but not with the size that this team has or the length. They have tremendous size and tremendous length.
Q. The identity this team showed on Saturday, how close is that to your ideal for this team?
COACH IZZO: The win was big for the team and the win could turn out to be bigger for the program if we get back to being able to battle teams; that was not a slugfest like it was made out to be. That was not anywhere near the old Pittsburgh teams or the old Michigan State teams if you remember back five years ago, but it was more competing and battling and figuring out that you had to take somebody's strength away, and you had to be physical enough to bang guys and you had to have the team concept of everybody had to help each other.
I thought that was a monster step for our program and could help the guys next year and the year after. But hopefully, we can learn and grow from it this year because we did play a style - if you listened to Bobby Knight last night when he talked about how you win in the NCAA Tournament, defense is one, but at one time, not sure he thought rebounding was, and his second one was to rebound the ball.
The staples that we have stuck with for 13 years really have not changed any, even though sometimes you want to be better at this, better at this when it comes tournament time and to move on. And I've said it before, it doesn't matter what sport, you still have to have a solid base, and that solid base is to be able to defend people and take away things that they can do.
Now to be able to move on, when you get to the Sweet 16, you have to have offense with it, and I thought the other night, we did have offense with it, and that was the good news.
Q. A lot is made about the Memphis offensive system. Can you describe it, how different is it, and what are the keys to containing it?
COACH IZZO: You know, it's new. So anything that's new - we have all done it, we have all heard it around here, you know, when I say "new," it's just a different philosophy of the drive and kick.
You know, it was amazing. Duke has run it, the drive and kick and I think it was Seth Davis who went against his own alma mater when he said: "That style is not conducive for NCAA play." He said the other day, "They are not playing as good in the tournament." So same old, same old; if you line guys up and put helmets on them and win a basketball game, everybody would say that's the right way to go.
What's different about it? What's different about it is the players that play more than the style that it is. It's a little bit more drive and kick. (John's) still a play oriented guy. He's an NBA guy. But they do drive a little bit more, because they have got 6-7 guys that can handle the ball and that makes a big difference.
I don't know if they are scoring a decent amount of points, but they have been held down, too, on teams they have played, if you look at the good teams they have played, and they play a lot of those games at home, and so everybody talks about, well, they played Arizona and I think they played UConn real early. They played USC real early, played Tennessee, and those are good games. But then in the conference, they don't have to play as many of those kind of games.
So I think considering Georgetown, which they played at home, the style is good when the ball is going in, and like he said to me, though, the style is drive and kick out a lot of times, and all of a sudden they didn't shoot as well from the three, and that still is a factor.
I thought Knight had a good point, again, where he said the three can be a big plus for you. But if you're geared to taking a lot of them like Duke was and all of a sudden you're not making them, the three can be a big hindrance to you, too. We've got to make sure it hurts them and helps us, not the other way around.
Q. Is this the offense people want you to switch to?
COACH IZZO: Depends what week it is. They want me to switch to Wisconsin's when they are beating us; you want me to switch to - it depends.
If we beat Memphis, all of the people in Memphis will want to switch to our offense. That is the truth and it does get a little ridiculous. There's a reason still in the NCAA Tournament, there are still some factors that are important, and I think hitting a lot of threes is important for upset wins. I don't think necessarily teams go on to win a National Championship because just they can shoot a bunch of threes. I think you've got to be able to be solid in a lot of areas and probably good in a lot of areas. You know, it's an offense that is conducive in some ways, but if Larry Lage was here, he would want me pressing; and there are some teams that do press and that's good, but I'm not sure it's still the way to win a championship.
I think Memphis' offense is good, it's unique and people do catch on to something that's a little different. And yet, John is a good coach and he, as he said to me a couple of weeks ago, he's still running more plays now into that kind of offense instead of just that offense. I think that's because sometimes too much freedom can hurt you, too.
Q. Last week everybody was picking against you, and now everybody is picking you to upset Memphis; how do you support that psychologically?
COACH IZZO: I didn't talk a lot about it when they were picking against us, hey once, maybe nobody gives us a chance, or if we're not practicing well or if you're believing what you're hearing. I didn't really harp on that. I think our program is to the point where I don't have to make us out to be like it's the biggest upset of the year, and the same way the other way.
We have been humbled enough this year. I'm not worried about us reading something or seeing it on TV if we're picked to beat Memphis by one or two people. We have been humbled enough this year. That's the advantage of going through the kind of year we went through.
I think what people see is maybe our players did do a heck of a job against two teams that had similar styles, not exact, but similar styles in an area where we had struggled earlier in the year, you know, the dribble drives and the penetration. We really did, and when I say our team, that's exactly what I meant; it was a team defense.
And I do think, you know, having Drew coming back around and Kalin just getting more and more comfortable, I mean, he's doing better things. He's not charging. He threw up maybe a bad shot against Wisconsin instead of coming down to a two-foot stop, but that kid is growing every day and he's starting to understand why somebody is telling him something. He's starting to watch more film where you can see it instead of just being told it.
But like I said, Morgan has to play better and Suton has to play well, and now you need three or four guys playing well and not just one or two. You can have some role players, but you need more than one guy playing well.
It's nice when Neitzel is making shots, and I think they are starting to get comfortable with him. I think he and Kalin are working even better together. They are finding each other. Drew is throwing some nice passes to him. So things that happen as a team, it gets better and kind of grows.
And we still need our other freshmen. Our freshmen had a good tournament. Now, Durrell (Summers) didn't play as much in the last game, but you know, the tempo game, he was very important and Durrell is one of our best athletes, and he'll have to guard some athletes just as big or athletic as him, and I think that will be a big key.
Q. Does it ease your mind more when you see your team going into a competition like this weekend, in your mind are there more X's and O's questions in your mind now, instead of the motivational questions?
COACH IZZO: Yeah, it is nice to - yesterday was an off day. We had the quick meeting when we got home, and I came back to watch film and there's some guys in there shooting. As I said, you hope throughout the whole year, there's the same intensity.
But there's a realism to it, and I do think our players - you know, I mentioned the part about we had a player during the game who I was going to put him in for another guy, and he told me to leave the other guy in. And so it's becoming more of a player/coach team, which I still think is essential if you're going to be really successful as a team or as a program.
Players have taken up ownership where if you give them a night off, they are going to try to come in and do something. A couple guys came in and grabbed some tape. We are far away from game day; five days in basketball is like three weeks in football.
It eases your mind a little bit. I think we have people's attention, and for what reason, bigger games? You hope not. But I think a little success and I think understanding the difference between pulling up and taking a shot and going in and charging; or Drew just taking shots and being a gun slinger that he should be instead of passing up shots and guys getting the ball at the right time.
Those things, when you have success doing those things against good people, I think it gives everybody a little more confidence. And yeah, it puts me a little more at ease, and now I can worry about Memphis more instead of Michigan State and Memphis or Michigan State and Pittsburgh.
Q. Are we seeing the payoff of being able to execute so many different things and then playing people who haven't seen you yet?
COACH IZZO: I think we are seeing some of that. We feel we have a lot of things in our arsenal that we have not used yet and now we are going to be able to use more of them this week. But I think we are executing those things better. I don't think there's one offense, I really don't. I think it's the execution of the offense. In some ways, I grew up believing in the Lombardi theory, running a guard off tackle in a sweep and stops us, and I do believe in that. And I think if you've got better personnel than people, you can do those kinds of things.
I think what we have done, and one thing that Jim Boylen helped me with last year, kind of an NBA thing, Flip Saunders has talked about this a lot, is adding things. Just simplifying, but adding things in progression so that you have more options off of different things; if people take away something, you can go to the same play and get different options off of.
And I think that has helped us in building our playbook and building the things we want to do now, and it makes you - it's a little harder like a motion where you have to make more decisions maybe, but I think Lucas is helping, too. I think we have missed out on one thing all year that I never talk about because I've always wanted to be something else because we needed so much. Neitzel is making his best decisions of his life, and his return ratio has been phenomenal all year and he's still getting a lot of assists, and I think part of that is getting a feel for everybody and having everybody, like Morgan, and of course Lucas, and even Chris Allen, Suton, able to score more.
Q. You talked about Suton after the game a little bit, and the confidence you've always had in his game, did you see something before him on Saturday that led to you believe he was going to have as good of a game as he did, and can you talk about his importance going forward?
COACH IZZO: I just talked to him this morning. I said, "G, do you know why I'm always on you? Because I think you have so much more to give." And I really, really do.
Most people that take my comments as hard or insulting are usually just the opposite. They are usually softer and complimentary. It just depends what you want to get out of somebody. If I believe a guy has more to give, my way of getting on him is telling him, "Son, you have a lot more to give. I am confident in you that you can do it. I'm mad that you're not doing it because I believe in you sometimes more than you believe in you," and that's the deal with G.
I do think he has a lot of skills. Other than maybe great athletic ability, average athletic ability, he's got good feet and that's why he can cover people. He's got incredible basketball IQ, and he's got good skills to be able to pass and shoot the ball. And he's got a knack in rebounding. He's the only guy that jumps this high, but he's Larry Bird ish in that way. He's not a great athlete, but he does have a nose for the ball and that's why he averages eight or nine rebounds a game.
So what I see in G, once in awhile you really see some focus, but he does have the little more laid back approach to things, and so sometimes him and I are water and oil in that respect.
But I do feel like right now, he's gaining more confidence in himself, and maybe more important than confidence in himself, he's getting hungrier to be a real good player instead of just good, and good is okay. Most of our society lives in good because they are afraid to try to get the great. And that's my job to make sure they try to push themselves to great.
I think if you asked them - I don't know what he would say, but he would probably say, yeah, I don't like it, but I understand it. He has a great understanding, and he's very honest about it. You know, I've said all along, he'll tell you that he maybe hasn't done enough or he should have, but he is doing a lot more than he used to do, and that's getting him to really good, and yet that step, you know, it's just such a huge step to go from good to great that you know, we are going to continue to work on it.
And I think that the kid has the ability and the skills to go from good to great. Not everybody has that. A lot of people are just going to stay good no matter how hard they work because of limited ability. He has the ability, and that's the good and the bad, and sometimes it drives me nuts, and yet that's sometimes what drives me, because I do know in my mind and I feel that he has that. When he feels that way, we're going to really take off.
Q. Could you talk about the importance of Raymar Morgan in this game especially and how much of a focal point he'll be, especially going against Memphis's lineup?
COACH IZZO: In a lot of ways, when you get into games like this with great athletes with his kind of size, Raymar becomes the MVP in a way because he has to guard a bunch of different kind of people and can rebound with anybody they have. He is strong or stronger than most, not as strong as Dorsey, but other than that, he's as strong as any of them.
And Raymar is another guy that has a good basketball IQ. He understands the game. He still has his moments when he gets down on himself and it's changed tenfold. It's a lot better than it was. Is it in that great area yet? No. And that's what we are continually working towards.
Like I said, it's hard to tell a guy when you're me, and you don't want to give up a layup, and you don't want to give up an easy shot, and then I'm turning it around and telling Raymar: If it's a breakaway, you have to let it go; or if it's this, you have to let it go, because you're too valuable to us on the floor. I can see where that would send mixed signals, but I also think he's a very intelligent kid and he should be able to pick up on that. I think he will.
After the Pitt game, that's what I said, locker rooms, locker rooms are the most awesome place in America. After the Wisconsin game, I knew every guy cared. I know that sounds strange, but I knew they did, and each other knew they did. That was a step. That was important. It had not happened enough. After the Pitt game, you know, I let Jud (Heathcote) talk to the team for a minute, and I didn't know what he was going to say, and he said if we give up one more baseline drive, he's going to kill somebody. And I said, that's perfect. He was happy, but the players were all happy because I think they all realized winning was the most important thing, and so if a guy didn't play great and we won, that was good.
And so in two weekends on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, this team grew some, a lot, and that was fun.
So Ray wasn't down. I think he wasn't as down on the bench, either. He was more upset with himself because, you know, like he said, `I'm letting you down,' and of course I agreed, because I think of him so much, I need him so much out there.
Raymar Morgan, I have not changed one bit; I said to you the first day, he still has a chance I think to be the best forward that's played here in a lotta, lotta, lotta years, and that's no insult to anybody. But I have a couple guys that need to have the confidence in themselves that I have in them, and then they will really go somewhere.
Q. The process you've gone through with Suton, is that at all any similar to what you went through with a guy like A.J. Granger, who did not show his full game until it came down to March?
COACH IZZO:Morris Peterson was - the difference was with those guys, was the people around them. Mateen (Cleaves) was such a good leader and he was a good player, and Andre (Hutson) who was so solid, and even Antonio (Smith).
Is it any different? No, it's no different. And that's what I told these guys. I understand it's still a process, especially in Raymar's case, who was younger, but I need more out of you at an earlier age and I must think you have that to give or I would not be harping. I'm not as dumb as some people out there think when I call him - I'm dumb, but I'm not that dumb. I do know when a guy is capable of making an impact. And I think in Suton's case, he is a little older now, so I'm not going to tolerate it as much, because time is running out for him.
And Raymar is a little bit different story, but yeah, the Grangers, or even the Bells earlier in his career, the Petersons, those guys went through it, too. It's just that they could be role players with the other players I had at an earlier age. Some of these guys can't be.
Like Lucas, you know what, I thought all along he has the ability. I still think those other two freshmen do, too. Some of that is me playing them more, in fairness to them, and some of that is they have to earn it and maybe because some other guys are not playing quite as well, that hurts their chances, you know what I mean? Or the kind of players you have - defensively when I say Durrell and Chris sometimes hurt us, maybe it's only because some of our other guys are not as good as a Charlie (Bell) and Mateen were.
So it's not all their fault. It's just part of the whole deal. But yeah, it's not like some of those other guys were stars their whole careers, no question.
Q. Teams have used hack-a-Shaq on Memphis; how important does it make the guys who can give up the fouls?
COACH IZZO: Well, we should be good at it. If you look at some of our losses, we've been hack-a-Shaqing it in every bad loss. So we don't have to coach that, I can guarantee you that. They are really good at it.
You know, there is a Catch 22 in that whole deal. Some people say, you know, foul them, they have missed a lot of free throws - what was it, 40-some percent yesterday. But you know, I would rather still contain them, not foul them and make them beat us from the outside. Because my luck, instead of that fourth sub getting the fouls, it will be my key guys getting the fouls. If it comes down to the end of the game will we have a game plan intact, sure, when it comes down to the end.
But I'm not using that early, I can promise you that. We've got to check and we have to check them well and we have to check them without fouling.
Q. Go from one monster in Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair in the paint to Joey Dorsey who has been wildly inconsistent this year, do you plan on using the same game plan with him down in the paint? And also, Chris Douglas-Roberts, as far as the six eyes on defense on him?
COACH IZZO: We might need eight on him. Douglas-Roberts, he can go both ways. He's long, you know, like Steve Smith was. When you're long like that, the ball fakes and the shot fakes and the fake passes, I mean, those arms are spanning out so much farther, it makes it harder to cover. And we are going to have to really be disciplined in that as far as looking at the numbers and not watching the ball at times.
You know, all of those guys have some flashiness to them, and if you focus in on the ball or the arms or the hips, instead of maybe just the number, because if the number moves, then the body is moving, that's going to be a key.
As far as Dorsey is concerned, you know, Drew played with him this summer. I was at those tryouts. I mean, he has his moments when he's unstoppable down there, and he's a great offensive rebounder. I guess he's had his moments when sometimes he can be his own worst enemy too.
But start getting to Sweet 16 time, and I think everybody knows a lot of eyes are on you. Usually you're going to be playing your best or you're going to do what you can do to play your best. And so I expect Dorsey to be at his best, but who knows, if they are all at their best and they are all making shots, it's a difficult team to play.
I watched their game against Tulsa and Tulsa played them pretty well the first two games, but it was Tulsa's fourth game in the tournament (Conference USA title game). (Memphis) started out, everybody that took a shot made it, I think the manager took one from the bench and made it. It was just three after three after three. If they can do that with the number of players and the athletic ability, I don't think anybody's beating them. And so it's our job to make sure they don't do what they do well.
Q. You are holding opponents to 35-percent shooting so far in the tournament. What's been the key?
COACH IZZO: Well, the tournament has been - our defense has been unbelievable. It's been 35 percent and 20 percent from the three. And (against) pretty good, pretty athletic, pretty strong teams.
But they used Dorsey differently, and when these guys penetrate, Pittsburgh shot the ball. I mean, they will just throw the ball. You almost swear it's - where is the ball going, and all of a sudden this arm comes up and dunks it.
So they are a different kind of team. But some of the standards are the same, we had to face (Temple's Dionte) Christmas, guys who are 6-6, 6-7, athletic and can get to the basket and shoot it . . . We have done a decent job of that, but I'm not sure we faced a team with the number of length guys that can handle the ball and a power guy as good and the point guard. I mean, Rose is a first or second-team All-American.
So he (Rose) brings the Gordon type physicalness with maybe more even point guard qualities, and I mean, it's the best talented team we'll face. Our defense has been at its best. We turned it over a little more the other day, but our offense has been better. Good time to play, I guess.
Q. When you looked back at the Pittsburgh game, how much of their poor shooting do you credit to the defense, and how much of it was missing shots and how much of that factors in to containing the three?
COACH IZZO: I thought they missed some decent shots. It wasn't like we were phenomenal defensively. They had some shots they missed I thought. What we did, you know, is we didn't press them press them, because we just didn't want to especially to the court. We just tried to pressure a little bit and keep some pressure on the point guard and hope.
I thought they did wear down a little bit, and now remember, that team played those four games in the BIG EAST Tournament, and they played six or seven games in 10 or 11 days, and so that was part of the game plan then, which makes this team (Memphis) more difficult, is they have more depth. I mean, they are playing nine guys 15, 14 minutes a game or more. So they have more depth and I think one or two guys that have not started coming off the bench.
I think that makes it more difficult to figure out where we'll wear these guys down. I don't think that will be a factor in the game. Other than Douglas-Roberts, they have been more of a streaky three-point shooting team. Some guys have shot well. As a team, they are only shooting in the 34, 35 percent I think. So it's not quite as good of a three-point shooting team, and they don't take an astronomical amount at times, because they are getting to the hole. But their break and their transition game, to me, is as good as anybody we've played in a long time.
Q. What was your relationship with Chris Douglas-Roberts? Could you describe that recruiting process and how his career turned out?
COACH IZZO: I think you have to give him and Calipari a lot of credit. You know we recruited him. I can't say he was a big time recruit. He was looking a lot like a Steve Smith, probably 6-5, very, very skinny, and with kind of a quirkiness to him but a knack, and a great understanding of the game. I remember talking to Speedy Walker, his AAU coach and he just had an understanding of the game.
But he's improved his shooting so much, and his ball handling skills a lot. I mean, I think that kid deserves a lot of credit. He has really taken his game to another level. It wasn't that us or Michigan or everybody else missed; they got him, but it wasn't like he was everybody's superstar. He's made himself a great player. He's made himself an All-American, and he and Calipari deserve the credit for that, they really do.
Q. Last night on ESPN, Digger Phelps said that because Memphis is so good in transition and at running the break, that would be to your disadvantage - do you see this as an up-and-down game?
COACH IZZO: I see this as an up-and-down game. I thought he would tell me to zone them. That's what he usually tells me. (Laughs)
I hope it is an up and down game. I think we have enough athletes and I think we have enough depth that we can run. It will be an up-and-down game, and they are going to run. I hope our transition defense is good enough to stop some of that. That's what I hope we do is somewhat stop some of that fastbreak, or contain it would be a better word, because I don't think you're going to stop it.
So that's what we've got to do. Their break is as good as anybody's in the country. I'd have to agree with Digger on one thing, only one. (Laughs)
Q. You've played a lot of freshmen before. What is uncommon or unusual about Lucas? What jumps out at you about him?
COACH IZZO: Well, I think he was very well coached in everything he did, his high school, his AAU ball, I think he was very well coached. And his family, his dad is - you know, they don't pamper him. I don't think he's been pampered. He has not been ruined, spoiled.
And as dumb as it sounds, I think the decision not to start him was okay, now that I look back at everything. You know, maybe some people questioned it. But the kid, he's had to earn some things. He was a football player. He's tougher than I thought he was. I didn't know that side of him. He's got a little toughness streak to him, and he competes.
You know, it's just a matter of - I think the hardest thing he had to do coming to college, he can get in the paint so easy. I think everybody would agree he's one of the quickest players that any of us have seen. He can get in there so easy, but have to keep reminding him, instead of 6-5 guys, there are now 7-footers in there, and it doesn't matter how quick are you or how high you can jump; you are not getting shots off in that.
So he's had to pick and choose a little bit more, and that took a while, and sometimes just an average decision or two, he'll make. But he's grown in that area so much and I think he's grown in the area of trying to get in and watch more film, because that really helps a guy like that who quarterbacks a team.
I think how he was brought up - how he was coached, had nothing to do with here, and his own competitive instinct and nature are what's kind of separating him as truly one of the better freshmen, and I know there's a lot of good ones out there.
But I keep telling them, a lot of those great ones, they are home; and this is his time and he's earned it. I like the way it all happened. It's come quickly if you look at a freshman, but maybe a little slower for him if you look at some of the freshman that were so ballyhooed that are now sitting home.
Q. (Marquise) Gray, what is his status right now, and how much of an X factor will you need him to be in the Sweet 16 round?
COACH IZZO: You know, I think we need him, and whenever you say that about a guy who has not played much or playing 14 minutes a game or whatever, I didn't feel as comfortable or as confident, and he didn't do a bad job the first night, but the second night he struggled. He is the X factor that we need. I think he is very important. I think we've got to spend more time with him this week. I think he's got to play some this week, and play effectively, which I think - which I still think he can do. He's making great strides and end of the year, he went backwards a little bit, but yeah, I think he is going to be a factor in this game and will play.
Q. Can you talk about Idong Ibok in the role he's played and what do you see him doing this weekend?
COACH IZZO: Well, Idong, we've had a strange situation with him. He didn't play for a lot of games, and all of a sudden in two games, he actually played some minutes and 11 straight, or 11 in the first half in one game, which has huge. He has length. The hands thing, you know, is still a factor. It's better but it still is a problem. He fumbled a couple of balls that definitely were lay ups.
He's smart. He'll do whatever you ask him to do, and he's got some toughness to him. I mean, people banging him has no effect on him. Doesn't bother him a bit. And so that is a big quality. He's getting better at walling people. He wants to block everything, and that got him into foul trouble and quick fouls in a lot of games.
So I think now that he's walling people and just being big, what he is, with some length, it's definitely helped us. nd you've got a guy like Dorsey who is 6-8 but jumps out, strong; I think length bothered Blair some, and hopefully that's one area that we can bother them a little bit in.
Q. You talk about Morgan in foul trouble, I would assume he's the guy at least one of the starters you want on Douglas Roberts.
COACH IZZO: That is the big thing for today and tomorrow is figure out how much switching we're still going to do. And we've adjusted that over the last eight games, really, for Wisconsin, Indiana on. Definitely, he'll get his shot at Douglas-Roberts, but it won't be one guy. It will be a bunch of different guys, and it will be a bunch of guys at one time.
I think the guy, like I said, he's like a Steve Smith with his length and ball handling skills, maybe even more athletic, and he's very, very good, so it won't be a one dimensional guy. But we definitely have to have Morgan able to guard him, and I think he is capable of guarding him. He's stronger. But he's got to stay out of foul trouble.
Q. If you beat a No. 1 seed and if you beat Texas in its own backyard, can you put in perspective what a weekend win like that would mean?
COACH IZZO: Well, we've had some incredible weekend wins in the regionals. You know, the one in Detroit is still my favorite. The Duke/Kentucky one was probably bigger as far as teams. We did get in a bracket where there are no real upsets, so we don't get to play a 17 seed or anything. We've got to play somebody - you know we have to play the real deal, and nobody is going to be able to say we got there the easy way. You know it would be a humongous weekend for the team, the program, the players, but that's a lot to do. And then you have to go to somebody else's home turf and you do get by one and they win, and Stanford, you know, has got giants inside.
It's going to be an interesting game. That game is going to be interesting, because two contrasting styles, for sure, in Texas and Stanford, but the advantage with us is we still have to win the weekend, and we'll still go there thinking we have to win the weekend. But the first game is a lot more daunting task than we've had in a while; if you look at going against Syracuse that one year, going against Duke was a very good team, but I don't think the caliber that Memphis is as far as a good basketball team.
So what would it be? It would be awesome, but a lot of work to do in between.
FastScripts by ASAP Sports