Sweet 16 Practice Update: Coach Izzo Quotes
March 25, 2010
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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo held a 20-minute press conference Thursday previewing the upcoming Midwest Regional semifinal game between the fifth-seeded Spartans and ninth-seeded Northern Iowa. Listen to Izzo's comments in the Spartan Sports Podcast.
MODERATOR: We're joined by Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo. We'll have him make a statement about his team being here in St. Louis, then we'll go to questions.
COACH IZZO: I'm just happy to be here, to be honest with you. Started our little run here back in '99, and been here for the 2005 Final Four. It's a great place.
I think we're getting a little healthier. Of course, we won't have Lucas, but it's the other two I'm worried about right now. And they practiced a little bit today. So Northern Iowa is a very good team.
I said in this tournament, since I've been in it, when you win your first game, it can be lucky. But when you get to a Sweet 16, you're probably pretty good. And when you beat a team like Kansas with all their experience, I think that speaks volumes in itself. So we know we've got our work cut out for us, and we're looking forward to it.
Q. With regard to your well known emphasis on rebounding, which we just heard an eloquent discussion of by Mr. Green, did you have some traumatic athletic experience in high school or college or something where you got killed on the glass and said that's never going to happen to me again?
COACH IZZO: No, I got a better one. My first year I had a team that we could barely score when we were going against ourselves with no defense. And I remember we went out to Maui and we beat Chaminade by two, and then the next game we played North Carolina, and I don't know got beat by I think 100. And then we played Steve Nash and got beat and we came back and were going to play Arkansas. That's when Nolan had his good teams.
And I realized that our best offense has to be the missed shot. And so I started a kid, Antonio Smith, at power forward. He was a center. I think we had 24 or 25 offensive rebounds in that game, and we upset them. They were in the top 25.
And I said, aha, there's something to this. And then I had to spend a couple of years listening to Jud telling me it was my only offense the missed shot. Then when we got better shooters we maintained the rebounding. I hear a lot of people talk about good defensive teams, how can you be a good defensive team without being a good rebounding team, because the rebound finishes the defense.
And that's the way I've looked at it. I've always sent four to the glass. I've had some incredible guard rebounders, Charlie Bell, Jason Richardson, Morris Peterson, and that helped. That was kind of unconventional to send four to the boards. Usually people send three.
So it all started because we couldn't make a shot. So nothing in high school. I could make a lot of shots then because I had Mariucci guarding me and that was a piece of cake. It was when I got to college I got my problems.
Q. On the outside looking in on this tournament when you were a younger guy, what did you think was the best thing about the NCAA experience, and once you got into it, what did you discover actually was the best part?
COACH IZZO: You know, I think we all complain about the hype and the pressure. That's the best part to me. There's just something about March. There's something about practicing in Michigan and it's still light after practice I mean when it is light after practice. That means you're practicing in March, the right time of year.
And I just looked at it, the first time we got in it was incredible. And we went to a Sweet 16 that very first year. And then we hit those three Final Fours. And I have just always thought that the NCAA tournament is the most special thing.
You all know I'm a big football fan. But that one and done and the ability to try to make guys realize the my bads, the it was only one mistake, that you hear all the time as excuses. Well that's great but if you want to compete in the NCAA tournament you don't get that. This is it. You lay it on the line. You do it. If it's a bad game or my bad play or whatever, whatever. Realize that's okay. But you're going home.
And I love that. I think it teaches kids a lot and it doesn't leave room for many excuses.
Q. Every year there's a mid major that makes it to the Sweet 16, but as you're studying Northern Iowa, what stands out? What makes them different than the typical team maybe that surprises to this point?
COACH IZZO: I've got a lot of great experience. We're the team that got beat by George Mason and everybody said how could that happen, and then they beat North Carolina and then they beat UConn and then they're in the Final Four.
I'm a Division II guy at heart. So I'm not a fan of the phrase mid major, only because I understand when you have juniors and seniors on your team, which they do, when you have guys that have played together a long time, which they do, when you have very good basketball players and a couple I think are great players, you know, they play together well.
They're very well coached. They're probably the best, if you want to call it mid major, defensive team that I've seen in a long time. Very sound and solid. And kind of like a Wisconsin in our league. They just don't make a lot of errors. They don't take a lot of chances, but they don't make a lot of mistakes because of it.
And you have to be as solid as they are or more so. And I watched Kansas play them. And you try to pick up the tempo and speed the tempo up and maybe pressure, do some things that you don't do. And it didn't work so good, because I think they can handle that. And that's where their experience comes in.
Q. Coach, would you describe your team as warriors?
COACH IZZO: I've called them a lot of things during the year, you know. Some good, some bad. But I think what we've done is we've developed into a team that has gone through some adversity, some sort of rebuilding.
Everybody talked about we got a lot back. We do have a lot back. But we lost a lot in Walton and Suton and my two other centers. I lost three fifth year centers. And we struggled with getting our chemistry the way I think it needs to be to really move on. We've struggled with our leadership a little bit. That's not always of anybody's fault. It's just the makeup of your team.
And I've been prodding that and trying to push for that. But I really felt these last couple of weeks, not just in the tournament, even at the end of the season, guys started to realize, you know, to win 20 games you can be one way. To win a Big Ten championship or conference championship, or deep run in the tournament, you have to be another way.
Because of what we've done over the years, I've been pushing more for that end product and not letting those - kind of not be okay with the average ness or the lack of chemistry or the lack of leadership, because I know eventually it's going to get us.
So warriors, I think, we have a pretty tough team. Not as tough as some that I've had. But I think couple of the guys that are here are making some progress in that area. And we've definitely taken some big steps as far as our better teammates, more togetherness, in the last couple of weeks. And I can't think of a better time to do that.
Q. How much differently do you prepare during the tournament now than maybe your first tournament or couple of them? And what kind of things do you pick up along the way, or people did you turn to to learn some tricks to maximize your team's chances in a short amount of time?
COACH IZZO: You know, I can honestly say I don't do one thing different than what I did, because what happened to me is we won our first game against Eastern Michigan. And we were playing Princeton the second game.
And I said how do you prepare for Princeton in a day and a half? With that offense, all those backdoor cuts. And I really had some good assistants back then. Tom Crean was one of them. Mike Garland who is still on my staff. Stan Heath who is now down at South Florida. And we just thought of how do we keep their attention.
Our game we didn't get back to the hotel until 1:00 at night. So we started these 20 minute segments, 20 minutes of film. Before breakfast, 20 minute walkthrough. After breakfast, 10 minute film session. And we did that throughout the day. And I still stay to that pretty similar pattern, because I think I heard Bobby Knight talk about the biggest key is having familiarity with the opponent and how do you get that in a short turnaround time.
And I realized it wasn't beating them to death for two hours, it was more these walkthroughs, these film sessions, walkthroughs. I've got incredible video guys. I've got great assistant coaches, and so I can honestly say I don't think since that Princeton one, and we came out and won it.
I will never forget they didn't get one back door, and that was the ultimate goal. Back then Bill Carmody was the coach. So I've stuck to that program pretty good and it's been successful for us.
Q. What are the changes for you and your team without Kalin Lucas, and what do you think about people now expecting Northern Iowa to win this game because he's not going to play?
COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I look back last weekend, and people asked me a lot. We've got one of those teams - it's just not - the McDonald's sign doesn't hang on our locker room. So we're always kind of underdogs in one way or another.
And I don't know if we're exactly the underdog, but I agree I can understand why people there's a lot of question marks we have right now. It's not just Kalin. But when we didn't have him last week, the second half of that game, the last two and a half minutes of the first half and the second half, I thought we grew up a lot.
I think we learned we had to rely on other people, and I think if nothing else through some adversity brought us even closer together. I've been on these guys about having each other's back. And that was a game we did. And we played very well that whole game.
The last two or three minutes, hey, give credit to Maryland. I mean, we were walking on our heels a little bit. We were playing some bizarre lineups a little bit. But Maryland and Vasquez did an incredible job. Gary did a great job just keeping that press on us, and it finally wore us down where he was just pressing after free throws. He started pressing, which was a smart move. And we handled it a little bit.
We even built the lead up, but then we started to wear down just like good pressing teams do to you. And I felt like we earned the win but I thought we were lucky to win the way it ended.
So we're going to have to play without Kalin. And sometimes you can get by in half of a game. But then the next week, when a team gets the game plan for you, without him, it becomes even harder.
And that's the challenge I put to our team: We're going to have to rise up because it's going to be even harder.
Q. You covered a little bit of this earlier, but when a program builds a reputation, as yours has, of invariably being ready for March and finding another level, what's the most important thing you have to do and you have to give them as a coach to build that kind of reputation?
COACH IZZO: I think it starts really in about October. I mean, I've always had a brutal schedule early. I've stuck to that, even when I've lost players to the NBA. I've stuck to I said if you're cocky early and you play Texas down there you're going to get it knocked out of you.
And I think we were a little cocky this year, if you want the truth. And so we scheduled well. I think that's one thing we do. Not panic as the year goes on. Realize that it's a long season. It's a marathon, not a sprint. And you want to be perfect every game, but I don't get caught up in that as much.
I want to be good enough to win our league, which we're knocking on the door each year. But, you know, I don't know, I guess when you do what we've done, I enjoy listening to the players that have left, because they're all calling back in March and you gotta make a run, Coach.
I think our players start believing, other players. It's not me that has to sell it. It's them. Or when they come back for a football game or know Magic is flying in and they know all those things, that's exciting and it's cool, and it's fun.
But I still give the credit to the players that have been there and left for staying in touch, for my staff who has been really good. And I just try to convince them that it's a marathon and we're not going to let the people in the community or the media or anybody tear you down. I'll do that good enough. But then in tournament time, I think I try to build them up. I just don't want to do it too early. So March seems like a good time to start.
Q. You touched on this a little bit about maybe the difference between Northern Iowa and for lack of a better term some other mid majors. Is the biggest thing that they've got a really good big guy? Seems like against Kansas that was really the thing, maybe turned it into a game. They had a big guy that could really settle things down in the middle a little bit. Could you comment on that?
COACH IZZO: The big guy is good...if he's 1 for 9 from the 3 and he hits two 3s in that game, 1 for 9 for the year, that's hard. But I think those forwards, those brothers are really good.
And they have such size. 7 foot, 7 1, 290; you're 6 8, 6 9, 255, 250; you're 6 6, 255. That's odd for a lot of mid major teams. Usually they're smaller, like when we played George Mason, they were a lot smaller.
And teams like that. But that's probably where they differ, and yet they don't just have good big men, they've got guards that can shoot it. And you put the combination together, and then some experience and some guys that played together and they're very well coached, you got yourself one hell of a team. And I think that's what they've got.
They're unknown to a lot of people. And that's what makes it hard for even us. You can see a lot of film, but then you have to - like I'm seeing - like I'm telling my assistants every bit of film I watch I want the roster of that team. What does Creighton have? What does Illinois State have, what sizes are they.
You have to figure out how to get a comparison to play against you. How strong are these teams? How tough are these teams? There's so many different factors that go into it. I think they'd have an easier time scouting us than we do them.
But that's the fun of the challenge. And I think they're every bit as good as they deserve to be.
Q. Because Northern Iowa is not a traditional tournament power, and an unknown like you said, did you wonder if you would have any trouble convincing your team of what they do well and how good they are?
COACH IZZO: No. And I'll tell you why. You know, we played Kansas twice last year. Once at our place and once in the tournament. And in the tournament really they handled us pretty good. We found a way to win at the end. But they had a 13 point lead in the second half. And our guys know how good Kansas is.
And Nevada Las Vegas, Lon Kruger was in the Big Ten. Very good coach. So I was able to share those two things with them. And that alone told you that this team's got to be good, because they played against good programs, well coached programs, a team that has got two or three players that have already won a national championship and the star now in Collins and Aldrich and other players that have been to Sweet 16s last year.
So I don't think we have two issues here. Number one, our guys know the health of our team. And I think they know the way our season went. A little bit more unconventional, a little bit more not as smooth. And so cockiness hasn't been a problem since the first, maybe, month.
And then I think seeing a team do what they did against the team that they played against I think helps. So that's not been a problem, at least to my knowledge.
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