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Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Coverage

Coach Izzo and the Spartans will take on Duke Friday night in Indianapolis.

March 25, 2013


EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media at his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon to preview the upcoming Sweet 16 matchup against Duke.

The third-seeded Spartans (27-8) and second-seeded Blue Devils (29-5) will play Friday in Indianapolis at approximately 9:45 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium in the second Midwest Regional Semifinal, following top-seeded Louisville and No. 12 seed Oregon at 7:15 p.m. The game will be televised on CBS.

The following is a complete transcript from Monday's press conference:

COACH IZZO: Looking at some of the things between us and Duke, the last 15 years, which I said 10 to 15 years is how you have to evaluate in this day and age where your program is, there are some pretty impressive things here. I just wish I had 40 days to enjoy it like you do in a bowl game instead of four or five. There's no question, if you look at the NCAA Tournament and what's been done, nobody's Duke, because Duke is Duke. We are one of the closest things to it as far as consistency, and that should make for an incredible game.

We have now played, I guess, 13 out of 17, our last 17 games against NCAA teams, so I said that would prepare us; it has. Still have five teams left, I think is good. But maybe the most important thing for me was this weekend and what we did defensively, holding teams to 32 percent was maybe as good as we've had in a two game series in a long, long time. The plus 23 rebound edge, is again - this program has done things like that in the past but this year's team has not, even defensively. This year's team maybe has not been quite as good.

So I thought those two things were awfully good against teams that like a Memphis who had scored all year long against everybody they had played, but I'm hoping Indy brings us the same memories that The Palace did. We have been pretty successful in the tournaments down in Indy.

In looking at Duke, you know, let's face it, they are a No. 1 seed without Kelly, if one or two things didn't happen in the end. You definitely with him, this is a team that's (20 1) and been a 1 seed all along with him. Not that it really matters at this point in time of the tournament. But what does matter is just shooting over 40 percent from the 3 as a team and they have got five guys that shoot over 40 percent, at 38 percent and that's impressive. I just think they are extremely well coached. They do not turn the ball over much. They do not make many mistakes. They do not have maybe the great depth, although last night I was impressed with the two subs, (Amile) Jefferson and (Josh) Hairston that came in, and, yeah, did a great job for them, but their depth is not maybe a strength of their team in general. And you had size and they have got a stretch four, and they have got three really good guards.

Yet I do think we match up with them. Whether we can matchup and play with them, we are going find out, but we at least (we) match up with them fairly well. So you know, I've had appreciation for that program my whole career. Started when we played them in the game in Chicago (in 1998) and that led to the game in Tampa (in 1999), and it has not changed since.

So I know what kind of program they have. I know how they do things and I appreciate them and I look up to them in that respect and yet it's time now to play them and I feel a little differently about that, so I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Q. You and I talked after the game about communication. After watching the film of that game, was that the kind of communication you've been looking for as far as your players with each other?

COACH IZZO: I do think that's a true statement. There was definitely even more communication from our bench to our players on certain plays they ran. It's getting better. The two guys that struggle the both are Keith (Appling) at times and Gary (Harris) at times and they are your guards and that's going to be something we're going to harp on all week.

When you play a team like this, you don't guard their ball screens with two people; you guard them with four or five and everybody's got to be understand what's going on and for somebody in the back row to remind guys in the front row what they should be doing is I think imperative.

So I'm really encouraged by the fact that for a weekend, we made some progress in that area. Now, can we sustain and even build on it? That's what I'm looking for this week.

Q. Duke has a brand and Louisville, too, in the region. Do you recognize that to many people that exists with this program?

COACH IZZO: I was telling Matt coming down here, he was the one that brought up football. You know, I look at the Sweet 16 with Kansas, I look at what it has been like in the last 16 seasons since our first one, and only Duke has more Sweet 16 appearances as we know with 13, and we have 11. But that puts us in rare air.

I guess the hardest thing that I have to do is maybe look at that and feel good about it. I said the day will come when I'll be able to feel great about it. Sometimes I look at it and say, boy, I don't even appreciate it myself so why should I expect someone else to appreciate it. I have to find that happy medium in there somewhere.

You know, maybe it will be Friday night after because I think it's important now that you get into this tournament and if the upsets happen and everything, it still usually gets down to the marquis teams and I think this will be one of the best match ups there will be. That's what you want to play for. That's if you want to be in it. I think we've earned that over our 15, 16 years of real great success, and so I'm anxious to see how that fairs for us.

Q. The Big Ten has never done this well to this point, it (ties) a record. Does this validate what you thought all year that this was the best conference top to bottom?

COACH IZZO: You know, it really doesn't validate it, because I'm not huge on thinking that. Match ups can play a difference to this game and to some it won't be validated unless the Big Ten wins a championship.

So does it help? That helps. But I thought many years when we played the ACC Big Ten challenge that our conference was as good or better but we didn't have Indiana and Ohio State playing in it, just nobody cared, nobody wrote about it, nobody understood it. And that was two of the best teams at the time. So perception becomes a little bit of reality and the more games you win, the farther you go, the perception is of that. I think we earned our keep, again, over the 18 grueling games and that Big Ten Tournament. Now this is frosting on the cake. Does it help? I'm sure it helps in perception. Does it help in my mind? No, I already thought it was, I already believed it was and there were years I thought the BIG EAST was and there were years I thought the ACC was. So definitely not fighting for our spot. I just think it's better earned.

Q. Wondering how Keith is doing, the shoulder, the knee.

COACH IZZO: I think that the shoulder is going to be fine. The knee I think is going to be fine. But you can tell, he wasn't the same when you went back and watched film. He wasn't as aggressive defensively. He said yesterday it was a little sore but could have played that day. I could have put him back in that game as far as the shoulder goes. He just wasn't know, I told him later, you've got to make me feel comfortable. Don't worry about the doctors and trainers and all that. They can do their medical stuff. I've got to have body language, eyesight. When Cleaves came out of that game a few years ago, he threatened me to put him back in and that's the only reason I did. I didn't want to be embarrassed in front of all those people.

Where, I asked Keith, do you want to go back in, and maybe it's his personality, because he's as tough as Cleaves or anybody else I've had. So I think he's going to be fine. You know, I think he'll be a little sore and maybe we'll keep him out of some drills this week that are more physical.

But I'm anxious to see today whether it bothers him shooting because it is his right arm. That's the only thing that's left. But he shot free throws and that yesterday on their own, and didn't seem to have any problems.

Q. I don't think you would call Gary a demonstrative guy out there, but after he hit a couple shots the other day, probably was more than at any point; do you see that especially going back to Indy, going to be close to home, is it all coming together for him at the right time I guess?

COACH IZZO: I think it is. I think that's what I always say, you've got to be a little demonstrative. You have to show your emotion. The flat line thing, some people want to talk about, that's cool. What's cool about it, you know? Why should you have to guess if a guy is feeling good or feeling bad. I don't think that's cool.

So I tell him, and you know, he did it in the Big Ten Tournament a couple times. I just think a guy has got to, if he's really passionate and as goofy as the next thing gets or seems like that, if you're passionate about things. I always told you stories that I used to watch Lute Olson and you're winning 30 games and losing two, you can sit there and look like a million bucks, but when you have a couple of those years that you have at the end - I say, hey, guys, he's just like the rest of us, just didn't lose enough games to get there.

I believe that passion is a motivator. It drives you, and some people can hold it in, they say. I'm not a big believer in that. So I say if it's important to you, you're going to see that it's important. Gary is learning how to do that. Going back home is going to be great. I know his family is excited. There will be some pressures with that, just like our guys playing at Detroit.

Q. How much has Adreian Payne grown maturity wise in the past year?

COACH IZZO: As much as his 6 10 size - he has grown a lot. When I say maturity, I think right away, you get to, like he was an immature little kid. It's not that. It's the maturity of understanding different things that you have to do to be successful at that level, and so it's not like he's some immature baby; it's that he was immature to understand what you have to do and how hard that you have to work and that things don't just come easy.

And that's a process for some kids, especially kids that have had it the other way. And I think Adreian has grown as much as any player I've had since (Morris) Peterson, I always use him because I thought he grew athletically, academically and socially. AP, when you look at that story that was on CBS the other day, we lived it here. Socially, he's just an incredible kid and accountability and all that, he's been great.

But it was figuring out that you've got to listen to people that try to give you good advice and trying to weigh who is giving you good advice and really bad advice when you maybe never had anybody in your life that did that for you. It's difficult, and difficult for most of us that have had people in our lives to do that. You lose your mother at six, and that puts a whole different deal in this thing.

So I think that basketball wise, you know, he's in there today watching more film than anybody. He just does things that most big guys don't do. Not many I've had have done that, anyway.

So I think he's grown in all areas and really proud of him, really pleased, really happy for him. And yeah, he's got a heck of a chore ahead of him, because the (Ryan) Kelly kid is a very, very good player.

Q. Talk about Adreian Payne on the court, seems like he was in a lot of places doing a lot of different things on Saturday against Memphis.

COACH IZZO: That's probably the one thing that we have asked AP to do a little bit more. We asked for a Draymond (Green) to do a lot but I don't know if you consider him a big man, big man.

When you add blocking shots in there, when you look at him, sometimes we were able to switch him with smaller guards, we could do that with (Andre) Hudson a little bit, but wasn't as big. You know, I'd say his performances are getting better and better every game; and the best of this, the best of that, I don't know, I don't have time to look back and think back.

But it's impressed me, and what's impressed me even more is the fact that he's learning how to become a sponge and that was very, very difficult for him. I mean, we brought his high school up, we brought his assistant high school up, and different people to try to figure out how to get through to him, because he didn't disrespectfully do it. He just wasn't great at taking things from anybody. And I think he's so much more mature and so much better at that now, and I think it's one of the reasons his game has flourished, I really do.

Q. When you look at Dawson, Appling, both seemed to play well without scoring a ton, are they understanding their worth is not necessarily in points? Is that a growth of those guys? Can you talk about where they are at?

COACH IZZO: Well, I think Dawson has made some big strides, too, and you're right, it's not always in scoring.

But we looked at yesterday, we are watching film together as a team and I said, Dawson has got about three or four hockey assists, he knocked balls loose that somebody else got and put in. He was on the offensive boards a lot. Didn't get called for a rebound and some of them he didn't get an assist on but he made plays. A couple times he just went in there, one guy boxed him out on one of Adreian's dunked that happened on one another, Adreian's big plays, Nix came flying in and two guys knocked him down and left AP there.

So, active is really what we need Branden Dawson to be and Adreian. Like I said this after the game, but I definitely said in kind of responding to the emotional part of Gary Harris, you know, their athletes look like great athletes because they play with that on their face. We have some very good athletes, too. Harris, Payne and Dawson at their position are as good of athletes as most of the country has, but always don't play that way. That's what I preached in the last game against Memphis, and each had some success this going that and hopefully now there will be some carry over value.

Q. Appling as well?

COACH IZZO: Keith has been, believe it or not, a pretty unselfish kid since he's been here. He's not a typical guy that comes in that's a point guard that has to score and is just hunting shots. I think he has a better understanding of running a team is important, and yet we still need to him to score, so how do you find that happy medium. (They) got a kid in (Quinn) Cook who is doing that also. I think Keith did a very good job over the weekend, and he, too, has made some big progress.

So those are two of our best athletes in Keith and Branden, who I think their value defensively, I mean, Dawson is going to have to be really good on some guards this weekend, because their perimeter guys are very, very good and they have got a little depth there. Not as much depth inside maybe but I'm looking forward to see how they respond to that, both guys.

Q. First, do you see Gary and Keith taking turns defensively (on Seth Curry) or will there be one more exclusively and secondly, when you look back at this weekend, you led for extended periods by as much as 15 or 20 points and yet there was still some sloppiness in there, does that give you encouragement that you are handling teams thoroughly despite not playing close to your best?

COACH IZZO: No, it actually discourages me, instead of encourages me, it discourages me, because that means there's a lack of discipline and a lack of really understanding that you get a team down, I mean, we have the intentional foul (against Valpo in the second half), they make the two free throws and then hit a 3 coming out, a 12 , 13 point lead and it's down to seven, out of that tournament, just ask the teams that are sitting at home. There's nothing encouraging about that.

Getting the 20 point lead, that part is encouraging, after that, very disappointed in how we took care of the ball. And we got Payne coming out and throwing fly patterns to Nix, (Mark) Dantonio and (Jim) Schwartz crawled up in their seats when they saw that. Just get a down tackle and put him as a wide receiver and go with it, that's kind of what we were doing.

So that's undisciplined. That's got to change. And it was something I really harped on yesterday. I thought if there's one big difference between our two teams, that is one big difference. Now, we've been playing in two, and all of a sudden Harris is out.

So we had some strange guard combinations in there that were handling the ball a lot and I think that had something to do with it. There's something that I still feel at the end of the season, I thought that we were better than we were at the beginning of the season in the turnovers and taking care of it, and then I think we've gotten a little sloppy in this weekend. That shows immaturity if we can get a lead and start dinking around with the ball instead of taking care of it. So still got some work to do in that area.

I think to be very honest with you, the way they use ball screens, we are going to have five guys defending every guy that is involved in those designed of plays. So Curry, who do we start out with him on, that has not been determined yet to be very blunt and honest about it. And if it was, I guess I'm not sure I'd give it away but it's not any big deal. Everybody knows we switch a lot. Everybody knows we do things like that, different guys on different players.

But I think you know, back to the first part and the discipline, even in the foul trouble we got, we have got to be a little bit more mature on, okay, if you got two, what do you do on your third, what are you going to do on your fourth, things like that.

So that will determine some of it, too, as we see who we think is the best driver, and (Rasheed) Sulaimon actually does some good things off ball screens, too. You've got to the pick and pop guy if you watched the Miami game, put five players on Kelly and let the others try to beat us. That's how good he was in that game.

But they do some different things and we'll just have to be covered in different ways. But we're going to have everybody involved. I think if I looked at some other things that we did in that last game, the Memphis game, we did a better job of really kind of one or two guys in the off side helping those guys on the ball screens, I didn't think we did as good a job, so that's what we are looking at, too.

Q. Was that the best rebounding performance as it appeared to us the other day, and if so, have you figured out why and is it something that could be more of a weapon for you in this game than maybe you anticipated going into the tournament?

COACH IZZO: Yeah, definitely, it was surprising to me. So when you say, does it appear to you...and I'm looking at the same thing. Why did it appear that way. Well, No. 1, Dawson was in there 10 times more. He didn't necessarily get 10 times the rebounds, he was just way more active and that was one thing. And I think you know, Payne and Nix are getting better in that area.

But Dawson creates some things just by going that gives those other guys who are athletic, too, some length. So not to put a lot of pressure on Branden but probably what I'm going to do all week is put a lot of pressure on Branden, because maybe it's time now where...I still say the opening play of that game, you remember, Nix went baseline, hit a great pass to Dawson and he went up and I asked him why he didn't dunk it with his elbows and instead he tried to lay it up and he got a block. And that still tells me that somewhere in there, he's just not at the level he was at. But it also tells me when he said I'm healthy, I'm good.

So this week we are going to challenge him, and if there's one guy I'm going to challenge as much as anyone, it's going to be Branden Dawson, because I think he has the most room to grow, and I don't think anybody has seen the kid that I recruited yet. Started to at the end of last year. Understand the reasons why this year. But maybe it's time to take the gloves off.

Q. Your teams are always known for defense and rebounding. When you look at Duke, what are the staples you see out of Coach K's team? And can you talk about how your relationship has grown over the many high profile meetings you've had during your careers?

COACH IZZO: The first part of it, they don't beat themselves very often. You would hope most good programs don't, but that has been a staple. They don't beat themselves. They usually have players that are very talented and that are multi dimensional, guys that can dribble, pass and shoot.

I think he took a Seth Curry, who I don't think was that way when he came, I watched every year he's grown as a ball handler, is a better passer. Cook I think has made great progress in that area, too.

They are usually a team that's very stingy defensively. And yet, they always have been a great rebounding team, and this year, I wouldn't say they are great, but I would say they are pretty solid if you get, you know, their horse back in there. Remember they played 13 games without one of their best defenders and without one of their better rebounders. So when you look at their stats even defensively, they are not quite Duke-ish but ours have not been quite Michigan State-ish either, if you look at stats, both in rebounding and in defense and field goal percentage.

But if you look at what's going to win for them, what won for them the other night, they checked their tail off against Creighton. I thought that was a very good defensive game and they are rebounding better now in the tournament, because I think he's (Kelly) back.

And I just think that they have, "It". They believe in themselves in the tournament. It's part of the process there. He's built that over 33, 34, 35 years, however long he's been there. And I guess what I've always respected about him is I respected anybody who can do it over a period of time. To do it at the same school for that length of time, there's only a few people in the country that I've ever known that have done that.

So that's where the respect comes in, and plus, we've had some good games. You know, he's a guy you can talk to. He's been very good for basketball in general. Not only with the Olympics but all the time he was on the board, and he still gives great input.

So yeah, I do have great respect for him, and yet, I think he appreciates that we are going to compete and they are going to compete.

Q. Going back to Adreian, the comparisons you were making to Peterson. Peterson had Mateen Cleaves to push him. But who or what was it that confronted Adreian?

COACH IZZO: You know, that's a question that makes what he's done even so much better. You've got to give a little credit to Draymond, lived with him last year, taught him how to watch film and how to do some things. I think to see him emerge right off, and we have all talked about it.

So when you look at what this kid has done, he's had people that have come into his life, everybody saw the stories, his high school coach, the superintendent of the school, Dr. Gates was unbelievable. But I think we have done a good job with him. I think I have. My assistants have. We spend an enormous amount of time with him because he's just not a guy that, hey, do it this way. He is like my kid: Why? There's always going to be a why. And when the whys are in the huddles, you've only got 30 seconds. I can't give it to you why now, I'll give it to you tonight, don't talk about it now, please.

So it took me a while to understand him, him a while to understand me. But I think that's what makes it so remarkable what he's done. He has not had the normal people in his life and then his grandmother, who he was so close to, and it was easier for us, because we call grandma and she would give us some input. But all those things that made it hard for him, the kind of kid he is, socially, academically and now when you look at his growth as a player, another 10, 15 pounds on him and things like that, I think this kid's got a chance to be something really, really special here and he'll have earned it. He'll have done it the hard way. You know, he'll work his way through it. And you are so right, I never thought about that.

Q. Sometimes in this week, you take it easy, watch a lot more film, a lot more walk throughs, sometimes you're pushing your guys. What's your philosophy this week?

COACH IZZO: I'm gaining that. 12 o'clock last night, I started figuring out, what are we going to do this week. Get a little extra time, too. We had the day off yesterday. Really. We are going to go decently hard. That's who we are. That's who Duke is.

We are going to get after it today and tomorrow, and then kind of dial it down a little bit as we go. But I think this team, we have to look at things and understand that we have to rebound well, because that's one of our advantages. We have to take care of the ball and the only way to do that is to go as hard as we can in practice and really harp on that part of it.

And then, we are also going to try to spend extra time on one other area that's dropped for us, has been our free throw shooting. We went from a 70 to 63 (percent), Nix, watching him on tape, he's been a little flatfooted, which means tired and things like that.

So we are going to try to really spend some time on that because that's a thing that you can do that isn't as physically demanding. So we'll have night sessions and watch some tape and shoot a ton of free throws. The one or two free throws makes a difference in a game like this; I hope, it's going to be that kind of game.

Q. You talk a little about Duke's 3 point shooting, what can you do to try and limit that as best you can, knowing that in these types of games, that can be a big difference.

COACH IZZO: We have got to defend them at the 3 and yet also understand they have got the ability to penetrate, all three of those guys can penetrate. They have the ability to penetrate and kick out, and they have got a 6 11, very athletic kid in (Mason) Plumlee who if they do penetrate, you know, and they throw it up there, even if they don't make it, he's gobbling it up. That's where he can be very effective.

So how we cover ball screens, and that's going to be a very big part of this game and there might be a couple different ways we do it...So that's why I said it's going to take five guys moving together who are not going to have a lot of margin for error, and that's the way it should be when you get to the Sweet 16.

Q. (Memphis Coach) Josh Pastner said that Payne is the X factor on your team and if he plays like he did, that you guys will go to the Final Four; would you put that on his shoulder that he's the X factor that if he plays close to his potential he can be a difference maker?

COACH IZZO: Well, the thing I like about that statement, it wasn't like he had 30 points. He had 14 points but he had a few blocks, he played pretty good defense, he had 10 rebounds. Do I think he's capable of that on a night in, night out basis? I do. Where he's a little bit of an X factor, he's not shooting it like a Kelly but he's got the ability to shoot the ball so he's got to be guarded that way and him and Nix have been playing so much better together as you guys stated after the game, and I agree with; what we looked at at the beginning of the year and we have now is night and day. But that's usually what happens when you put guys in different positions. It takes some time to grow.

And so, I don't know if it's...I can think of so many players that I think at this time, I still think we are going to get something out of him. I don't know how much more Payne can give. He's got to be consistent at that level. But I'm not sure I'd throw all that on his back, even though right now I'm going to throw a lot on a lot of people's backs tonight.

Q. I know this has happened in the past but it seems like lately, you and Duke have been going head to head on the recruiting trail. Is that any sort of statement on any change on your part or maybe where your program has gone?

COACH IZZO: Well, you know, I think a little bit. It seems like Duke and Kentucky have been in more of our battles and we are not winning enough of them. But I don't know if that's any change. I think it's just the way it's happened. But as I said, you know, they have got a lot of reasons to be able to sell a lot there. And you know, we are continuously building on our reasons. I told you guys a long time ago, that come back in 10 years, and now I can say, come back in pretty soon 20 years. And that's when it really starts, I think, to matter, when you get into that 15 and 20 years.

We have been pretty consistent. They have been incredibly consistent. And in the meantime, they have won a couple national championships in that time period, and so the chase is still on and whether it be in recruiting or whether it be in games, but I think the good part about it is there's a respect factor there in the way they do it and the way we've done it. And so I don't think one beating the other, it's not like an intrastate football game that's going to sway 10 recruits one way or the other. But I do think that when you play in these games, it helps everybody; the university, the program and recruiting.

Q. We just got this information, so you probably don't know, but Tubby Smith has been fired at Minnesota. Your reaction to that, what does it say about the state of the game, the conference, the profession.

COACH IZZO: (Pausing). Well, Tubby's a good friend of mine. So that does hit me a little bit harder. Ben Howland (fired at UCLA), I was a little upset last night because I think in all fairness, on these social media, I can't have a press conference without doing it, or I get on reporters, I was very Bill Walton, I thought that was a personal attack on somebody. Like if you guys give opinion attacks, that's one thing. When they get personal, that's another in my mind.

But this one hits home a lot, a lot harder to me. My family, our wives are close. I love Donna, she's great. You know what I always appreciate Tubby? He was in that most high profile program of all in Kentucky and he did it with class, he did it with integrity, and he did it with just an incredible amount of respect if you talk to people, and not knowing all the circumstances.

And I'm sure I'll call him when I get out of here, but not knowing all the circumstances, it is amazing how some injuries, some problems...I know a couple years ago he had some issues like we had. And you lose kids and sometimes they think it's the coach and that's fine. But sometimes there's factors that can't be revealed. I know he went through some of that.

So I'm sad. I mean, he's one of the best guys. I've been on the board with him. I've been in the Big Ten; I was so excited when he came aboard because I knew we had a class guy that was going to do it the right way. I don't say this about many people, but I love the Tubby Smiths of the world and there's not many of them, because he just was always so great. We actually had a lot of success against both Minnesota and some against Kentucky, and he never changed one iota as far as our relationship.

So you know, I guess I'll close it at that and maybe you can ask me something later, because I want to get on to what we're doing. That bothers me, a lot. I understand the profession I'm in. I understand what George Perles told me when I got the job, that you will be fired. I tell you guys that all the time and everybody disagrees with one thing or the other.

But you just saw a guy that won his conference championship, has been to three Final Fours, and not knowing all the circumstances, it's unfair to an AD or anyone else; I felt I knew the ones with Bruce Weber a little bit better, but I don't know all those circumstances. I know some of the things that have happened up there with the injuries and the issues.

But he's a hell of a coach and a hell of a guy, it will be a loss for this league, and a loss for college basketball if he doesn't stay in it, because he's got integrity beyond belief. And let me tell you, he's been in some tough situations.

So I'll close it up with, bothers me, saddens me, don't know all the circumstances, so I can't comment much more than that. But this will be something that will hit home for a while.

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