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Men's Basketball
Tom Izzo Press Conference Coverage
 
 
 
Tom Izzo and the Spartans will play No. 1-seed Virginia on Friday in the Sweet 16.
 
Tom Izzo and the Spartans will play No. 1-seed Virginia on Friday in the Sweet 16.
 
 

March 25, 2014

EAST LANSING, Mich. - Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media at his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon to preview the NCAA Sweet 16 match up with No. 1-seed Virginia on Friday, March 28 at 9:57 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

Coach Izzo Press Conference Video | Virginia Video Preview

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

Opening statement...
Well, I guess we'll start out with the good news that we're still playing, and I think that's the most important thing to me. It's great to be playing this week. I told my team, you know, it's part of the dream that you continue to play, and the more you're playing when it gets lighter out, the better it is. We won the first weekend, now we've got to try to win the second weekend, and the second weekend gets a lot tougher. But if you look at us, it's the first time we've had seven-straight starting lineups, and I think each game we've gotten a little better since we've had the same group in that starting lineup.

When you look at the first five games, the two tournaments where we played really good teams, we're shooting better from the field - over 50 percent. I think our defense has been the big thing, and our defense is .386 in those five games, which made our rebounding better, which is a +10 compared to a +3 or 4.  I'd say we have to improve from the free-throw line. We are improving in that area. The only area maybe we dipped a little bit is in the turnovers. We're averaging a little over 12, but that's not significant, and we are getting a better rotation with only (Keith) Appling playing 30 minutes. Everybody else has been under that.

When you get another week of practice, I think it's critical, too. Any time this team can practice or play right now, it benefits us. I think we've got another three, four days here. We did take off Sunday, went Monday and Tuesday.  We're going to really taper it down on Wednesday and Thursday and then be ready to go hopefully on that late-night game, which as I look around the room, some of you will probably be awake for and some of you probably won't be awake for, not mentioning any names, but just thinking about how it is. I think that's going to be the case.

I got a chance to look at a ton of film on Virginia now. I've known Tony Bennett since I was actually young-young, because I worked his dad's camps and uncle's camps. I have a great appreciation for what Tony has done. I think they're very worthy of the No. 1 seed.  When you win the ACC by two games and you win both the regular season and the conference tournament, I think that bodes well for you. He's the ACC Coach of the Year. They've got guys that have been on the All-ACC team. They've got (Akil) Mitchell on the All-Defensive team. They've got a Sixth Man award winner in (London) Perrantes, who was on the All-Freshman team. They've gotten it covered in every way you can have it covered, and I think the bottom line is this is one of the best defensive teams in the country; the best if you look at points per game.

They are big. I mean, you start looking at subs and the guards and it's 6'6", 6'8", and when you start looking, they've got one 6'2" guy and everybody else is 6'5" and bigger - very big, very physical team, very strong team.  Somebody said it looks like a Big Ten team, and I would have said of the past, because now it's getting a little wimpier in our league where we don't bump and grind as much, but this is kind of a `bump and grind' team and yet one that in (Joe) Harris has a phenomenal player and (Malcom) Brogdon. Those two guys are very good wing players.  And for some reason, the kid Perrantes is shooting a phenomenal 48 percent, I think, from three and yet is only averaging five points a game, so he really runs their team. Inside they just keep rotating bodies, and they're big bodies.

So I'm excited. You get a chance to play a No. 1 seed. You get a chance to play in New York City, where the tournament hasn't been played in long, long time. We should be real confident after our performance over Georgetown there. At the Garden, we should feel comfortable in there, at least with the showers.

Q.  As a head coach, since you've been a head coach for two decades now, in what ways do you think you are the same, and in what ways do you think you're different?

COACH IZZO:  You know, I hope I'm the same in 99 percent of the ways, because what we've done has been the same, and I think I've treated most people the same. I think I have a little more experience as far as understanding what it takes to win, but as I do that, the landscape changes, too.  I mean, there should be a day of silence if you've got the whole North Carolina contingent out of the tournament in the first weekend, so the landscape has changed a little bit.

But for the most part, I said it during the year, I think that you've still got to win with your defense and your rebounding. The consistency - I mean, why are they the No. 1 seed?  A big reason is because of what they do defensively in rebounding the ball, and I haven't changed much in that.

I think I've understood that players are going to be a little different at times, but the bottom line is they want to win, too. I don't know. I don't think I've changed much. But that's for the outside world to figure out.

Q.  This isn't necessarily the last run for your team, but it's the last run for this group and some of these seniors. You see that a lot around college basketball. How do you balance that pressure between guys like (Keith) Appling and (Adreian) Payne and other guys that might be leaving who desperately want to finish it off but yet they don't put too much on themselves?

COACH IZZO:  You know, I've never believed in too much pressure as far as that goes, because when you come here, I mean, that is the ultimate goal. We make no bones about it when we recruit.  We make no bones about it when they get here.  Our goal is not to get into the tournament anymore; it's not to make a decent run. Our goal is Final Fours and to win championships.

And so, you know, maybe as you get to the end, as you say, in their case and people talk about the record and everything, there's so many variables. I've said it a lot of times - sometimes it's injuries, sometimes it's a hot team.  There's so many different reasons why -- sometimes it might be an official's call on why you move on or don't. I don't put that pressure on them like you guys are going to be the first team not to do this or to do that. I put the pressure on them, though, that if you're a great college basketball player, you should want to experience a Final Four. You should want to experience a banner hanging from a Big Ten championship, tournament championship or Final Four. Those are the things that last a lifetime. The games and the excitement of playing at this level is great. The rivalries are great. But it's the banners hanging that last more than your lifetime.

So that's the way they've been brought up here. I don't think Keith (Appling) and AP (Adreian Payne) feel any more pressure the other way. Except I think they want to get to where they want to get. That's the ultimate goal, it's been the goal of the program and it's been their goal. It's the one thing that I think we're all on the same page on all the time, and I think that's the only way I can answer it that makes it easier.

Q.  This was 23 years ago, but can you think back to that first-round game in 1991 - Steve Smith with the buzzer beater vs. Wisconsin-Green Bay, I believe Tony (Bennett) was playing for them. What do you remember from that game and the end of it?

COACH IZZO:  Whew, that's what I remember from it. It was a tough game, and I do remember a lot about it because Green Bay is 95 miles from my home. I knew about Green Bay, had played against them when they were Division II and then they moved up. I remember that. I remember Tony.  I remember Tony being a great player. I remember Jud (Heathcote) coaching them in one of those Pan-American type games. I don't know exactly which one, the Gold Medal Games, whatever they were called then, and we've always had great respect. Of course I had great respect for Dick (Bennett) and his brother, who was a very good NAIA coach in Wisconsin forever.

This is as home as it gets for me as far as knowing who I'm playing and knowing the style they play, but I don't think it's any advantage because it's not like they're that much different than a lot of Big Ten teams. Ohio State this year is one of the best defensive teams in the country.  We've played them. Wisconsin still plays a similar type defense. I think we play a similar type defense.

I don't know.  I mean, I guess it is what it is. I remember Jud -- I probably got fired a couple times back then on that bench. I probably remember that, too.

Q.  I feel like we've talked several times about Brandon (Dawson) being like the X-factor for this team, but I wanted to ask you about (Travis) Trice because the other day he steps up and makes that three late and I asked him if he would have made that shot a couple years ago and he said I wouldn't even take that shot a couple years ago.

COACH IZZO:  I had some guy nationally ask me if Travis Trice is one of the best sixth men in the whole tournament, and I would say yes. I think Travis Trice has had a tremendous year considering a little bit of injuries, but I think it's been the first year that he's really had a great summer along with a pretty good year of staying healthy and that's made a big difference in his game. I think he had as good a summer as anybody on our team. (Gary) Harris was having an off-the-charts summer, too. Those two guys were just having a phenomenal summer, and I think that's made a difference in Travis. But he's confident; he shoots it that way in practice. He's getting better with the ball. He's improved defensively a ton. I think he is a big factor in our success in this tournament, no question. He's dynamite from the free-throw line right now. If we could have had those couple of summers to get him bigger and stronger, I think you'd even see more, so I think it bodes well for the future.

Q.  Does the target on your back thing kind of shift a little bit when you go up against a No. 1 seed, and if so, do you sell that to your team? I know that Travis (Trice) said, and a couple of guys said after the Harvard game, maybe we lost focus there a little bit when they went on a run. But is this game really like `eyes wide open' and change the dynamic of where your team is mentally?

COACH IZZO:  Well, I could maybe talk to them about it, but when the two presidents, President Obama and President (Dick) Vitale, pick us, I'm not sure that my guys would believe what I said on that. I think they respect them, and I think they respect Harvard a lot. We got off to a great start, we really did. We were scoring at ease early, and I think that's what did it. If you did that against the Celtics, maybe you'd have a little lapse and then we did lose a little focus.

And I think as I watched the film and watched us, I think we got a little tired, too. I really do. I think a combination of them playing better, us losing a little focus, maybe the five games in nine days - all those things played a factor in it.  But I'm still not going to apologize for that game, because I do think they're really good. They had some experience coming back, good players and were well-coached. I'd have to give as much credit to them as I would blame to us, but I don't know if we are going to be an underdog in this game. We're not allowed to follow Vegas, so I don't know what we are, and it really doesn't matter because those pools have been blown up. Vegas has been wrong on half their stuff, too.

I just look at it as these players should be able to handle both. When you go a week when everybody in the world picks you, I mean, we made it through that week. There's definitely I'll bet you more people picking Virginia the way they played the other night than us, and I don't care either way to be honest with you. I hope they don't, either. I hope they realize and understand when you get to the Sweet 16, all bars off. It just doesn't matter.  The best team who plays the best is going to win, and that's what we've got to do, no matter who's the favorite, who's the underdog, where the bull's eye is, or who's picking you to win.

I guess the only thing is I don't mind letting down alums, but man, the President - I don't want to let him down. That's a little bigger.

Q.  In college basketball today, with so much obsession on who's going pro and who's one-and-dones and all that, you see also teams with experience and seniors doing pretty well, like you mentioned Harvard and stuff. Do you appreciate even more seniors today than maybe before and juxtaposed against the obsession with all the young guys going pro?

COACH IZZO:  Well, I don't have a problem with guys leaving early and I don't have a problem, contrary to popular belief, I don't try to recruit guys that are staying four years or one year.  I love Zach Randolph and I loved Day-Day (Draymond Green).  I'm going to say until I'm done with this profession, I feel sorry for those freshmen and sophomores.  I think there's so much pressure put on them, and I think it's wrong. I think it's wrong what TV has done. I think it's wrong what you guys do. I just do.

I understand it, but if Kentucky would have gotten beat, who would have been left? The kid from Arizona who's gotten the least publicity of them all. Is there something to that? I don't know.  I know this - it's not as much fun for them. It's hard, and it's I guess part of it, but I'm not sure it's part of being 18, 19. It might be part of it when they get to be pros.

So I do appreciate freshmen and sophomores, juniors and seniors, but I have a great appreciation...experience is great and is great to have on your side.  Guys that have been through the wars, it's great to have that on your side. It's kind of funny...my two freshmen last night at practice both made a mistake, and of course I jumped them, and they said, `I just made a mistake.' They just don't appreciate that you get maybe a couple more years to make mistakes, but a couple of these guys don't. I think a senior understands the sense of urgency without panicking over it, but just understand that a couple of free throws, an out-of-bounds play, a missed cut-out make a difference. And it's hard to teach that to freshmen.

You know, it is what it is. I'd like to know when it's all said and done, because this year was probably the onslaught of all onslaughts on those freshmen. Knowing a couple of them, I hope I get a chance to talk to them a year or two from now and ask them how it was and how they felt. I know what (Gary) Harris went through a little bit and what he goes through, and that wasn't the magnitude of the Jabari (Parker)'s of the world.

I just think it's been hard on them, and it's probably hard on the coach, and I don't know, I'd like to see that changed. I think some guys that are very big proponents of college basketball, there's still some of the guys that are at fault in this thing.  We as coaches sometimes say, `Oh, that guy is a pro for sure.' We all do it, so I'm not just blaming you; I'm blaming all of us. But the problem is that the one that loses out is the one that people think is getting the best advantage, and that's the kid. He's got to live with that. I've got to live with a bull's eye on my back now, and I think I'm pretty prepared to handle it most of the time. If I was to be honest, now that we're a week into it when those two presidents and everybody else picked us, God, I went to bed that night and wished I had a waterbed because the pressure was heavy on my shoulders laying there. I can only imagine what it's like for these guys.

Q.  I think you tell players sometimes during this tournament, `Get me to the second game, I'll get you through it.'  Looking at your record, obviously it's a lot better in the second game of a weekend than the first. Is it fair to say that the advantage is maybe you have scouting really minimized when there's this much prep time for both teams and then they are emphasized when you get to that quick turnaround?

COACH IZZO:  Yeah, I think so. I guess the numbers show it. Sometimes it's who you play, and there's a lot of different factors, but I've always thought that we've -- our system -- it's not me, it's the system we put in back when Brian Gregory and Tom Crean and Stan Heath and everybody was in and we had the quick turnaround with Princeton and just the system. I'm sure a lot of people have good systems, but ours is proven to be pretty doggone good.

Is there a little advantage there? Maybe against certain teams, but the four or five days to prep, I mean, this was the right thing for us. I don't know how it'll end up, but going through that five games in nine days and then getting a day off and not playing until Friday is good. I mean, probably 10:10 p.m. start is good for us, too, because I'm sure most of my guys just start going out then. It's getting a little harder on me as I get older. Poor Jud, it's a good thing he's on West Coast time.  He'll still be setting an alarm clock for that game, but at least he'll be up for it. I think it's a good deal for us. It's the best situation we could be in. I have no complaints about it.

Q.  I'm sure there's not a magic answer, but the record at Madison Square Garden, not like you've been playing a bunch of stiffs every time you go there, but is there something about playing there that's been difficult, and should I assume you're not going to be wearing gold jerseys this time around?

COACH IZZO:  I'm not superstitious. Same tie, same socks -- I don't get into that.  You're right - we've played some pretty impressive teams there, and sometimes with maybe not our best team.  In 2002, when we went there, I think we lost two games, but we lost to Vegas and Syracuse I think it was. We beat Kevin Durant there, so I think I'll look on the positive side of things.

But we didn't play well this year, but it wasn't the arena - it was the team that played us.  They played a lot tougher and better, and it was probably the state of mind we were in. I love playing in the Garden. I'm like a player; it is the mecca of everything, and it'll be fun. I've got to get a little more help from Gus (Ganakas). That's his home stomping area out there. Gus has got to help me a little bit more to deal with it.

But definitely we're not going to win or lose because of what we did 10 years ago in that place, or five years ago, or three months ago. I don't think anybody is worried about the rims being too hard.  I watched Hoosiers just to make sure that the 15 feet to the rim is the same and the 10 feet, so it's the same. I got that straightened out late last night watching them. We're all set to go.

Q.  It was 14 years ago your last championship year, or your first championship year. It was 14 years ago for the Sweet 16 games at the Palace with Syracuse when you had the famous (Mateen) Cleaves/ (Morris) Peterson moment where you tried to deposit him into a locker at halftime. That was the moment where you felt the team was taking ownership. Were you seeing signs of that in the Harvard game when some of the players were basically saying, `Shut up, Coach, we can take care of this'?

COACH IZZO:  (Laughing) Oh, man.  You know, of all people, I don't know who asked who that, but (Matt) Costello I think said something and I will say (Den)Zel (Valentine) said, `Chill', because I wasn't chilling, and I wasn't chilling on him, and he changed. I wouldn't go so far as the players.

But I do think they have to take ownership, and as all of you know and I'd be the first to tell you that my huddles are a zoo, and I've always been that way. I've always let them voice their opinion.  With Travis Walton around here, (Mateen) Cleaves, there were times in those huddles...I'll never forget Antonio Smith. We were playing Kentucky down there, we were down I think 21-4 or 19-4 or something, and I called a time-out. I didn't even say one word. I didn't get a word in. and he wasn't threatening me, but he was threatening his buddy Cleaves at that point.  It's really good when players hold players accountable, and that night with Cleaves, everybody wants to know did you make that up? I wish you could have been there. I wish you could have filmed it, because it was so perfect, and I said nothing. I did nothing. And we went from 14 down to 17 up, and I got credit for such a great halftime speech, and I did zero.

That is when you know your team, and I think our players are getting better. You know, there's a comfort level, because they're playing together now. That was some of the things that we really missed with having guys all over the place and nobody having confidence. Keith (Appling) is struggling with that. We laughed the other day because Keith called out a guy in a practice, and we looked at him like, `that's not like Keith', and maybe those are little steps that we're starting to take. I enjoy that stuff. I like that. I speak publicly about it. I speak corporately about it. When you have a player-coached team over a coach-coached team, that's better. I've believed it all my life, and I still believe it. I'm going to do my job, so when I see a player coach a team they're going to get their advice from me and I usually point them down a road.

You know, we laugh at players a lot because Jon Gruden taught me something on the field in Tampa at a practice one day. He said I don't want those players in that locker room laughing and talking about me. It was over something that happened on the field. The players always are in the locker room talking about the coaches. I was with my coach. What those players forget, though, and once in a while I remind them, when we have a staff meeting, we're in there talking about them, too. It's a two-way street. What they're calling us, we're calling them. It's normal.  It's going to happen to Bobby Knight. Ask Dane (Fife) about it. He wouldn't want to be public about it, because he's still scared to death, but the truth of it is they talk about us, we talk about them, and when coaches are having those kind of sessions, coach-to-coach, it's good. When players are having those kind of sessions, player-to-player, to me it's good because it means that somebody is speaking up about something. They're passionate about something. They really feel about something. They are taking ownership. That's why I don't mind when it's an assistant. I don't mind when it's a player. But I really like it when a player is holding a player accountable. I think then you've really got something special.

Q.  It looks like Virginia is kind of like you guys with defense and rebounding. Do you like going up against a team that's similar to yours?

COACH IZZO:  You know, that's a good question because you look at that game and it was Memphis or them, and they are complete opposites in a lot of ways.  You know, at this point in time, I still think the biggest strength this program has had for 17 years is we've been able to play different styles. I've always said that the preseason schedule when it was off the charts, it wasn't all because of the tough teams. It was because of the different styles, and it helps prepare you.

I think the advantage of this conference right now is even better than it was before. When the conference was so good with Bob (Knight), Gene (Keady), Jud (Heathcote), Clem (Haskins) and all those guys - for the most part people played similar. It was like the football. You take on Ohio State and Michigan, you take on three yards and a cloud of dust, and all of a sudden different people come in, and we have some more diversity to our conference now. We have pressing teams, we have zone teams, we have man teams. None of us have physical teams like we used to because it's illegal now.

But for the most part, you do have different styles, and then when you go outside the box and you play a Kentucky, or you play a (North) Carolina, or you play a Texas, you play more athletic teams, you play bigger teams, all those things happen you, and that's what you go back to when you get to the tournament. You always say, well, this guy's team plays something like this.

I wanted to say with Virginia that this team plays like the Wisconsin teams, and then I remembered most of these guys were five and six years old when there were the real fist-fights back in '99 and 2000. So I didn't go quite there, but I did use some examples of teams we've played. I think in the long run, at least I know how they're going to play, so maybe it's a little more comforting. I think it'll be more of a slugfest, because both teams kind of do play a little bit similar, although we run probably more, but they run more than you think.

They're a Wisconsin defense of the past, but I think Tony (Bennett) has put his own mark on them offensively, and I think they do a lot more offensively than some of those teams did.

Q.  What do you say or do with Gary (Harris) to get him to be more aggressive and dominate offensively like he can?

COACH IZZO:  I just had a meeting with him just five minutes before I came down here to say the same thing - How can I help you? You have a great appreciation for kids that are unselfish, and yet that was one of the great huddles of that weekend, too, when (Den)Zel (Valentine) came up to me and I was telling Gary - `you've got to be more aggressive', and Zel looked at me and says, `Go to him'.  I said okay.

Me, personally, I just love that part of the interaction with players. That made me feel good, confident. You looked in Gary's eyes and you could just see it, and Zel is his best friend so he read him right. He has to be.

But for the first time those couple of games, he was in a little bit of foul trouble, which he's never been all year, and so I think he's trying to find his way on that. But he knows he's got to be a little more aggressive and finding out how to do that is what he's working on, and I think he understood it. I didn't make a big deal about it, but we both agreed with it. We agree with you.

Q.  In the locker room after the Harvard game, Keith (Appling) got emotional talking about how he got scared, down two, fouls, and he said it hit him harder than it's ever hit him that this can be over in a heartbeat. You say you like player-coached teams, but for experienced-coached teams, with him having felt that, can you talk about how that can have an impact moving forward?

COACH IZZO:  Well, I think that's very true. I think Keith Appling is the toughest guy I've got. I hate to use the word scared, because I think that's wimpy, but I think there is some truth to that. I feel a little different sense of urgency. I see when a guy gets his second foul like him, one of the things I want to talk to him about this week is how he's got to deal with that and handle it, because I think it is a situation where most seniors have to worry about the last game. This senior class has got to worry about the President picking you, the last game, the streak that we have. He's got added pressures that a lot of seniors don't have.

So I don't want to add to those pressures, but I do think Keith Appling is still very valuable. I didn't think he played as well against Harvard, because he only played 20 minutes, but I thought against Delaware, even though he scored five or seven points, whatever he scored, he might have played one of his best floor games, defensive games, and doing all those things that would go unnoticed.

I'm just going to tell Keith that there's nothing wrong with being nervous. There's something wrong with being scared. Nervous is like preparing for a test and you go and you're nervous for the test. If you did your work, you're allowed to be nervous. You're not allowed to be scared, not in this program.

Q.  I'm wondering how you see the 4-5 match-ups in this game, and then also (Anthony) Gill off the bench for them seems to be a real difference maker.

COACH IZZO:  Well, (Anthony) Gill and (Justin) Anderson off the bench I think are both difference makers for them and they're both big - 6'6" and built like a linebacker. Gill is very skilled, and then (Evan) Nolte comes out of the last game as a sub too at 6'7" or 6'8" and hits those threes.  So they've got some guys, when you look at their stats, it's very deceiving because 12 points is their leading scorer or something. There's no major stats, and then you look at last year's stats and you realize (Joe) Harris averaged 16, and I think it was (Akil) Mitchell averaged 13 or 14. I mean, a lot higher last year than this year for a variety of reasons.

But they have some depth.  They play their guys pretty much more even minutes. You've almost got to look at it like the NBA. You've got to look at it like points per minute and rebounds per minutes to get a better feel for what this team does.

So we've done that, and it's probably a deeper team than ours as far as the ability to score the ball. But the nice thing about the tournament, if you don't get in foul trouble, I think you get enough time to rest, especially that first night where you've had some time here, and I don't think that's going to be a factor. I do think that those two subs, Anderson and Gill, are very big parts of this whole thing.

Q.  Talk about how you match-up with those guys.

COACH IZZO:  Well, I think they match up pretty well at the start, even though (Akil) Mitchell is a little bit bigger, (Branden) Dawson is strong and he can handle that. I think in (Adreian) Payne's case, I'm hoping there's a little advantage for us there.  So I do think we match up pretty well. Their wings are a little bigger than ours and point guards are both the same. It's a pretty good match-up. When they start subbing, they're subbing 6'6", 6'8" guys in there that are almost perimeter players. Talking to Brian Gregory a little bit, I said, `My God, it's just a team that keeps getting bigger'. They play a lot with (Anthony) Gill in there who's not as big as their center, who's 6'11", and they're pretty strong and athletic. I'd say strength and they're better athletes maybe than you think they are just because they're not running up-and-down the court like some fast break teams.

Q.  How are you coaching to the foul issue this week, and if it's going to be as physical as you think, are the scout guys on high alert?

COACH IZZO:  You know, I think what I'm emphasizing to be very honest with you is doing a better job on the shot. With drives, I think (Aaron) Craft is the only one that can get away with slapping down at the ball. Gary (Harris) is trying to do that, and I think we've just got to get our hands up. We can't be fouling the shooters when they're not in the bonus. That's like a double problem. If they're not in the bonus and you foul a guy and he takes it out of bounds, so be it. But if he's not in the bonus and you foul him and he gets shots, now it's like a double problem. It's like they're in the bonus the whole time. We've done a little bit of that; we've fouled the three-point shooter a couple times.  Those things are inexcusable that we're trying to talk to, work at, show film to try to improve in that area, but with some of the other things, it is what it is.

Q.  At this point in time after winning five straight and getting ready to go back to the Sweet 16 again, what worries you the most?

COACH IZZO:  What a deep question. What worries me the most I guess would be that the foul situations worry me the most, because I think they've changed some games and it might be the same for the opposition and I don't realize it. But when I got (Keith) Appling or (Gary) Harris or (Adreian) Payne sitting next to me for extended periods of time, especially in that first half, you get some leads, and then things happen. That probably worries me the most, and that's what's hurt us the most. What's hurt us is because you don't have a rotation pattern, and then all of a sudden you're starting guys, and then all of a sudden they're back to subs. Usually your subs come in and kind of maintain and hopefully build a little bit. But some of our subs have been starters a lot, which is a plus, but then they think they've got to do that and we're taking a few bad shots or making a few errant plays instead of just being solid. I think they want to impress by doing more, and really a lot of times they can impress by doing less.

Those are the things we're trying to talk to them about, and when I constantly say that we're not where we were, these are the reasons I say that. Those things aren't as smooth as they should be by this time of year on most teams that I've coached, especially to this depth in the tournament.

Q.  You mentioned a couple times the presidents that have picked you and all the attention and focus. Do you think your team likes that, embraces that, ignores it, or is bothered by it?  How do you think you guys have handled it?

COACH IZZO:  I tried to address it the first night. I tried to address it as what a privilege, what an honor, and I really do mean that. I mean, nobody wants to have egg on their face. I mean, the President is like the head coach. He's always going to have have egg on his face, but you writers, media people don't want to have egg on their faces, so you don't want to pick wrong. I think they made educated picks, what they thought, what they saw, so I think that's a privilege.

Do I think we're any better than any other team?  No.  Do I think that we have just as good a chance to move on as any team in this tournament?  Yes, but I always say somebody has got to be picked. Was I surprised?  Yes, on the number of people. But I told them [the team], you can embrace it. That's probably not good. You can panic over it. That's probably not good. I think you've got to deal with it and what it is, and that's that the program. You players, what you did at the beginning of the year, how you hung in there through the middle of the year, what you did at the end of the year put you in a position where people think highly of you.  And I think that's great.

I really haven't felt the pressure of it other than, again, the President is a little different thing, number one, but number two, the number of people that picked us on TV was a little surprising.  What I worry more about is how much ammunition does that give your opponent.

I think what this team has been through this year - the ups and downs, and the put a fork in you, and praise you and all the things they've been through, I think they can handle it, and I thought we did a pretty good job of handling it. But how much does it motivate another team? That I don't know. I don't know about the opposition. But I still will go with this - If you get picked to be the best, it's a lot more fun to try to prove people right than prove people wrong in my estimation.

Now, back 15 years ago, I wanted to prove everybody wrong. Now I kind of look at it the other way. I'd like to prove everybody right. And I'm more embracing that than I am panicking over it.

Q.  Another Tony Bennett question. You mentioned earlier the defense. Are they essentially exactly what we saw with Dick Bennett in Wisconsin defensively back in the day, and then maybe a little more on how they're different offensively, and what he's done differently than his dad?

COACH IZZO:  Well, they're not exactly like Dick (Bennett), and I love Dick. He's great. But honest to God, I said this on TV yesterday, with Dick I never complained about a foul until the guy's legs came off the floor as he was holding onto our guys as they were running through. It was physical; his teams were so good that way, and they were so disciplined. I mean, I think it's a different era. I think he's just taken a lot of the same principles. They're solid. They don't take chances. They're physical from what you can do nowadays. They help each other. They move together. You can call it a pack, you can call it whatever you want. I think it's like more teams are playing now, but his guys are big, so they're long and they're very good at staying disciplined. They don't make a lot of mistakes.  They're going to play to their system.

You know, I saw where Dick didn't go to the game. He was back in the hotel, and I feel bad because he should enjoy this because his son is a protégé of him and he did it the right way.

You know, until the day I die of all the accomplishments I think we've had, beating Wisconsin that year four times will probably always rank as one of the top.  I remember walking off that semifinal halftime, 19-17 or 9-8, whatever it was, and Kevin O'Neill, my buddy, was doing TV for somebody because he was out of the tournament, and he looked at me like, `What are you going to do?, and I said nothing. They were a lot more patient offensively probably than Tony's teams, but both really, really, really, really good coaches and won at different levels, and that's what I've always appreciated about both guys. I have great respect for both.


 

 

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