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Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo and Players Preview MSU-Duke Game

Nov. 13, 2017

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo

Opening statement…
Well I guess I’m still proud to be part of maybe the greatest event in college basketball, other than the Final Four. As we said, all eyes will be in Chicago tomorrow. It is one of the best nights of college basketball. If it wasn’t for you reporters, media people screwing it up, I think the coaches had the poll going 1, 2, 3, 4. The media made it 1, 2, 4 and 5. It could’ve been a happening. All four teams are ranked in both polls in the top five. As Matt said, I think (No.) 1 versus (No.) 2 has happened 40 times or something. That’s not many when you consider all the games and all the events. Pretty good that we’ve been part of two of the last three, with the Kentucky game and us and now Duke and us.

I think most part for me since the inception of this seven years ago, I think it’s good for us. I think it’s good for our program, I think it’s good for our University, our fan base in Chicago and I think it’s good for the players. Hopefully that’s why they came, to play against the best people. I know even kids that I’ve called and talked to, everybody’s excited about the opportunity to play in these big games.

As far as Duke goes, the addition of (Marvin) Bagley at the end, took a great team to elite level as far as talent. He’s averaging 24 points and 10 or 11 rebounds. That just shows how talented he is with a talent-laden group that they already had. To add a player of his caliber in there has been overwhelming in some ways. With (Wendell) Carter they possess a very good, big front court. We recruited Gary Trent so we know how good a player he is. Then of course Grayson Allen lit us up as a freshman in the Final Four and has kind of just hung in there with a little bit of injuries and that, otherwise who knows if he’d even be there. He is a very, very electric player that can get it going like that. They have two tremendous shooters, in (Trevon) Duval, they had the nation’s best point guard and the two guys up front. Then when you add on a couple of the players back from last year, (Javin) DeLaurier is a kid I really like - a 6’9”, 6’10” kid who is a sophomore this year. (Marques) Bolden is the other player that was sick the first game they played, played in the second but he too was a McDonald’s guy and a very good player. With two knock-down shooters that are shooting way over 50 percent from the three, and arguably the number one player in the country in Bagley, this is maybe as talented or the most talented. I think the difference with a Duke and a Kentucky is, even a few years ago when we played them in the Final Four, the Cook (Quinn Cook) kid was incredible for them, he was an incredible leader. This year with Grayson Allen being a senior and being through all that, even though they have a lot of youth, they have a very experienced and arguably their best player, too, is a senior who’s been through the war.

We’re excited about it. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge. I think we’re playing a little better, I know we’ve been shooting a little better. I think it’ll come down to who defends and rebounds the best. They’ve struggled a little bit from the line, it’s been one of our bright spots that not only have we shot better, but we’ve gotten to the line a lot more. Two tall, big teams. Hopefully some of our veterans will help us on that front line and that’ll be a big part of the game.
 
On Jaren Jackson’s high basketball IQ…
He does have a high basketball IQ. When your dad’s an NBA player that probably helps. He grew up… I talked to Steve Smith yesterday. Smitty was talking about when he played with the Spurs and Jaren was only two or three years old. He kind of grew up in that. His dad is a coach now so just another one of those coach’s sons. I too was impressed by the way Jaren played the other night. I mean he didn’t even take many shots, and I still think we haven’t seen that part of his game yet because it will be there, it is there in practice. His defense is getting better. His rebounding, his blocked shots. He’s pretty active, he’s pretty athletic. As you say, pretty heady. He can make plays, knows where he’s got to be, knows what he’s got to do. That’s helping us a lot.
 
On how Miles (Bridges) has changed in the past year after the Kentucky game in 2016…
He said he only played poorly? Because it was worse than that. You know what, that was an important game to Miles like it would be any kid. I’m not sure we, as a team, were ready for that game last year. That was one of the more talented Kentucky teams. We were facing guys at the wrong times. I looked at Kentucky yesterday and I think they got a long way to go. This will be one of the most talented Duke teams, at least in youth, that I’ve ever seen them have. I think Miles has grown now and matured a little bit. I told him to talk to Jaren (Jackson) about that because Jaren played against a lot of those guys too. You can get too hyped for a game. You can get, especially in basketball, where you got to have your head on. Miles didn’t play bad offensively, he just turned the ball over a million times and it wasn’t a lack of effort or a lack of caring or a lack of being casual. It was a lack of trying to do too much. Fault him for that, but it’s hard to fault him a lot. We kind of appreciate that about him. I think he’s grown a little bit and hopefully he can help our younger guys who haven’t been through that as much. I also think that experience last year, that humbled everybody, was a good experience. One of the few times, maybe the only time, in the seven games that we were blown out, what are we 3-3 we said. We’re hanging right in there with everybody else, but last year was the one time it was a blow out game and it was a blow out game because I don’t think we were ready for that stage. It was one of the few times I could say that. I think we’re ready for the stage, but we got to play a team that’s also talented and well-coached.
 
On if Jaren Jackson is the best matchup for (Marvin) Bagley…
Well he’s averaging 24 points and 10 rebounds, and that speaks volumes in itself. I think Jaren is one of the better match-ups for him so it’ll be interesting. They played against each other before. Bagley’s very good in the open court, handles the ball a little better than I thought. Can shoot a three, but wouldn’t say that’s his forte which means he’ll hit two or three against us. I think it will be a good match up. I think we match up pretty well with them. The problem is in Grayson Allen. I mean, Gary Trent is a very good player but in Grayson Allen you get a player that, he gets it going and he’s really, really, really good. (Trevon) Duval is a guy that’s averaging 10 or 11 points a game, but he’s got 20 assists and one turnover so he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes with the ball. He’s got a couple pretty good guys. Those two guys are shooting, I think between them, 58 or 60 percent from three in the two games. It’s a good way to get assists if guys are making shots. I think Jaren and… I think that’ll be a good match up. I’m anxious to see it just as much as I think you are. It’s going to be good. I know one thing, I think my guy is ready for it and I think their guy is too.

On what his team learned from the game at Duke last year and what they’ll bring into this year’s contest…
Well I think they all want Matt Van Dyk back, because he played a lot in that game and he played pretty well other than that one stretch. Playing pretty well isn’t where we’re at now, either. This isn’t about trying to play well, this is about trying to win games. I do think we grew up a lot in that game. And considering the travel and what we went through last year, we went down and competed very well for probably 35 minutes of that game. That’s what Duke’s pretty good at. I think in the last game, I think the team had 18 turnovers for 35 points. At halftime it was nine turnovers and Duke scored 18 points off of them. They played a lot more zone which was little surprising, but with all that size they can stretch from one…you know I think they’ve got six players with a 7’1” wingspan or more – or 7’. So length is a big advantage for them – not just size but length. I think we’ve got to continue to grow which is what we’re trying to do; it’s why we play these games it’s why we get these opportunities. But you’ve also got to win these games and I think that’s…you know we’ve won some, but not enough.

On if he’s happy just to be playing in this game and if a win or a loss means that much at this point in the season…
You know that’s true, but on the other side of the coin is learning how to win big games and big events is also part of the things. Learning how to play in those games is important when your program is at a certain level, learning how to win those games. I guess my example would be, I watched the end of the Alabama game. They didn’t play very well the whole game, but they …they knew how to win and learned how to win. I think that’s just another step in the millions of things left that I have to accomplish, that we have to accomplish here, is figuring out how to win, knowing how to win and then translating that into game after game after game. I think it is important in that respect. It’s not from the standpoint of, we’re not football. One or two losses doesn’t end it. I told my team in the first meeting Saturday morning that winning the game does not accomplish any of our goals technically, and losing the game does not ruin any of our goals. You’re right about that, but learning how to win big games on big stages is really what you want to do if you’re in programs like this. Let’s face it, they’ve done a better job of it than we have.

On playing in Chicago and if there will be a large MSU fan base there…
You hope so. We have a lot of alums there, although Mike (Krzyzewski) is from there so maybe he’ll have his whole family there and that’ll make a difference. I don’t know. There’s no question that I think all four teams will be well-represented in Chicago. No knowledge of this, but I would be willing to bet that we have more alums than any of them just because of the number of alums that we have, and the fact that Chicago is a place where a lot of our alums end up. The problem will be can anybody get tickets? It’s been sold out forever. I just hope that we all – you, we, our fans, our University – appreciate what an opportunity it is to play in these games. When Matt says 40 times (No.) 1 has played (No.) 2 and we’ve played in two of the last three. That doesn’t mean anything, it just means that when we started this whole deal – when I did, in my era – it was to get consistency. We’ve done some of that. It was to play against the best people. We’ve done some of that. It was to beat the best people. We’ve done some of that; not the same ‘some’ as the other two. And that’s the mission ahead of us now is we’ve got to get more consistent in beating the best. Our fans would help. I’ll take help from anybody. If you want to referee, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m not proud, I just want to win a game.

On shooting in the first couple of games and if he’s okay with shot selection…
I think it was the first game I wasn’t pleased with. The last couple I’ve been very pleased with the shot selection. We did shoot better last game and we did shoot a lot better this week in practice. It’s hard for me to be upset about it because we shot so well all spring, summer and fall. If we didn’t do that, some of you guys saw us play more than I saw this summer, you saw this, you saw that. I think it’s nothing I’m going to worry about or panic about. If we miss some we better get better at the offensive boards, which we are doing a better job of. We’re doing better at taking the ball to the hole. We’re averaging 25 free-throws a game. Last year I think after four or five games we were at like 13 or something. Everybody wants to shoot the ball well, but I just want to win games. I think we’ve got to take care of it better and yet even in that, as bad as it looked in the last game, I think we had five or six offensive fouls on moving screens and that. If we didn’t have a lot of the other ones, coaches would accept that, especially early in the year. We’re trying to be a better screening team, a more physical team than we’ve been the last couple of years. With more size we’re going to get them with the rule changes where you can put your legs, and you know pretty soon we’re going to have refs out there measuring; you know is he too wide, is he too short? You know I don’t know. That is one of my other big concerns especially playing Duke who turns turnovers into points. They’re not maybe a running team off made baskets and that. Even rebounds, sometimes they’ll run, but where they really run, where they excel the most is off of those turnovers. They’ve got 10 steals and they’ve turned all of them into baskets.

On what Nick Ward needs to do to elevate his game…
Thank God he’s had a good week of practice. You know he had a very, very good summer, but distractions sometimes get to Nick. It could be for a million different reasons. I think sometimes our guys have some pressure on and some guys are ready for that pressure and some guys aren’t. Nick is still a very young player who came off of a very good offensive freshman season, but coming in with little hype. Like everybody they have to learn to adjust to that. When you do get some hype you have to learn to adjust to the pressure of that. I just thought the other night he was not with it. That hasn’t been the case normally. I think it’s part of the growing process and adjusting to the different things. He’s had a very, very good three days of practice since. We went two-a-days one day and he was sharp all of the time. I think he’ll play well and he’ll need to play well. (Wendell) Carter’s a good player, they’ll bring (Marques) Bolden in who’s very long and a good player. Those two guys are a little more physical than maybe (Marvin) Bagley is. Being physical does not bother Nick or Gavin (Schilling), so those guys will have to play well against them.

On if he has a better idea of how the rotations will go this season…
Yeah and no. I was talking about Ben Carter today and he’s not in basketball shape yet, but he’s really got a high basketball IQ and could help us in some of these games. For the most part, other than that, maybe it was pretty good. Nick’s thing screwed it up a little bit because we sat him a little bit in that second half. The first half we thought we did a very good job. We tried to get Miles (Bridges) out early, make sure we get him some kind of rest and then get on a rotation. We looked at back in the day when we scripted it more before, that helped a little bit. It’ll be five, six, seven games before we’ll really know where Carter and even Kenny Goins and Schilling are. That’s going to change our rotation a little bit. Trying to play Ben at the four a little and trying to play Kenny at the three a little bit with the injury to Kyle (Ahrens). That’s changed it a little bit too. I don’t think our rotation is going to be where I’d like it for a couple of weeks yet.

On Coach Mike Krzyzewski getting his 1,000th win at Duke…
Well I did congratulate him on it. I still say, if I added up all of our games and all of our practice scrimmages I don’t have 1,000 wins here. That’s an incredible, incredible number. Speaks volumes for what he’s done. I think his place in college basketball is well chronicled. I’m glad. I hope he keeps winning, other than tomorrow night. Because I think, for me, it just gives me more motivation and what the best have done. It gives me things I’d like to accomplish here before I’m done. He’s done it this way, he’s got a different team than he has before – usually more guard oriented. He’s got two very good guards, maybe three, but this team is more size oriented than most that he’s had.

On if he likes Miles Bridges playing with the second unit on the floor…
I kinda like Miles on any unit to be honest with you. That was the first time we really tried to do that. We really tried to get him out early just because we’ve made him go such long stretches. I try to use those timeouts a little bit where he still might play a lot of minutes, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. We were going to try to do that against Georgia and then McQuaid and Langford got into foul trouble and were sitting there. Miles is starting to become a better leader too, so that’s another reason it’s nice to have him with both groups sometimes although we’re not platooning like we did in a few preseason games. I think Miles is, he’s accepted just about anything we’ve asked him to do. We’ll take a look at that as times goes on – whether we keep taking him out right then and getting him a few minutes, including the 16-minute timeout. Maybe we can do that once around the eight or 10 minute, that’s what we’re going to try to look to do, see if we can get him more rest time without less minutes.

On if the physicality of practice is affecting Nick Ward this season…
Yeah I think so, to be honest with you, I do. Where I think it’s going to help him in the long run, I think it’s hurt him a little in the short run. He couldn’t just take the ball and he goes up with it now and some people are swatting it or he’s getting ‘banged’ as you say. Xavier (Tillman) is Al Anagonye with a little more offensive poise to him. He just enjoys hitting people. Hell of a football player. I do think it’s not as easy for Nick to do things. And I do think he’s trying to find his way right now and that’s why sometimes he’s more frustrated. But I do think in the long run it’s really going to help him because he gets that every day, every day, every day, and once he learns how to adjust to it – which he will, because he can get that shot off against a lot of people last year. It’s just not quite as easy in practice this year as he did it last year and I think its hurt him a little bit. He’s shooting pretty well from the line, he’s improved in those areas. He’s better on the ball-screen defense until he doesn’t focus in on it and then he’s not as good. Which is the same thing most kids go through.

On the zones faced and where Cassius Winston is at in identifying the defenses quickly and getting the team into the correct offense…
He’s great at all of that. What he’s got to still continue to improve on is his voice to get others. He knows where he wants to get, he knows. He can read all the things. He’s just got to bark a little more. He’s got to be more assertive in what he says to guys because he is the coach on the floor out there. Reading all of those things, I don’t see any problem. He’s going to go against a good player, too. (Trevon) Duval is a very good player. I keep talking about the other two and I say Duval has 21 assists, one turnover, and he’s got the most steals on the team I think – eight steals on the team. He’ll have his work cut out for him, but I think Cassius has really improved in a lot of areas just like we said and we hoped he would. Maybe the last one to make the big jump, he’s still got to get better defensively and all that, would be vocally. Knowledge is not good if you’re not expressing it. It doesn’t do any good to be knowledgeable unless you’re a knowledgeable wrestler or knowledgeable golfer, then it works because you’re the only one you have to worry about. We have to rely on his knowledge because it’s very high. Very high. Sharing it with guys whose knowledge isn’t as high; that’s what a good quarterback and a good leader does and that’s what he is getting better at.

On if his record of 2-11 against Duke sticks with him…
Every day. Every day. I went through that too and the one difference with Duke, I think in those 11 games they’ve been ranked in the top 10 in all of them. I think 10 of the 11 they’ve been ranked in the top six. We’ve played I think three or four times down there. They’re all good excuses that really shouldn’t sit well with you or our fans. Doesn’t sit very well with me. The truth of it is, they’ve beaten us. They’ve beaten us and there have been some fights. There have been very few one-sided games but it’s, that’s what I said, that’s the next step for us. We have to learn to win big games on big stages. There’s no bigger stage than this tournament. There’s no bigger stage than playing Duke. We could argue who’s the winningest team for the last 100 years and whether it’s Kentucky or this. The best team in my era, in the last 35 years, has been Duke. The nice thing is we’ve played them 11 times. Most people would duck them. We’re playing them. We’re playing them in different events. Sometimes we’re playing them in NCAA tournaments. Sometimes we’re playing them in Sweet 16’s, Elite Eights, so that’s the good news. The bad news is we’re not beating them. I say it with total respect that’s what we have to do. I say that with respect to us and them. If that doesn’t change I haven’t accomplished what I want to accomplish here.

We’re going to try to keep playing them and we’re going to try to keep knocking on their door and sooner or later that door is going to open. That’s a valid criticism, I think. But it’s not that we’re not working at it. It’s not that we’re not there. It’s give them credit. They’re damn good and they’ve been damn good every single time we’ve played them. I think one time we were rated higher than them and that was when they got upset up in Alaska. They came to our place and we were a five and they were a six, I believe. Ironically that was the only time we played them here and ironically, the worst score of all the scores. I feel good about where our program is. It’s now a team’s got to be able to beat a team. We have not done very well against Duke. But that has no bearing on anything. It’s a different team every year, and they’ve got a different team every year and I think we’ve both got good teams this year. I think we’re both young. We’ve got a few more sophomores, they’ve got maybe arguably the Player of the Year candidate as a senior has been through four years of wars and is a very good player. We’ll see what we can do. We’re looking forward to the challenge, we really are. We’re looking forward to the night. We’re looking forward to the event. We’re looking forward to doing what we said we were going to do and that’s trying to get better every game. If better is good enough, we’re going to come back victorious. If better is not good enough, we’re going to keep working at it. 

Sophomore guard Cassius Winston
 
On getting more vocal on the court…
Just really every day at practice. For me to get where I want to be and for this team to get where we want to be, that’s just one of the things I have to improve on, one of the things I have to keep getting better at. If you drive yourself and you want to succeed in the things that we want to do, just one of those things that has to be done so every day I come in here with that focus.
 
On playing against Trevon Duval before…
I might’ve seen him before but I never actually played against him, so it’s going to be a new experience for me.
 
On takeaways when watching Trevon Duval on tape…
He’s a quick, explosive guard. He’s getting everybody involved. He’s definitely a big part of their offense and things like that. Just go to focus in on, keep watching film, take care of my assignment and be there to help my teammates out.
 
On last year’s Champions Classic…
Last year in the game I think we played them pretty well. We had a five-minute span or so that just…. we lost that focus, we lost that level of intensity that we were playing with. If we play forty minutes of the game with our all, then we can come out successful. That Kentucky game, it was new for us. It was a big game, a lot of people. I don’t know if that got to us or not but we already been through it and now this year we went through it and now we’re ready. We know what’s ahead of us, we know what it’s going to be like there. We just got to go there ready to play basketball.
 
On talking to the freshman about this year’s game…
At the end of the day it’s basketball. It’s what we’ve been doing our entire life, no matter how many people are watching, no matter the situation. It just comes down to you playing your hardest, you going out there and you playing the game of basketball, what you do every day. If you go in there with that focus then you’re going to zone out the crowd, you’re going to zone out the people, you’re going to focus on what’s happening in between those lines. Sometimes we struggle with that, but we’ve been through it so we can help them get through it.
 
On Duke being Tom Izzo’s nemesis and the pressure of that…
People get caught into the record, but every year is a new year. Every year is a new team. This year is a new team for him. We’re going in there with our game plan, we’re going to focus together, we’re going to rally together as a team. We know he wants it, we want it too, and we know they want it so it’s not just a big game for us, it’s a big game for them. Everybody is going into that game with that mindset.
 
On his approach going against bigger opposing point guards…
You just got to… Every player is different. You just got to read into the scout reports, know their tendencies, things like that and play to their weaknesses. If his weakness is whatever and he hits it one time or he does something one time, you live with it, it happens. You play to the weaknesses and you just focus on that.
 
Senior guard Lourawls ‘Tum Tum’ Nairn Jr.
 
On how his role has evolved…
It’s been a fun ride for me so far with my career. Coming in as a freshman, just watching Denzel (Valentine) and Travis Trice. Then my sophomore year becoming captain, my junior year being captain again and now my senior year being captain also. It’s just been fun to watch and learn from leaders before me and learn from Coach Izzo to help me grow in that area of my life.

On Coach Izzo’s struggle against Duke and if there is a little more riding on this game…
It’s important for all of us. Like you said, I’ve played them three times, too. We’ve just got to focus on our game plan and do whatever it takes to go out there and get them running. We know what we’ve got to do to get the job done. We’ve got to take care of the ball, we’ve got to play our game and rebound well. Over these past years there’s always been a different level of focus coming into it every year. I think it’ll be good for us just to go out there and execute our game plan.

On what the team learned from the loss against Duke last year…
We were playing great but then we kind of got sloppy and started turning the ball over a little bit. Like Cash (Cassius Winston) said, this team has grown a lot. Our freshmen last year are now sophomores and they know what to do in those situations. We’ll be able to take care of the ball a lot better and put ourselves in the best position to win the game.

On being a leader in such a big game...
Yes sir. You know, every game is important, being a leader and being a vocal leader. I always make sure the guys are ready to play, but in an environment like this, an atmosphere like this, for the guys like Jaren (Jackson) and X (Xavier Tillman) who haven’t been in this environment, just helping them understand. Like Cassius said, it’s basketball, but if you can limit your mistakes you give yourself the best chance to win the basketball game. There’s going to be a lot of people there. There’s going to be a lot going on. If you can limit the distractions and the mistakes, put yourself in the best position possible.

On helping Cassius Winston become more vocal…
Just leading by example and telling him how much we need him out there on the floor. With his game, what he rakes on the team, if he can continue growing in the vocal area, the sky’s the limit for him which means the sky’s the limit for our team.

On playing in the Champions Classic…
It’s definitely a blessing to be a program that competes in an event like this every single year. You don’t want to take it for granted, because a lot of different players around the country probably wish they could play in this event so it’s definitely a special thing to be able to play in an event like the Champions Classic.

On limiting turnovers…
I just have to be more focused and make the right play, don’t go for home run plays all the time. I think sometimes we get sloppy trying to make a home run play but if we can just focus on making the right basketball play and value the ball in each possession, we’ll do a much better job.

On playing Duke in the Champions Classic…
To be honest, in basketball, when you’re playing a team like Duke it is a special opportunity but it just shows that it’s a special opportunity to be playing at Michigan State as well. Being able to play a team like Duke. Coming here is what gives you the opportunity to play against programs like that, and I think it’s what makes our program special. At Michigan State, that’s why we come here - to be able to play anybody, anywhere, at any time and that’s what Coach Izzo and coaches before him have provided for players like myself and Cassius and all the players on our team. It’s definitely special to be playing basketball at Michigan State.

 

 

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