Watch Tom Izzo's Weekly Press Conference
No. 3 Michigan State Hosts No. 5 Notre Dame on Thursday Night
East Lansing, Mich. -
Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo met with the media on Tuesday, recapping the team's win in the PK80 Invitational Victory Bracket and previewing a game at home against Notre Dame later this week.
The Spartans, ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls, improved to 5-1 after wins over DePaul (73-51), UCONN (77-57) and No. 9 North Carolina (63-45) at the PK80 Invitational in Portland, Ore.
Michigan State hosts Notre Dame, No. 5 in both polls, on Thursday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Tipoff at the Breslin Center is slated for 7 p.m. The game will air live on ESPN with Karl Ravech calling the play-by-play, Jay Bilas handling the analysis and Seth Greenberg on sidelines.
Well as my stat men - now that I've got two of them - work on things, I can't believe it's the 19th year of this event. I remember going to my first Big Ten meeting when they voted on this, and the conference tournament and different things, and it seems like forever ago. But in saying that, it's our first (ACC/Big Ten) challenge game with both teams in the top five. We have had a couple where we've had it No. 3 and No. 6 or No. 2 and No. 6, but No. 3 and No. 5, I guess it's the first time, so that's great for our fans. That's great for us too, but I think our fans talk all the time about getting better home games and trust me when I say, when we were getting Kentucky to go home and home and Texas was a good home and home, Louisville had been a good home and home and it's just hard to get teams in, so getting a great home game is even better. I'm expecting a great environment at Breslin. I know how much it does mean to our fans and having Notre Dame in football, that's been such a good rivalry. This could be great. Notre Dame is the third team that we're going to play that's in the top-10. You know we've played one, nine, and now five, and I think it speaks volumes for our schedule, but I think it's still going to help us in the long run. You get a better idea of what your team is like. We've definitely seen some strengths of our team and we've definitely seen some warts on our team.
Looking back at the weekend, defense was a strength. I was just talking to Danton (Cole), you know, and as he said with goalies, it doesn't matter what sport you're in, defense makes a difference. We held teams to 28 percent from the field, 21 percent from the 3, and those are incredible numbers especially with some of the teams we've played. At times, we're okay offensively. In fact, at times we're pretty good, but we have a lot of room for improvement. We won a championship for two reasons. One, our defense and rebounding was, I thought, at a very high level against a couple of pretty good teams and one really good team. Number two, we got production from different people. I mean who would ever think you'd go into a three-game weekend and McQuaid has a career-high on Thursday, Cassius (Winston) on Friday, and Josh (Langford) on Sunday, and each one of them did other things. Cassius has improved his defense I think more and more. McQuaid was playing with a severely sprained arch. We didn't even think he'd play in the last game, but he did it in the second game and that threw him off a little bit. Josh I think is continuing to make progress both offensively and defensively, rounding out to the type of two-guard we thought we were getting, so that was a big key.
With Notre Dame right now coming off the Maui (Invitational), they're playing as well as anybody in the country and with a lot of confidence. Mike (Brey) has done a great job there over the years. They've been one of the more offensively efficient teams. Each and every year they rank in the top five with offensive efficiency. This year, their defense's numbers are very good. They are shooting 53 (percent) from the field, 43 (percent) from the 3-point line, and also very good from the free throw line. So that makes them a tough cover, they've got a consensus All-American in Bonzie Colson, who is averaging almost 20-and-10, but the kid Farrell and Gibbs, Farrell really runs their team. He has improved each and every year he's been there. He has really improved this year as a passer and as a scorer. I think the other thing that concerns me is, I think they've got three or four seniors and juniors. Their center, Geben, is a senior, Bonzie's a senior, and Farrell's a senior. I think one of their other guys, Gibbs, is a sophomore and I think their fifth starter is a junior or senior also. So a very veteran team that's been through a lot of big games there, plays in a good conference, and has gone deep into the tournament with some of those guys, so big, big challenge for us.
On the difficulty of scheduling non-conference games... Well we've gotten to the point, unfortunately, where these made-for-TV events and these promoters, there's a lot of these neutral games. I'm not as big a fan of a lot of neutral games. I mean, you're going to play the three, whether it's Maui, whether it's Portland, whether it's the Bahamas, whether it's Orlando - you're going to play those. They're even getting some other, the big match-up games. You know it was us and Kentucky or us and Carolina or when we played Texas, those were big games. Now instead of playing them home-and-home, we've kind of gone neutral which I'm just not as big a fan of. Number one, I like to go to these great places to play, and number two I think our fans deserve to have great teams at home. I don't know why. I understand in Mike's case, you're playing in a certain conference and that, but I don't know why we don't play more home-and-home's. I think it would benefit everybody, and that's what I'm in favor of - not only for our fans, for me personally, for me selfishly. Did I get to go to Duke? Did I get to go to Stanford? Did I get to go to Arizona? And did I get to go to Texas, Carolina, Kentucky? That's the greatest part, you know, there's nothing better than going into an opponent's arena and trying to see how good you are on the road. You really learn a lot about your players. So I miss that a little bit, the way we've gone to these neutral games all over, but it is what it is and thank God we've got a good game here and I think we'll take it and our fans will take it.
On if he expected his team to win and dominate at the PK80...
No, you know I didn't. Although we only had eight turnovers against UConn, so we did do a good job there. If you watch the 24 turnovers, which I have on numerous times, against North Carolina, they were bizarre turnovers, you know illegal picks. They weren't, you know you think of most turnovers as sloppy passes. There weren't as many of those are there were bizarre turnovers. It doesn't matter, either way you don't get a chance to make a basket, and that's kind of what a turnover is. It depletes you the opportunity to score a basket. When you're a team that's shooting 50-51 percent, every time you turn the ball over, you're losing a point at least, and if you get a 3 or get to the free throw line, if you can get an offensive rebound, you might even get more. That has to be cleaned up, and I also think that we've got to do a better job.
You know, in Miles's (Bridges) case, he only played 16 minutes the second night he was there, and he wasn't 100 percent, so we'll get him back on track. We have to get him more involved and we have to get Jaren (Jackson Jr.) a little bit more involved in the offense. I thought the ball was stagnant in moving, we've got to improve in that area. Some of the reasons we had some incredibly strange line-ups in there a couple of times. I mean I'm ripping my staff and they're ripping me back on who do you want me to put in? I've got four guys on the bench in foul trouble. I don't think they were a lot of foolish fouls, it just is what it is so we're going to have to do a better job in that area and understand that there's not a lot of flow to these games right now. I think that's maybe the biggest complaint of a lot of coaches and when that happens you're not as efficient. You know now Notre Dame's been efficient, but some of it is too how many really good teams are you playing? Because they're going to make you look less efficient.
On the team's turnovers...
Not to take anything away from any of the team's we've played, but I would unfortunately have to tell you that a lot of our turnovers have been self-created. If we're playing Arkansas and they're pressing us all over and we're turning the ball over, that's their strength against maybe our weakness. Right now, it's not been, I don't take anything away from the teams we've played defensively, but out there maybe the best defensive team we've played was UConn - as far as getting after you - and we had eight turnovers, the fewest of the year. It's more self-inflicted, and that part is concerning, disappointing to me, but I've got to do a better job. I've got to do a better job in practice, and I will.
On the improvement of the team's defensive rebounding since playing Duke...
Yeah and I think that's the encouraging part, you know, that's what you hope to do in these non-conference games. You hope to play against people to see what mistakes you made and then see how you adjust. I think since that game we've played a couple teams that are pretty good rebounding teams. Carolina was +14 and 13-9 or something, which had to rank in the top five in the country, and we outrebounded them bad. So we put an emphasis on it and we got some production out of it, and that's kind of what you hope to do in life. But turnovers, I guess to make an excuse, are a little harder because you can't just say, `go cut a guy out and get the rebound here.' You're playing as the flow of the game goes. We've just got to not take as many chances. There were a couple behind the back dribbles off our feet that were ridiculous and we had our share of ridiculous ones and that more than them causing them, they were more self-inflicted if that answers the question.
On the difference Miles Bridges makes in the line-up...
I wouldn't trade Miles Bridges for anybody in the country, how's that? And I wouldn't because this was an important tournament to him. He wanted to win his first real championship of some kind. So throughout that game I didn't even know if he'd play the second game and he wanted to play. He wanted to play the first game, but I held him out. The second game I knew he wasn't 100 percent, but we also knew we weren't hurting the ankle anymore. So we played him the 16 minutes, and you know he hadn't practiced in four or five days. And then of course a day off, we did a little bit with him but not a lot. We tried to rest it and he played that next game.
But you know when he was in those huddles late in the game or even middle of the game and not scoring a zillion points or getting a zillion opportunities, which is more my fault than his, he was so into winning. You know there's another guy that was like that that everybody didn't think much of in a different way, and that was Draymond (Green). Winning sometimes means more than certain things. In Miles' case, he was averaging 20 going in there. He just, you know, on a big stage did not have maybe as good a game because of the injury. If the talking heads don't understand that, then they're not very smart talking heads to be honest with you. There are going to be unrealistic expectations for Miles, for our team. He knew it coming back. I knew it coming back. I knew it about our team. We all knew it about our team. You deal with that. There's been better teams than us that have had to deal with it and better players that have had to deal with it.
Grayson Allen got 37 against us and a couple nights later he got eight. People are going to put more into you too, but in Miles' case I think that the only reasons he didn't score more is number one, he wasn't as active because of (the injury) and number two we have to go to him more. So I think you'll see both those things happen.
On Joshua Langford's confidence...
We talk to him a lot about the head going down in the Ferris State game, it affected his defense, affected his everything. That's part of the maturation process; that a kid has to learn how to deal with a little success and learn how to deal with a little failure. I thought that was one of the things Josh was poor at. We talked about it to you guys and we talked about it to him. His body language was...and he didn't even realize he was doing it. That's kind of what you learn.
I had one parent tell me on a certain issue that's why I sent my kid there. If he was already really good, I would've sent him to the NBA or something. I knew he had to grow. I knew he had to do these things.
Josh, other than the injury which took care of half of last year, I think he's made great progress. He's making progress every day in practice right now. He's getting a little more confidence, you're right. He's feeling better about his shot. He's always worked hard on it. I think he has improved his defense, and maybe what he has improved the most is what we had a hard time getting him to understand last year was, you've got to run that lane. He thought he was running it. We showed him film of last year's running and this year's running and he started laughing. I said, `That's what I was doing last year. I was laughing at you when you were telling me how hard you were running.' That's just part of what happens.
Again, to piggyback off of my friend's question here, expectations and all these things are so out of whack right now because of the one-and-done and the Duke-Kentucky phenomenon. Every freshman is supposed to be this, every sophomore is supposed to be this. If you have the best of the best, you're going to get some of that. We got a lot of that with Miles really over his career so far, but the normal process is that you grow and get better. We just spend so much time wanting to speed the process and condemn the things. Somebody said to me we want to get it right but it doesn't have to be right now. There is going to be a process. Josh is a great example of a guy who is really making progress now. The injury slowed him a little bit at the beginning of last year if I hurt him a lot, but he's making progress.
On the MSU-Notre Dame match-up in both basketball and hockey this weekend...
I was just talking to Danton (Cole) and really, hats off to him. I am a big Michigan State fan, not a big Michigan State basketball fan. I actually came here, and I told you this story; there were four football assistants, there was Terry Christensen in hockey and that ticket in hockey was valuable. At times, I wanted to sell it because I was a GA making nothing but I enjoyed the hockey too much to sell my ticket so I just didn't eat or date anyone because I didn't have any money. Instead, I went to hockey games. I didn't miss many of those back then because I wasn't allowed on the road. I went the other night, and it's not there where it was but you can see that we're starting to make some progress.
When you look at soccer, you look at basketball, you look at volleyball, you look at what football has done, I thought Cathy (George) said it best - there's a fever. When there's a fever, it permeates through the whole athletic department and hopefully the community, and that's the advantage of being more than a one-sport institution, like some have.
That's why I've always been, as Doug Weaver once called me, a great program guy, because I believe in all of them and I think all of them are important. The better others do, the better our own players see it. There's just an excitement. To have Notre Dame here three times, I've always had great respect for Notre Dame growing up. That was the only football game on TV up in the U.P., you know, put the rabbit ears up and watch Notre Dame. I have great respect for their program and their institution in general. I think the more that we can play them in all sports the better, because it's a two-hour drive. It's kind of what you hope for. I am excited about that. I hope we do well. I hope hockey does well, but I think it is really going to be great for our fans to have a Notre Dame overload here.
On Bonzie Colson being a good match-up for Jaren Jackson Jr....
Yeah, it will be. I mean, Bonzie, you talk about things too that you look at. I mean, Jaren didn't score as many points but man, he's made some adjustments. I mean, he had to guard (Luke) Maye who can score from everywhere and was averaging 21 points a game, and I thought he did a phenomenal job on him. Now, he's going to have a real All-American that you can appreciate, because here's a 6-6 kid that just does a lot of things well and doesn't do anything beyond what he can do. He's a very efficient guy. I bet you there's not a coach in the country that wouldn't like to coach him, at least the way he seems, you know, I'm not in practices. It'll be another challenge for us to guard one of the best in the country, and how do you get better practice than doing that at a young age? The kid just turned 18 years old for God sakes. It's awesome. We'll get more out of him offensively, too.
One of the ways - as we keep talking about - why guys aren't scoring as many, when you're turning the ball over that many times, you just don't have as many opportunities. We're getting 57 shots a game, which is a lot more than the 51 or 52 we've had most years. If we weren't turning it over, we'd be in the 60's. If we're in the 60's, as I told our guys, more guys get to eat. If you get to eat more, it's going to do something to your stats. I think we're going to have our hands full with (Colson), because I think he can beat you with a 3, even though that's not his forte. He can really put the ball on the floor and he's tough and he's a good rebounder. He's just got a little bit of everything, a good passer, too; maybe one of the more complete players we'll play this year.
On guys having to step up while Miles Bridges was injured...
You know, it might be. But I bet if you ask those guys and if you ask me the question would I rather learn that? The answer would be no. Because I think Miles is unselfish enough that I think if we took care of the ball, they'd all get the same amount of shots. We'd be more well-rounded. That's what we've got to do now. That's the next step for us. We've got to get more consistent and efficient offensively. If we do that, I guess if I had to pick and choose for the fans, I'd rather be farther ahead offensively than defensively for the media, especially Fred, I'll separate him. I definitely would rather be better offensively than defensively for winning, and what I think you want to accomplish in the long run. Like our football team has done, they had some mediocre offensive days during those early stages this year getting their quarterback acclimated, those receivers acclimated. And their defense was unbelievable. The defense won them games, then. Our defense has won us some games, but that is the consistent, that's the steady factor. As they say, defense usually travels on the road where it's tougher to win. Hopefully we've got a good base there, and we'll build our base offensively.
On the availability of Kenny Goins...
There is a chance. I think he's going to practice tonight non-contact, maybe a little bit tomorrow; a lot like Denzel (Valentine) or Goran Suton. Those guys came back anywhere from 10-11 days to two and a half weeks. He seems to be doing real well with it. There's no real damage, it's just cleaning it up a little bit. There is a chance and that would help us, especially on the perimeter. It gives us some options, too, moving Miles around a little bit which would help.
On Matt McQuaid's foot injury...
He hurt it halfway through the second game, against UConn. It really swelled up, to be honest with you. I don't know if any of you have had a swollen arch, I haven't, but that's kind of a strange injury so they were concerned about it. They x-rayed it, looked like it was all good - just think he tweaked a tendon or even a nerve down there. So we did all the things you've got to do. That was good. He played gingerly the next night - give him credit because he flat-out sucked it up. It wasn't that we were worried about doing anything wrong to it. It was more worried about could he withstand the pain in a strange area? If you're a guard especially. He really improved that day a little bit and then, since he's been home, I think he'll practice some today but we might hold him out a little bit. I think he'll get back to normal pretty quick.
On changing one-and-done in the NBA...
The problem is, I think, if you listen to college coaches, that's almost as bad as listening to the talking heads. We're all over the place, too. I don't even know what I'm in favor of anymore. The only thing I'm in favor of is figuring out a way that it benefits these kids in the long run. Not one or two kids that could do this, or not kids that do that, it's just - how are we going to help these kids grow, make decisions, because there's a lot of bad people in there making decisions for them and help them in the long run?
If it means they can come right out of high school, I'm great. If it means that it's one-and-done, I'm great. If it means they stay three years, I'm great. We talk about all this research. The only research is what happens to the guy that makes millions of dollars. The guy that's on the street corner with a brown bag right now, we don't talk about him. The guy that doesn't have a chance to get his education or play in the NBA, we don't talk about him. There are a lot more of them than there are LeBron's and Kobe's, and that's the problem.
The media guys, just so I can blame somebody, haven't done as good a job of researching that part to give us statistics. You know, we're in an analytical world here, but there aren't a lot of analytics on those issues. Maybe hockey is better. Maybe we've got to look at, they can have agents as long as they - what do they call them? Advisers. Maybe we can come up with some cool words. Our basketball guys can have friends. There's got to be something, and it's got to be something that's best for them. It shouldn't be what's best for college basketball, and it shouldn't be what's best for the NBA. Because you know what? College basketball is going to go on no matter what they do, and the NBA is going to go on no matter what they do.
It's these people, these human beings, that are going to win or lose. I'll say that until the day I'm done and I'll probably get criticized for it. I think of decisions I have to make at my age that I don't do a good job of. I'm not sure anybody can do a great job. I think there is still a process of getting something, and when you work through the process, you're usually in a better position to handle the success or failure that you're going to have. Until we take a 10-year study maybe, not 20 and 30 like it used to be, but a 10-year study and really look at how many kids have come out, what has happened to them? How many that have been successful have any kind of life? Did they blow all their money? Did they do this? Did they do that? Those are the statistics that I think we have to look at and if we do that, I'm cool with them leaving their freshman year of high school if that's what we think is best for them.
On Bill Walton never having been to Coach Izzo's house...
Sure, if Bill wants to visit maybe we'll bring the Grateful Dead in or maybe Da Yoopers. We'll bring Da Yoopers in; they're a good band. Bill seems to like that kind of stuff so if Bill wants to come, he's invited.
On what he was most impressed with in the performance against North Carolina and if this is the best rim-protecting team he's coached...
I think the best rim-protecting would be good. I don't want to act like we're such a great defensive team yet. We haven't had enough studies where, you know, so we had a Kobe and a LeBron moment but that's two games. There hasn't been enough of that yet. But I do think that rim-protecting it's one of my better teams, I really do. I think defensively I wouldn't call it one of my best teams yet, but I think they're making some progress. I thought what this team did... Dane (Fife) and DJ (Dwayne Stephens) did an unbelievable job scouting and I think we've taken the scouting reports and we've put them to good use. And so it's kind of a neat thing now that we can share it with our staff too, because I thought we combined for all of that.
On Cassius Winston's defense surprising Coach Izzo this year...
Well do you want me to be honest or should I give you the political answer? Politically, that wouldn't surprise me at all. Honestly, I would have been shocked. You know I think he's improved a lot and yet has got a long ways to go. I think he's...he did what you're supposed to do. He came into his sophomore year, he said what do I have to get better at? That summer he worked on some of those things as did Josh and wow, just like it happens in your job or mine - you spend more time on something, you put a little bit more emphasis on something, something becomes a little more important. And if you put all those things together, you usually get better. I have great appreciation for the fact that even the UConn game where he got all of those accolades for scoring, he's been better defensively and that's one of the reasons we're better defensively. So, yeah, I think the problem at that position is you've got a lot of challenges just about every game so the good teams are going to have a pretty good point.
On Winston not allowing himself to get screened...
I thought he did a better job of getting over it. Now, I will say this, we have a combination to that - the screener is being guarded too, and Nick Ward was actually getting up somewhat this year. You know last year I felt sometimes that Nick was playing in a different arena and a different game just because there was nobody there and now he's done a better job. Gavin (Schilling) is great at it, Ben (Carter) is getting better at it, and I think Jaren is - with his length - is pretty good at it. So you know I think number one we're getting more help, and number two Cassius has improved and the combination has been pretty good.
Well hopefully you guys will be as excited about games like this as we are, but it is early season and Fred reminded me that people, everybody just goes on one game, one thing. You know we're not as good defensively as we played in that tournament. North Carolina is definitely not as bad offensively as they looked in that game. You need a bigger sample size to really figure out where you are. I think what we're getting is a good chance to have a lot of samples. When you play the No. 1 team, the No. 9 team, the No. 5 team, when you play a team like UConn who's got jet-quick guards. We've played so many different styles. We played Duke that played all zone. We played some teams that played all man. This has been what you want in the non-conference if you can survive it.
I see Suzy (Merchant) walking in and I did talk to Geno (Auriemma) after the game and told him he was a jerk for keeping his starters in and I'm really kidding about that, but that game will help her. We've had some blowout losses that have really helped us. It's, do you have the courage to play those teams? Everybody says, `well you're not very good against North Carolina. You're not very good against Duke.' We're not, but we're playing them. We're figuring out where we are and what we've got to do to get better. I think your team, your kids have to see the best sometimes to figure out, well, I'm working hard.
Matt Painter said something to me at our meetings. He said they were scrimmaging West Virginia; he said, `because our kids think they play hard until you play West Virginia.' Well I would have to say over the years there's not a lot of teams that play much harder than Purdue. But I learned that day in his mind, West Virginia plays a lot harder than Purdue. I'm not sure I totally believe that, but I got his point. I think that's what's great about playing the people you play and yeah it's insulting, it's, I walk in those arenas and I get the same thing from Carolina, you know you're 1 and this, you're 0 and this, you know that bothers me, but I like better walking into those arenas than not facing them. I think that's what the philosophy has been like around here in a lot of sports. I think that's what our AD's philosophy is and I think that's going to benefit all of us. So if this is Notre Dame week because of hockey and basketball, that's great. We're going to just keep on improving because we have a lot of improving to do. The good news is the ceiling is a lot higher than it is right now, the bad news is we're not going to get there if we keep turning the damn ball over. So we've got to straighten that out. Thanks a lot.