Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Coverage
Dec. 2, 2013
Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media at his weekly press conference on Monday afternoon to preview the upcoming Big Ten-ACC Challenge against North Carolina on Wednesday, Dec. 4 at 9 p.m. in East Lansing.
The following is a complete transcript from Monday's press conference:
North Carolina is a funny team, too. They're missing (P.J.) Hairston, a great shooter, but they've still got five or six McDonald's All-Americans on that team and tremendous size. They lost one game, because they went 22 of 48 from the free-throw line and then lose in a hornet's nest last night with their guard (Marcus) Paige playing his worst game.
I guess I'm a little more concerned about us and how we play right now. We're still in that position where we're just trying to get better, making some small strides not giant strides, small strides, and figuring out that we have to get a little better defensively. Yet, you look at our stats and who we've played compared to some of the other teams in our league that have played lesser schedules, we're doing a pretty good job both three-point and regular field-goal percentage.
Offensively, we've been very good shooting over 51 percent. Where our staples haven't been as solid, we're not rebounding as well, we're not defending quite as well even though percentage-wise, we've had two games where teams started out eight for ten and eight for nine against us and so that really skews it. But we'd like to get a little more consistent with our defense since that's been such a strong part of our program. I think getting Gary (Harris) back will help that some. I mean back even when he was here the last two games, I didn't think he was as mobile as he was.
Getting a little bit more out of our center position is one of the things we've been looking at, and that's still a work in progress. So I don't really have much to add to it except that the good things about this team at the seven-game mark is we're one of the leaders in the whole nation in assists, which means having three or four guys that are potentially guys that you think could go AWOL a little bit and get a little selfish on you, and that hasn't happened at all. I think that's really neat with this team, that we're averaging over 22 assists a game is phenomenal.
I think we have dealt with the pressure of being a No. 1 team and listening to everybody say this team should have beat us and this team could have beat us, but we've won every game by 10 or more except one. In that game we had a big lead, and, yes, they missed some free throws, but we had some guys sitting on the bench, too. So I feel like we've done a pretty good job so far in the first maybe fifth of the season with a lot of season left, including this big game on Wednesday.
You talk about your disappointment from the defense and needing your defense to get better. For those of us at your games, a lot is your guys trying to figure out the new rules. I saw at one point they're turning to a ref asking them about it -- does part of that have to go into that it, I know you don't like excuses, but isn't that just limited to "Realville"?
Sometimes I don't feel we have the energy that I'd like to have. I don't know if that's the pressure. I don't know if it's starting early. I don't know if it's the summer. There's a lot of new things we had this year and we're just trying to figure them out. But we're doing the one thing that I guess does make it like March Madness. We're finding ways to win games and move on. You've got to be getting better and I think we're at least addressing those things. So we're in a decent spot right now, not a great spot.
What's Gary (Harris) been doing the last couple of days, what's he going to do and how?
With Gary Harris, we've got a lot of good players right now, but where he is different than all those other ones is he is a game changer on both ends, maybe all three spots. He can score on one end. He can defend on the other, and the in-between is where he can run the court both in transition offense and transition defense. So he's probably our most all-around important guy because of the impact he can have on both ends of the floor. I think that's what's so important about getting him not only back, but getting him back where he can do those things. I mean, Keith (Appling) is the best defensive player we have, but Gary is an eyelash below him. I don't think that he's been able to do those things on a consistent basis. So he's been resting. He's been rehabbing, and he may practice some today. That will be determined right now or we might give them one more day, which isn't all good either because you don't miss four or five days and come back and be the same player. But it's what's best for the long haul for me, and that's what we're going to do.
Has he (Gary Harris) responded the way you wanted to see?
North Carolina is a blue-blood, marquee team; those teams don't come in often. Can you talk about how difficult it is in major college basketball to get programs of your caliber and their caliber on other team's home floors and schedule the games?
Why do you feel teams don't want to schedule those games early in the year when the consequences of losing aren't that great?
But that's a million dollar question. I don't know. I give Roy (Williams) credit for going. But me personally, I would much rather play home and homes with everybody and give our fans something; go to Kansas, go to Carolina, go to Duke, go to Syracuse. But I want them coming back here, too. I think it's getting worse, too. I think some of these guys just don't want to do it. And they must have their reasons, but I'm not privy to them because I would much rather do it the way you're saying.
Talking about North Carolina, obviously a simple answer is always score more to win. But with this game in particular, isn't your defense going to be the key to your victory?
Whether you win a game or two because you outscore somebody, it's been proven in every sport at every level that it usually doesn't win for you when it comes down to money time. You know, usually it's the little things. It's not the offense. It could be the special teams, free-throw shooting, missed field goals, but it's always going to be your defense. If you look at football teams that have big leads and then lose them, their defense let them down. I don't think there's any question that to win big, that's got to be pretty consistent. So I'd say, yeah, in this game it's going to matter because it's against a good team. I watched this team dismantle Louisville. They lost to UAB, yeah, but they built Louisville soundly. I have a tendency to say they beat Louisville soundly. Look at their pedigree, their reputation and the number of great players they have. They'll be one of the more well-coached teams that come in here. So we'll have to defend and rebound. It comes down to blocking and tackling as they say in the other sport and I agree.
Would you comment on what it means this week to be playing a North Carolina and this weekend going down to the Big Ten Championship game; what does it mean to you and the other coaches?
Going along with that, too, you guys are going there Saturday. The football team's having a bunch of recruits come to the game on Wednesday. I mean, with just the cohesiveness between the two programs, it doesn't seem like there's any competition to be the top dog on campus like there is at some schools. How much does that help in recruiting and elsewhere?
At the end of the day, if you're giving to somebody else, if you're helping someone else be successful, Keith Appling is probably it. I mean here's a kid who I don't think bought into that for three years. I don't think he necessarily ditched it. I just don't think he understood it, felt it and now I swear to you he'd rather give up a pass than make a basket. It's increased his offense. It's increased his productivity. It's increased his percentages. There's just something about doing something for someone else.
I think it happened way before I came here. There was always a relationship with the two sports. I think and hope that I've helped galvanize that, because my relationship with George (Perles) back when he was here and Jud (Heathcote)'s love for football, too. Then me understanding how important football is even from a financial part behind the scenes; but our staffs get along, our programs get along, our kids get along. There is zero, when I say this, I mean zero jealously as far as if we can keep winning, it's going to help them. If they can keep winning, it's going to help us. And if we both keep winning, it will be a hell of a community, a hell of a university here as far as people able to embrace something that is special. The national attention it gets, yeah, there's pressure on it. But when you look at it, you can't beat having your name in a positive way in lights of some kind. And I think that's what it is when you wake up in the morning and people are talking about those two programs and a dream come true like I said. But we've both got a lot of work left to do.
One game win or loss by one of us isn't going to change what we're building here. But that's that dream of why can't you have a successful football and basketball program on the same ground. There's been a couple, but it's few and far between. I think that's what our AD, our president, our board, our football and basketball coach have in common and that's what we want. Then I think it will really branch off to the other programs, and we can get this thing where we win the President's Cup some day or whatever it is; that would be the farfetched long-range goal.
With having to not start Keith (Apping) and Adreian (Payne) the other night, when you looked at the bench, they were up. They were cheerleading, and Keith (Appling) told me after the game that it's because he realizes he's a small part of a big team. If he has to be the best cheerleader, he will. You touched on him a moment ago. But would you talk about the maturity that's coming out of these two as seniors?
So it's all part of the maturation, growing process, and it's not any fun for me, but I did like the way they handled it. I did like the way they came in. I did like the way they were in the locker room and the way they were in practice the day before, because this went on for a couple of days. It doesn't mean you need all this to be good. It's the checks and balances that we all need and I'm finding out that it's more fun to give than receive. It's more fun to hold guys accountable than it is to let them go, too.
Gavin Schilling, talking to people in AAU, when he committed to you, there was concern not because he wasn't a listener but because he had so many coaches over a period of time, that he had so much information thrown at him he wouldn't be able to process it. Not that he wasn't a smart guy, but he had so many. He's seemed to do the opposite. Are you more pleasantly surprised more about that than anything with his game?
So he's trying to adjust and we're trying to adjust to him. But we need Gavin. He's the athlete that can jump, that has some toughness. I think you're going to see him really improve in the next couple of weeks, once we get done with finals and we can just spend some time on basketball. I think he'll learn and a lot better in the Big Ten. It's not like when I say I'm disappointed, I just know that he has more to give than he's given. But I also know the reasons in my mind, he had four different coaches, four different ways to guard something. No matter how smart you are, you kind of lose perspective and it gets a little confusing. So that is the truth. That's been part of his problem. He's had so many people giving him so many different ways. But he's getting more consistent in practice. He is making some progress. It's just we haven't seen it all in the games yet.
It sounds like something could happen with Hairston and McDonald. Talk at all about what they can be and how it's a totally different team than what you might see Wednesday night?
You and Ohio State. You can argue Ohio State might have been the second-best (basketball) program. Can you talk about the rivalry between you and Ohio State basketball and what's coming in football here?
With football, you shared with us before that when Urban (Meyer) was at Florida, calling and talking to him, you share that relationship this week or is that something different?
Right now, I'm just hoping that we go there and play our best game. I think we will. I think we've been awesome. I think we're ready to play. So I hope you guys have to ask Dantonio these basketball questions; he's as good as me. But it is a special week.
I think Kentucky and North Carolina are 1-2 in total wins, aren't they? So when you get to play both of them in the first seven, eight games, at home, and then your football team is preparing for arguably one of the greatest football games played here in 40, 50 years...man, it's banner. If you're part of the media, I don't know how you could ask for any more. Except it's probably a little hard on you guys to have to work both sports and do overtime. So welcome to the world of having your wife mad at you.
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