Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Coverage
No. 1 Michigan State preparing to take on North Carolina Wednesday at 9 p.m.
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:
I think, like everybody, I'm almost confused on how college basketball is going right now. I said to Matt, the one thing that we've been is we've kind of been consistently is we felt we've been inconsistent. But I think compared to college basketball right now, we've been fairly consistently consistent. That's because the more games I watch, the more ups and downs, the more things that have happened, it's mindboggling to me. I heard my old buddy Nick Saban say something the other day that he approached that game this time of the year like March Madness. It's really still the goal, to win and advance. It hasn't always been pretty, but I look at what we've done and it's a little more consistent than some teams.
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"?
Real-ville, I like that. That's a UP-phrase right next to Hooterville, right next to Iron Mountain. Yeah, I think that's definitely part of it. I really do. I watch everybody. I've seen so much of this one team shooting 11 free throws and the next team shooting 38. I mean, I just don't think it's that way. I think it's the way it's called and I think players are paranoid of getting in foul trouble and trying to figure those things out. We're trying to come up with some new ways to cover ball screens and this and that because we don't think we can cover them the conventional way. There are different ways to guard the post, whether you want to double it. So we're all in a little bit of flux right now. I think that's a good point, but there's been some teams defending better than us in the league. That doesn't happen. Teams rebounding a lot better. That doesn't always happen. But at this point in time, you know, I think we've played three or four really good teams. I mean, I thought Virginia Tech was better than I thought they would be when. I thought Oklahoma was definitely as well coached a team as we'll play. Kentucky's very good and we've played a couple of teams that weren't as good. But some teams have played six or seven teams that are in that boat. So it is a little distorted right now. I'm trying to figure that out.
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?
(We) Didn't let him do a thing. He's rehabbing. That's all he's doing. Today he may practice. We'll see how he feels after a little more stringent rehab yesterday. Like I said, could he have played Saturday? He could have. Will he play Wednesday? I'm 99 percent sure he will. But I'm trying to get that thing healed so he has the freedom to play like he wants to play.
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?
I'm not a doctor. I'm not him. I haven't seen anything, because he hasn't done anything. But as he said, it's getting better. I mean, it wasn't like it's all swollen up, because it's not. It's hard to explain. He's probably at an 80-percent level. But we need him at 100-percent level. I'm afraid if I don't get it taken care of now, I don't want this thing lingering for him for a month and that's why I've kind of made the decisions I've made on it.
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?
It's one of the more disappointing things for me. I can understand why North Carolina wouldn't want to go to UAB or we wouldn't want to go to Bradley, or teams like that or Butler. But I am mind boggled on why top-10 teams don't want to go to other top-10 teams. I think too many people are too afraid of losing, and maybe I should be more afraid of it. These neutral-site games when there's 50 people in the stands is not appealing to me. But I guess if of the 50, 49 of them are of these blue-blood teams because they have that ability to draw, then it becomes like a home game for them, and I understand why they wouldn't want to go `home and home'. I think that's one thing great about the ACC/Big Ten challenge. But I don't see -- I'd play at Kentucky. I'd play at Notre Dame. I'd play at Carolina or Duke. I'd like to see more home and homes just like our fans would.
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?
It just depends on where you're at. If you're at Kentucky, I'm sure the consequences of losing to us weren't a lot of fun. I mean, I don't think around here people deal with it real easy. It's just a little better, because it's been the culture because when we weren't as good and I was still playing these schools, we'd lose more. So people got used to it and kind of half accepted it. But those things aren't accepted as much in a few of those programs.
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?
I think our inside play is going to be a little bit more. We'll have to rebound better. This is a very big team. They've got seven or eight guys over 6'8" and they're playing a lot of them. At the same time, I think we've got to rebound the run because I think we've got to run them and try to wear down those guards a little bit. So our defense is going to be important. And to be honest with you, our defense is going to be really important again if you look at the big picture of things.
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?
Well, it's like I always said that one thing I feel good about in my job is that I've really gotten a chance to live my dream. Everybody has that dream of what they want to be. I sure as hell don't know why you guys dreamed about being writers, but I guess I'll give you your just due. But my dream as a Michigan State person, as a member of this community, my dream was always to see the day when we were successful in both sports. And things have just gotten ratcheted up. I mean, all this is ratcheted up. Our soccer team is playing in the Elite Eight at Notre Dame. It's great. But football and basketball, we all know, has been the ticket as far as if they win, everybody else is better off. To be playing and having the media attention, getting up on ESPN and watching or reading in the paper and seeing the things that are happening this week, where Michigan State and North Carolina or Michigan State and Ohio State and highly-ranked teams. For a guy who has been here this long and loves both sports, it's just -- it's living the dream, as they say. So I'm living the dream this week. And let's hope it doesn't turn into a nightmare.
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?
It's immense. It's enormous. It's everything, every word you can come up with. I love what Mark (Dantonio)'s done, and he was the one that gave me all the credit early that we were their role model. Now they're becoming our role model, and pretty soon we'll be each other's models and hopefully branch out to the rest of this place. That's what really it's all about.
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?
Well, I do think there is. And you know I think how I got a text, `this won't happen again.' Well, probably not true. Probably not true, because we're all in college. But I hope you understand, too, that a kid misses a class, he's sitting out, or he's sitting out for five minutes or then ten or a half and a game, whatever the semi-rules are. But it's certain times that it's more important than even other times. It's important if you miss a class, but it's really important you get the last two or three weeks and you're preparing for finals and all the things that could change your grades by a lot. And then what is emphasized, what's talked about and whether you think you can blow it off or not. And having Ervin (Johnson) around for a couple of days at a practice was really exciting. Going to Mateen (Cleeve)'s little thing he had and saying, yeah, I've been there before and he turned out pretty good.
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?
Believe this or not, I'm not pleased with his game. And I say that but for the reasons you've said. Gavin is one of my brightest students in the classroom; one of the brightest we have. He has had four coaches in five years. He's been a completely different country, different parts of the world, or the United States. That's not easy. I mean he's picking it up, but I think this kid has a very high upside and we haven't seen that yet. We saw a little bit in the last game. I thought it started to come on.
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?
Especially Hairston. We've got some film on him. We're all set that way. The other thing is we haven't wanted to prepare our kids from the standpoint of trying to figure out nine different outfits because there could be different scenarios with them. If something happens the day before, I don't see it happening Wednesday morning and also Wednesday night. But we have done work and scouting and we have talked about it a little bit, but not made a big issue, to be honest with you. We have it there in case. And I don't want to say it's too late, but I think we chose the way I did it. I think this is the best for us right now.
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?
I think it has been a good rivalry. I think in basketball, they've done an incredible job and they've been pretty consistent. And I think they're the other school that's trying to do the same thing that we're trying to do, have greatness in both. And football right now, I'm looking forward to the game. It should be incredible; an incredible game. It is exciting. We don't seem to have played them as much in the last 10 years. I don't know how many times we didn't play them in football. Basketball we're always playing them, and so I think that when you have games like this, it creates rivalries that maybe weren't there at the forefront anyway. I think you've got both sports doing it in advance of the other one even more. So basketball fans automatically would hate Ohio State football and football fans would automatically hate Ohio State basketball and vice versa. So this is how rivalries kind of go when you have them in both sports. I think it's special. I'll be anxious to see the outcome. Ohio State basketball, even though it's been good, it's been semi-overshadowed by football, which happens everywhere. I'll be blunt and honest about it. It's going to happen here. When you win like this, that's the nature of football.
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?
No, I can't do that anymore. Hell no. Like I always told you, I look at everybody who is winning and I try to figure out how are they doing it. I called a lot of people, NBA, NFL, baseball, just different sports, different people. But when you get them in the same conference and you become rivals, those kind of things end. You don't share as much and you don't do as much.
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.