Tom Izzo Weekly Press Conference Coverage
East Lansing, Mich. - Michigan State Men's Basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo met with the media on Monday afternoon, addressing the team's upcoming game against Oakland at Little Caesar's Arena in Detroit on Saturday, Dec. 16 and looking back at last week's games.
Michigan State, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches polls, has won eight-straight games and is 9-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference.
Full transcript below.
Alright. Finals week. Tough week around here and probably every school there is, so the problem that I always hope for is that I'm always hoping for finals to be early and unfortunately we have our biggest day is Thursday and some still on Friday, so the academic gods weren't looking out for us in that respect but we do get some time each day. It'll just be, we'll be spacing out other than Thursday, we'll be practicing just at different times, morning, noon and once later on in the day. So we'll get it done and that'll be good.
We've played 10 games which means we're a third of the way through. Looking at our team, I explained it to you guys the other day, hard to believe we're leading the nation in field goal percentage defense by more than a little, and yet our 3-point percentage defense is not ranked very high. Although that one, you know a half a point could mean 50 spots, so it's not life-threatening.
Our rebound after that Duke performance has really cranked up. We're a lot better there, the last four or five games I think we're averaging 11 and a half turnovers a game. We're getting that number down. We still got to improve on our movement offensively. Thought we did a much better job in the last game in that respect, as far as (Miles) Bridges taking it to the hole more. We had better spacing. Cassius (Winston) has been, you know dynamite now of staying in the play, where last year he was always way back, moving around the 3-point line. Now he's in there at that 3-point line and getting shots from there. That's been a great improvement. We do have to improve on our 3-point percentage defense, and I think still on our turnovers. Even though we've limited them, there have still been some ridiculous turnovers that I hope to change since that North Carolina game.
With you know Oakland, they've got three guys that are averaging almost 20 points a game and all of them have given us problems somewhere. You know, none more at Illinois than here. Of course, the other two Martez Walker and (Jalen) Hayes from right here have been good players there. From Martez a couple years and Hayes all four years. It's no surprise to me that (Greg) Kampe calls this their best team. They've got to get, you know had to get through some injuries and that eligibility issue with Hayes, which I still don't understand. I thought that was kind of poor. I felt bad for him, but with that being said, the last four games now I think they're at 100 percent. They attempt 25 3s a game. That's something. We've had some great games with them over the years. It's an awesome opportunity for us to play in Detroit at that arena against a quality team should make for a great day of sports. Michigan playing Detroit, us playing Oakland and the Lions playing the Steelers. If you're a sports nut, what a better place to go, what a better town to be there.
You know, I was on the Big Ten conference call this morning, and even though it hasn't been a great start for the league as far as in general, I think some things to take note of you know, that one thing our league has done in the last two years, I thought, and a compliment to the league has been I think a lot of teams are playing a lot better schedules than we used to. We're not, we did not play as well. We've got some marquee teams in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin who have predominately and there's been coaching changes at a couple of them and there's been -- in Wisconsin's case -- a huge loss in personnel.
And then you know, two very good players (out with injury), a freshman (Kobe King), a sophomore, the sophomore being (D'Mitrik) Trice. I talked to his dad, who's got to have surgery now on a Jones fracture in his foot. So, (Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard) was very young to start with, other than (Ethan) Happ, and now he's got the injury bug. So not making excuses for the league, but this league has also been one where Nebraska beats a Boston College who beats Duke. I mean, are there any answers to any of these things that are going on? I think that with the quality of coaches, you're going to see some of these teams get better and better. You know, Indiana took Duke right to the wire. Ohio State has played pretty well. Michigan is playing pretty well just beating UCLA. Penn State has been playing pretty well in a lot of games. I think, I think a lot of teams are having that we have, that I've complained about. I think the focus has been a little more up and down across the whole nation, evident by five teams in the top-10 losing to five unranked teams this past week. Questions.
On the team being different to coach every year...
You know, as sick of a question it is, and it is a sick question, Hondo, because it almost makes you say that sometimes you got to be a little crazier than others, but it is so true. You know, I mean I didn't have 10 kids, and my wife had 11 in her family, but I think you talk to a lot of families that have more than two, and they say, `Wow, this guy was this way and this one's completely different.' You know? There is some truth to that, and there's really truth to usually controversy leads to good things. I hate to say that, because I don't want to manufacture it even though I had an assistant that once said if there is no controversy, create some.
You know that when you have something with a player, it usually does what our shirts say. It makes you have a meeting. It makes you talk. It makes you listen, and you usually get a lot out of that, both the player and the coach. The way I do it here, 90 percent of my meetings are the whole team, so they get stuff out of it. So some of it's done for preventative management, and sometimes it's crisis management, you know? But it's been really good most of the time to see a player that has deficiencies that you can help make him better at that helps him live the dream that you get to live, and that is the best part of coaching, by far.
I think it would be boring if everybody just said `Yes, sir.' You know, as much as I love Tum (Nairn), I don't know if I could coach 12 of him. You know, so sometimes the, you know, spontaneity of things. It's not all bad, because you know what it does? It keeps me sharp too, you know? I'm not right all the time either, and it makes me rethink, you know, not only what I'm doing but it makes me rethink what era I'm in. You know, to me an era is about five years. You know, to most people it's 10 years. In sports, dealing with 17-22 year olds, it's always five years. So every five years I've kind of got to readjust something, and yet the standard stuff stays the same, but maybe the way it's said or you know, the way it's done is different. So, kind of a bad question-good question because I think it is one of the fun parts of my job, especially when you see it go from rags to riches, which has happened more than a few times.
On where Cassius Winston's balance should be offensively...
Well, the two things, you know, one of the things we've done a little bit more, we've talked about at the beginning of the year is we've played him and Tum together, which almost makes him a point-two guard, you know? But we can use him coming off screens. I think it's, you're not going to see as much penetration as you saw last year because for the most part now we have two bigs in there a little bit more, even though at times Jaren (Jackson Jr.) can be a stretch guy. It causes a little more congestion in there. I do want a balance, but all kidding aside, I mean, right now Cassius has been as consistent a player as we've had.
You know again, went through the film of the last game, and the difference in him defensively on ball screens in that this year compared to last year is enormous, and so he's been consistent on both ends. We'd like to see him push it a little more on the break, and there maybe he can get some of those penetrating things. In the half court, we are going to work on him coming off ball screens a little bit more than we've done because I think he's by far the best at it and he'll make good decisions, but remember too, whenever you have somebody that's good at something, the defense is going to try to take those things away too, like some teams have tried to trap us a little bit more, some people have hedged and stayed a little bit more. So they're going to try and take away what he does, that's why that open court stuff is so valuable to him and he's got his hands on the ball 90 percent of the time, and is going to have his hands on it 90 percent of the time in those positions.
On what the rim protection means for the team...
Yeah, I'd like to tell you that I could think about it, but I'm not sure I've ever had this. I've had a couple good shot blockers, you know, what's his name from Muskegon? Not D.D., D.D. (Deyonta Davis) was one too, but Naymick. Drew Naymick was a very good shot blocker. Those were probably the two best I had, (Matt) Steigenga was, when I was an assistant. We've got more than just Jaren (Jackson Jr.), even though Jaren is a force, but Miles (Bridges) can block shots and he's got pretty good timing. You know, Gavin (Schilling) has done it and Nick Ward has done it in a different way. He's actually improving his defense in that respect too, and when I start seeing 12 and 13 blocked shots, I'd like to egotistically tell you yeah I know how to do that. I don't. I haven't been in that position before, but I'm starting to realize it's more valuable than I even thought.
You know, most of the time when you have a good shot blocker, he's a guy that just stands in the lane and you know, Wilt Chamberlain blocks shots, you know. Jaren Jackson's a guy who can move and move around. Miles moves around. Gavin moves around a little bit more and Nick doesn't as much, but, so we've had, that makes to me our shot blocking more versatile and more important and I got to say that's probably the reason for our great defensive field goal percentage. If there's 10, 12, 13 shots that are taken that don't even get to the rim, that increases your field goal percentage by a lot.
On the blocking advantage with Bridges at the three instead of the four position...
Yeah I think it does, because he can block shots. He's blocked a few from behind. He's blocked a few from helping. You know, our biggest adjustments are still you know Miles, I say learning how to play the three. Trust me when I say the position is not that much different than he played last year. It wasn't like he was a post-up player, but biggest part is who he's guarding. The second biggest part is how he's coming off screens and that now. And I thought, you know, that was first game I think if you asked him he was 100 percent healthy since the little sprain, and little sprains, when you're in his position, take on a little bit different meaning, you know, because he's got everybody in his ear telling him what to do and how to handle it. So I feel for him on that, but I thought that was the best he looked at putting the ball on the floor and doing those things which is some of the adjustments he has to make, blocking shots I think you're going to see him even more aggressive now that he's feeling great.
On MSU recruit Thomas Kithier...
Well, you know, to me there's a lot of things that still have to happen. I mean, when I say this, as transparent as I am, trust me what I'm saying. I don't know the whole situation. I've not talked to even the family a lot lately. I'm trying to figure out. I am not crazy about the ruling that I've heard. I think we're archaic in our thinking on this. I think, one way or another, this is going to bring some changes to how we look at it from a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) part. I feel like partly at blame because I think Thomas was going to leave there, I think he was going to go to a prep school. I'm not crazy about that. You know, I hate when the kids from the state of Michigan are all leaving because of my love for the state. So, you know, it was us that late said to him `Are you sure this is what you want to do?' And then, ended up, he ends up at Clarkston, you know, sadly to my prevail. I mean, let's understand something. My assistant (Dane Fife) is from Clarkston. His dad (Dan Fife) coaches at Clarkston. I recruited Dane, and didn't get him. I recruited Dugan (Fife), and didn't get him. Dugan and his dad went to Michigan so I can't like either one of them even though I love what they stand for. So get that straight, first of all.
Dan Fife had zero, zero to do with this. Early on his name was getting dragged through like he was recruiting -- zero. Zero. And there's some rulings that I don't totally understand, I mean I can't believe if a kid moves somewhere else he's not going to be eligible. But there are some intrical parts of all these moving parts that I'm not sure I'm understanding all of them, so I'm not going to speak on what I don't know. I'm not going to condemn (Thomas) Kithier, the school, MHSAA.
But I do think there are, where people are struggling with it is there's been many cases where this has happened. And for some reason it seems a little more high-security on this one. You know me, I don't like transferring. Period. Never been a fan of it. But as they say there are extenuating circumstances and so I don't think...
Dakota is a very good school, very well-coached. Just didn't work out for him. Clarkston is a very good school. Very, very well-coached. I think he's one of the best coaches in the state of Michigan, ever. And there are some good prep schools out there that wanted him.
What are our situation from here? Trying to see how it plays out. Trying to look into different things like some schools have done. You know, when could he be able to come here? What could happen that way? To me, a very sad situation because I hate -- bad choice of words -- but I hate when a (high school) senior does not get a chance to go to the prom and play basketball and do this or that. That's why I'm against some of these things and all these kids leaving. I'm not even in favor of the football rule where they come at semester, personally. Because I think you're missing out on a lot of things and I think we have to find a way to do a better job with the rules to make it so that there are rules, but there are also adjustments to the rules that I think will take place in the future. I hope it doesn't cost him, but I just don't know enough about all of it because I didn't think it would come to this. Now that it has -- and thank God I have a couple of days here, if you ask me on Thursday I might have a better answer than I do today on the whole thing to be honest with you.
On the team going to the Pistons-Warriors game Friday night...
It was more Draymond (Green)-related and Pistons, you know I think, I think he's done a great job with the Pistons. And you kind of want your kids to see winning teams. It was nice that they got to see the arena, but it wasn't like they shot any baskets on it or anything. But it was one of those team-building things that the NCAA lets you do now and thank God for my athletic director and the people at the Pistons that were able to work the whole thing out. And then for those guys to be able to spend a little time with Draymond and everybody was priceless. That's, hell, I wish I could have been there and spent a little time with KD (Kevin Durant) myself. But I couldn't do that.
On playing in downtown Detroit Saturday...
I am. I do have some great memories of The Palace. The Palace was a great place. I miss Mr. Davidson and all the things that went on at The Palace. But I have had a chance now twice to be down there -- one for the press conference when it wasn't finished, once when they gave me a tour. Tom Wilson took me around the whole thing for an hour and a half when I was down there recruiting in September right after it opened. If you haven't been there...have you been there, Fred?...Yeah hockey. They couldn't get them to play a baseball game in there is that the problem? Well, it is a phenomenal facility and I laugh because I know Kid Rock was there to open it up and they even said during his concerts they had to tell people to get back to their seats because everybody is walking around seeing all the things.
They've done a phenomenal job with that building and I think, you know, the Pistons are playing better. I don't know if it's because of the building but they've had a good run here. The Red Wings are always good and now for Michigan, Michigan State, U of D, Oakland; just a great sports day for the city of Detroit. You know I still say Dan Gilbert and all those people have done such a great job kind of reinventing our city down there. Little Ceasar's is...the Ilitch family they're all a part of it. Got a lot of good things going down and so am I excited to be there? I'm ecstatic to be there. I think it's going to be great for all of us.
Unfortunately, I think we're playing a very, very, very good team and one that is just, you know, it's hard to look at a lot of film when they didn't have two of their guys because they're a completely different team. You have three guys averaging almost 20 points a game -- there's not many people in college basketball that have that right now.
On the development of Joshua Langford and if he's the shooter Coach Izzo thought he would be... His stats are deceiving because I think he's a better player than those stats. He's been shooting it well from the 3 which is good. From the field he was shooting it really well, he's had a couple bad games that hurt that -- I think including the first game of the year I think he was 1-for-12 so I think that's been skewed a little bit, or 0-for-12.
Where he's really improved -- he's a better defender by a long shot. He's a better rebounder. He's starting to take some pride in his rebounding and he's doing a better job of that. He's really become a guy that we can rely on to run that lane and I think he's going to be a guy that's going to be right up there in that 15, 16, 17 points a game area. As we turn it over less, get more shots -- you know we're getting more shots than we ever got here at 58 or 9, I'd like to get that to the mid-60s with a few more offensive rebounds with a few less turnovers I think we can do that. And when that happens there's more shots for everybody.
What Josh Langford has better than any player I've had here -- and that's a pretty good statement -- he might have the best one dribble mid-range pull-up shot of anybody that I've ever had. And that is an art. Everybody talks about now...seems like everybody works on the 3s or the dunks. I heard Michael Jordan, I heard Steve Smith talk about the mid-range game, it's getting lost. And if you have that art, you have something special. He has an incredible mid-range game. He's gotten better with the ball, which we'll get him to drive more. I think he, Miles (Bridges), all those guys have to drive more to get to the free throw line because they are all 80-some percent, 85 percent and up free throw shooters.
So, very pleased with the progress Josh has made. As you know, Josh is an unbelievable kid, but he's made progress in almost every aspect of the game, not just his scoring.
On if this is the deepest team he's ever had...
You know the '05 team was pretty deep in guards with Shannon Brown and (Maurice) Ager, and Chris (Hill) and Alan Anderson and I think Neitzel was on that...but we didn't have as much depth. That's when we brought (Matt) Trannon from football. You know we had Paul Davis -- we didn't have as much depth inside.
But this team, not real, real thick on the guards, but decent especially with Kenny (Goins) coming back -- he can kind of swing to both positions. And then inside we probably have the most depth we've ever had that could play as Ben (Carter), you know, Ben is still struggling at times. It was funny because the last game, you know, he made a couple of turnovers which isn't like him, but he's getting more comfortable so his brain is telling his legs where to go and his legs are telling his brain where to go. And we've got to get to the point where those two mesh a little bit better.
So I'd say yeah. I'd say this is maybe the deepest playing group I've ever had, you know legitimate playing group. A playing group is guys you could play on a regular basis. Because we still have a guy like Xavier (Tillman) who I think can, can and will be playing more and more and more. But he's done a great job of biding his time and realizing that he's getting better every day and thank God for Xavier he's been great too.
On Coach Dwayne Stephens...
I think that's very true. He's got his hands full -- he's got six guys down there sometimes. When Braden (Burke) is there and if you put Kenny (Goins) down there...sometimes he has more bigs than we have guards. And you know what's been good for me is I feel more comfortable too because there's been a game or two when everybody wonders why certain guys aren't playing that he's telling me not to play them or to play them. And that's good, because he's -- kind of in a football way -- their position coach. I see those guys are getting better. We're getting Jaren (Jackson Jr.) more in the post now that's going to be the next phase of things we gotta do.
What I liked about doing those things is we get our guards driving a little more and our posts getting the ball down there and all of a sudden we're getting to the free throw line 31 times like the last game. You know we get to that free throw line in the mid-20s we'll really be improving as a team especially if we're shooting well from the line.
Yeah, so there's compliments to go to DJ and pressure to go to DJ and that's good because I think he's definitely prepared for that and definitely deserves the accolades of those bigs constantly improving.
On Oakland's coach Greg Kampe and facing a tough opponent in Oakland...
Yeah and that makes it so hard on me, so I don't know why in the hell I keep doing it. But I do, because I have great respect for him and his program and I think we played him 14, 15...do you know how many times? A lot. That's 12, 14, 15 times -- that means Matt doesn't know and I like catching him on that so...but we have played them a lot. We've had some good games with them. Of course we had the one great game with them when we were ranked No. 1 in the country and that game where (Denzel) Valentine was out, but still their guard put on a hell of a show down there and it was great in The Palace. You know it was great. I'm hoping that they'll pack this place too because it hasn't been packed as much...It is? Sold out? I mean how cool is that? And of course that's going to be big for them.
But where I'd like to see if our team is maturing -- I hope it's really big for us too. Because we get a chance to play downtown Detroit. We get a chance to play where (Stan) Van Gundy leads the Pistons. We get a chance to play in a place that if we win enough we could be playing there in March. There are so many good things for us, too. And we get to beat a quality team if we can win that game. You know it's a team that I expect in the NCAA tournament, to put a little pressure on my friend. And I think deservingly so because I think they've got a good enough team to get there. So it's not just a big win for his program now, it could be a damn good win for our program too. And I want to see if our team is maturing to the point that we understand that.
On the team not being ranked No. 1 in the latest polls and if that's good news...
Ummm...you know if you're No. 1 or No. 2 it doesn't surprise me either way. I'm sure Greg (Kampe) is more disappointed than I am. Because I'm sure he would've loved to have us come in there as one. But if he beats the No. 1 or the No. 2 team it's going to be damn good for his program, so he shouldn't worry about that either.
You know I don't know -- we haven't been No. 1 for a couple of years so I don't know what kind of distractions it brings. There's enough on this team already that I don't think it will bring any more distractions, but it doesn't totally surprise me. Villanova is playing well. They struggled yesterday too. I mean, as I said if we don't win by 20 we're struggling now so we have to deal with that as it is and that's great. So as they say, it's not where you are in December, it's where you are in April that matters. We'll just keep working towards that goal for ourselves.