Izzo on EMU zone: "They're everywhere"

Michigan State preparing to face stiff Eastern Michigan defense on Wednesday night at Breslin Center.

”The wishbone of basketball” is what Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called the zone defense Monday.

But Michigan State has faced plenty of zone early this season – more than Izzo can recall seeing – but Wednesday will bring a new look as Eastern Michigan comes to Breslin Center.

”Even though we’ve played other zones, you don’t see them like this,” Izzo said. “This is a different animal. It’s gonna take a little more concentration.”

The Eagles, led by coach Rob Murphy, upset Michigan on Dec. 9 and it was the 2-3 zone that they employ which gave Michigan fits – and has led to an 8-1 record.

“That zone is legit,” Izzo said. “They didn’t just play it against Michigan, they played it against Oakland. They’ve been holding teams in the mid-30’s. That’s one of the best in the country. They’ve been holding 3-point shooting teams in the 27’s, that’s one of the best in the country.”

Murphy, a former Syracuse assistant, has put into action a similar zone to the Orangemen’s famed defense, but Izzo said it is different as well. He said the zone is more athletic than Syracuse’s.

”They just fly around like a bunch of bees,” he said. “They’re everywhere.”

To combat the zone and the strong shooting defense the Eagles present, Michigan State will be hoping its 3-point shooting and ball movement – two strong points this year.

The Spartans lead the nation, shooting 45.6 percent from 3-point range, while averaging 18.5 assists per game. Denzel Valentine leads the way at 51.7 perecnt from deep, with Bryn Forbes close behind at 51.1 percent.

But Izzo said it will take more than strong shooting to beat the Eagles.

”The movement would be as big of a key as the shooting because if you just rely on your shooting then you’re in trouble,” Izzo said. “If we don’t get the ball inside, get it moving, inside-out passes, I don’t think we’ll get anywhere. …

”Here’s a team that’s flying around on the perimeter, we’ve got to get inside and get our nose bloodied a little bit and get some offensive rebounds.”

And in the long term, facing a stiff Eastern Michigan defense could bode well when March rolls around.

Anytime you can get something in the nonconference that can help you throughout the year – even though it’s a pain at the time – it’s a benefit at the end,” Izzo said. “I think this is going to be good for us.”

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