Michigan State Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo broke down the state of his Spartans entering week three of Big Ten play!

Michigan State Hall of Fame head coach Tom Izzo broke down the state of his Spartans entering week three of Big Ten play!

Izzo Transcript (Unedited) 010917

I am not sure where to start, disappointment.  More on how we performed than the win or the loss of the game.  When you look at the Big Ten right now we are two weeks in and everyone is going through the same thing.  Trying to keep their team focused on the task at hand.  It is hard to believe.  I don’t think I have ever seen the league before where everyone has a loss after two weeks.  That is the way it is right now.

I don’t know if that is ultimate parity?  I don’t know if that means we are not as good at the top.  I know this, the bottom of this league, I watched some of that Rutgers game versus Iowa and it is probably the best that it is has ever been.  I don’t know where the top is right now.

The way I look at it, I still say there are four teams that are above the rest with a couple of others that are in the middle.  What I mean by that is I don’t think there is any question that Purdue and Wisconsin are still the class of our league and I think Indiana is right up there and Minnesota has proven now that they are one of those teams.  If you look at all of those teams there is a lot of experience on them and pretty good depth. 

In Minnesota that is one thing we really have.  Three or four good inside players and they have one freshman playing and he’s getting better each game.  The mark of this team has been their guard play and (Nate) Mason has been playing at a very high level.  There is no question I would think that Minnesota would be ranked when the polls come out (They are ranked #24) and I would be shocked if they aren’t.

Since our game they have beaten some very good teams on the road in Purdue and Northwestern and beat a good Ohio State team at home.  They jumped all over Ohio State early and Ohio State did come back. 

I think we learned a lesson up there on how to win when we were behind.  I do not think we executed that as well the other day.  For some reason we are getting off to some slow starts on the road in this league.  Everybody is telling me that is what happens when you have younger players and I am not liking it too much.  I didn’t think our attention to details was good enough and I didn’t like the way we played.  I think we have to get a better sense of urgency.  That seemed to upset some people in the press room when I said it.  What I mean by that is I understand our freshman and this time of the year you can’t be a freshman anymore.

We played pretty well after that 12-4 start and that was kind of like the rest of the game.  We had a few chances to come back and when we did we just couldn’t get a basket.  I think we learned how to win at Minnesota when we were down, I am just not sure that we learned how to do it on a consistent basis. 

(Amir) Coffey and Mason are averaging 33-34 points between the two of them.  The (Dupree) McBrayer kid is getting ten and Murphy is getting 21 rebounds against us last game which is a lot.  They are the best defensive team in the league right now and the lead the conference in both blocked shots and defending the three.   So this is a very good Minnesota team. 

I know that Miles (Bridges) is surprised that he isn’t back to where he was.  I am of no surprise with that.  We went back and looked at some film of Denzel (Valentine) and he missed four games as senior and it took him three games to get back on track.  Miles is alright and he is healthy and he will continue to improve with practice and he is nowhere near the guy we left six weeks ago.  That is going to be a work in progress.  There is going to be some adjustments that we are going to have to make and some that he is going to need to make.  He has to get back in shape and we are going to have to learn to play with him again.  That is what the next couple of days in practice are going to continue to be for.  I think now he will be able to go the full practices so hopefully we can make some progress there. 

This Minnesota game I think this will be the best opponent that has been here.  I thought Northwestern was awfully good and they have proven that to be true.  Minnesota just brings some more size and athletes that we are going to have to compete against.

Q:  Is this the most difficult January that you have had to face?

Yes I think so.  There are a lot of good teams out there and it is not of any major surprise.  It is hard enough to play freshman, but it is even harder to try to work them in and out.  Especially when your best player was out.  It has been an interesting year for these guys and every time we seem to take one step forward we seem to take one step back and I guess that is the way it is going to be until we find a way to get a little more consistent. 

The surprising thing for me is that our defense has been decent.  If you look at things statistically we are not that far off from where we were last year.  Our offense has struggled and if you look at it, when guys don’t play together that is usually the area that hurts the most.  Yeah, difficult January but we’re 3-1 we’re not 1-3. We’ve beaten some good teams already. We’ve got a great team coming in here on Wednesday with an opportunity to move forward and that’s what we’re gonna try and do.



“I think that’s the thing these guys do, when they get in a hotel room on the road it’s never the same hotel room. When you’re a freshman everything is new. It’s a lot uncharted territory out there. We harp on things every day but I heard Richard Pitino say it the other night, ‘Working every day to keep the noise away.’ Some of that is what people say, some of that is what people think. Players got to learn that they have to play every day. In this league right now, if you think about it, I guess by far the worst team in the league has proven to be Rutgers, so far. I watched them coulda, shoulda beat Iowa yesterday. We don’t even play them again. So there will not be a game on our schedule where anybody in their right minds is sitting home saying, ‘Well they’re gonna win that game.’ It’s just the way it is. Part of it is our team but part of it is the parity of the league. I don’t think some of the teams Nebraska beat thought they were gonna lose to Nebraska. I don’t think Indiana thought they were gonna lose at home to Nebraska. It is not, I think the road teams right now is 13-11. That doesn’t happen in our league very often. Usually the road teams it would be like 20-3 right now, meaning home teams are winning and it’s 13-11. There is more parity, there is more inconsistency with a lot of teams around the nation. When I write my book on twitter and inconsistencies, everybody will laugh. But that is an issue right now where a lot of teams are struggling to stay focused in game after game after game. Our young team, I think we do that. If Nick took them for granted or somebody else did, I don’t think they did it in general but did they put the same emphasis on that? And that’s what happens when you’ve never gone through the league. So we’ll keep harping on that and I don’t think we’ll have to worry about it since Minnesota beat our brains in for three-quarters of that game. If somebody is thinking that this week they’re on dial a clue.”



“I wish I thought that way about the hall of fame coach. I look in the mirror and I don’t even like the guy that I’m looking at right now. For Matt, he gets it. He grew up a farmer. Which means he worked 15-hour days. His first year when he was here he’d farm half the day then drive here to play at night. This summer he was going to work because it’s a profession that he’ll probably, it’s a big farm, so he’ll probably take over his father’s business. Very good student, too, so he knows how to work. And yet basketball meant enough to him, I remember his dad and I sat down and worked out something where he could be here enough. He’s an undersized, underskilled, he’s under everything except he’s got a heart as big as this podium. He has a very intelligent way of looking at things that’s helped him. And he gets along with everybody and the players love him because he does all the dirty work. You always need a guy like that on this team. The first half I didn’t play him much and we got to figure out a way to work him in a little bit more because he brings some things to this team that maybe this team lacks a little bit.”



“It does because I think they’re a better team than even two weeks ago. I think they’re getting some confidence. I think their win at Purdue, I mean nobody wins at Purdue. Their win down there I think is good. Nobody argued the fact that Minnesota was a lot better. They had a lot of players back, they get a great freshman in there. But the majority of their team is juniors and seniors and guys that have been around the block. So this will be a difficult game, but we’re not gonna have many that aren’t difficult. But I think this is still one of the top three or four teams in the league right now and maybe playing as good as anybody in the league as you saw with wins at Northwestern and at Purdue.”



“I think the first option is we gotta get him back to condition. He thinks he’s at 80%, we think he’s at about 60. There’s no way he’s 80, but he might be up to 70% there. Then he’s gotta get his feel back for the game, which will take a little longer than it would take a ‘Zel, who was a senior and had been through four years. And then players have to learn to play with him, too. We will be moving him around a little bit. I thought we were very stagnant offensively – some him, some us. But I have to look at what I can do to help him, because I know what kind of player he is. We’ve got to get him more involved, as I said after the game. That’ll go with our players and our coaching staff.

“You know, Miles has been great. Everybody made a big deal of his frustration. That’s the weird thing about me, man. You give me a kid who’s frustrated and shows it or give me a kid who’s frustrated and doesn’t show it, I’ll take any fistfight there is, whether it be in the huddle, whether it be … I mean, it’s been that way since Draymond, since Mateen, since, oh God, I could go down the list of huddles. In Miles’ case, he thinks everything is gonna come back immediately. And it’s not. And yet he’s in here working yesterday, he said, ‘If I gave him a day off that I was soft.’ I said, ‘Well, the NCAA makes me do that. They’re soft. So I agree with you, but I have to go by the rules.’ That’s kind of his mentality. I think you’ll see Miles improving each and every game now.”



“I think by far the deepest this league has ever been. I guess if I look at today’s standings, Ohio State is like 13th. They’ve got five good players back. It’s amazing how good I think the league is. I don’t want to say the top isn’t quite what it was last year, because we had like three or four teams ranked in the top 10 a lot of that year. I think still Wisconsin, Minnesota, their record shows it. Indiana is very good. They stumbled a little bit, which everybody can do. But I think there is four teams that are very, very good. But the middle, if you want to call it the middle – I mean, what’s the middle? Are we in the middle? Is Nebraska in the middle? Is Penn State in the middle? Those are all pretty good teams, but I guess they are in the middle if you looked at it, even though the standings today, they’re on top. I think what you’re saying, I’m agreeing with. By far the deepest. I mean, when I saw that Rutgers game and I watched the last 10 minutes, they really could’ve beat Iowa – and Iowa’s been playing pretty good lately. There’s gonna be a lot of weird games, a lot of head-scratching games I think this year. I just hope that I’m not on the top end of all those games, because I do think there’s gonna be a lot of tough games.”



“No, that was the truth. I’m even embarrassed to say that. They did. Is that surprising? You know, there’s other good programs out there. People don’t go to programs and say, ‘I’m not gonna work.’ They don’t go to different jobs and say, ‘Did somebody outwork you?’ You never want somebody to outwork you, you never want someone to play harder. It wasn’t that we were awful. It was that team, that was a big game for them, it was an important game. They came off a tough loss that they probably played 35 minutes of good basketball. The only thing that disappoints me, and it disappoints me about society right now, I don’t think our players understood the significance of the game, even though we took them up there and took them around. The significance of the game, as you could argue it, is it’s one of the two maybe greatest basketball venues in the country, in the world maybe. When you play in something like that, to me, anybody who’s on that wall, I’m almost playing for them. The players? I’m not sure it’s the same, especially if you’re not from that area and you don’t understand it. But Penn State did, and they came out and played harder.

“We had our chances. We cut it to 5. It was an 8-, 9-point game most of the way after the start. We cut it to 5 three times. One time right before the half, there was a 4- or 5-point game with a minute-50 left, and we go down 12. We had a couple bad shots, a couple bad turnovers. That’s what happens when our experience isn’t the same as it needs to be at this level. Those freshmen gotta get more experience quicker, and our upperclassmen have to just maybe hold them accountable more on the court. 

It’s all three parties – the freshmen, the upperclassmen and the coaches. You know, for what we’ve been through, we’re in a position where we have a better chance to improve than go the other way, and for that I’m grateful and I feel good about. What I’m disappointed about is maybe getting a group of guys to compete at a level they have no clue how to compete at. But they’re going to learn or they’re going to get their brains beat in a little bit. We got them beat in early. I think we’re making progress. It’s tough with Miles out. He didn’t get any time at Christmas that the other guys got. As I said, we’ve been dealt a lot of things. It is what it is and we’re going to keep battling.

We’ve got a good enough team that we beat some good teams already. Penn State is one of those teams that, they’re going to win a lot of games because they’ve got a couple of veterans, they’ve got a couple of rookies, they have a couple of guys in between. I think their veterans are playing pretty good. We’ve got to get a little more out of ours.


It is kind of funny. I guess Dakich made a big deal about it on TV. I mean, I don’t know if he ever watches Michigan State. I mean, Walton would threaten, Cleaves would undress a guy on court. Draymond was… I mean, I’m like you. I was so excited for Tum that he went over and told him what he should have done, and when Miles saw it on film he felt a little different. But those are the problems with having 13 cameras in an arena now or having all these frick’n things going on. That is nothing like what happened in most of the games that I’ve been involved with here. Miles and Tum are probably the closest two guys on the team, so it just blows me away how people don’t understand that, but I guess in this day and age we blow things out of proportion so much.

But I would agree with you, because I told Tum, he is one of the great leaders that I’ve had here but yet he is such of good kid. You can be too good of a kid sometimes. That wasn’t a problem for Cleaves and Walton and Draymond. It was a little bit of a problem for Denzel at a point in time in his junior year. Then he got in his senior year where he did more coaching than I did some times. I thought that Tum needed to take a step to hold people accountable to how we need to play to win, and when he did that our team will be a better team because of that if he can do that on a regular basis. There’s enough respect for him that if you ask Miles today after practice how he felt about it, I think he’d give you the same answer.


Well, if he can offensively like that. He has been more aggressive. That’s something Cassius has to do more of. He’s got to be more aggressive. I’ve got one that’s not as skilled. I’ve got one that’s more aggressive. There’s a combination there, but there’s no question that Tum brought some energy and he did bring more offensively. I think the one area we’ve not been as effective lately is our break. We’re not scoring as much on our break, and sometimes that happens when you don’t rebound quite as well and these bigger teams that we’re playing without any size that we have that’s been a problem.

Plus, I think we wore Nick down a little bit. Nick can play so many minutes. One of my assistants brought it up, in the NBA, and you guys know this, I’ve always kind of scripted my times and this year I don’t have a script. Is he healthy? Okay, we’ll play him. Is he okay? Well, we’ll play him. But we’re playing Nick too many minutes at a stretch. He still does some good things. I mean, Nick has still been the biggest surprise and the most pleasant one as far as his rebounding and leading the conference in blocked shots but he has so much more to give if we can get him to continue to get in better shape and then learn to play around him a little bit. He’s got some things to do that I think Tum can help him with, too. We’re making some progress, guys. It’s just slower than you’d like or I’d like.


She’s joining in with society there for a minute. I was a little scared she’s getting a little soft on me for a minute. But, no, that’s great. I feel bad for her because she puts a lot into this job, too, and doesn’t get maybe the same credit as a Mark Dantonio or a Tom Izzo do but she works a ton of hours. She parks right next to me.

What it does, I think, is teaches you that she’s gone on this workout kick. She’s been working out for a couple of months religiously, but as they say, you’ve got to have a little bit of everything. Working out, you’ve still got to eat right, you’ve still got to get some sleep. 

Working out, you still gotta eat right, still gotta get some sleep. She doesn’t sleep much, I guess, I don’t think she eats real well because she stays thin as thin. Some that’s good and some of that’s bad.

I think it was an eye-opening experience for her. I think she’s gonna be 100 percent OK. But anytime that happens, I think all of us kind of look and re-focus. It’s like all the things. You do what you can to be as healthy as you can be, and sometimes, like cancer society, it’s about awareness, it’s about doing the things that give you a chance to have a chance to be successful. I think as she sat back and she came over to my office a couple days later, after I kidded her about only being up three and she goes down and they win by 20, that they’re better without her. I figured I had to be a human being and tell her that maybe she has to a look just like players do, like everyone of us do and she was trying to make excuses for what she was doing, I said you gotta get more rest, you gotta do this, you gotta do that. I think she will.


She’s a hell of a coach and a good person, and I think she’ll recover fine. She’s fine, she’s just a little run down I think with a lot of things.


These jobs, believe it or not, aren’t as easy as you think. Although neither are yours. I think everybody goes through things in their jobs, but she takes personal, takes them to heart and when you do that, you don’t let it go and I think that’s one of the hardest things to do. So maybe I’ll learn a little something from her. Maybe.



I told you we’d probably make a final update by the middle of the month. It’s unfortunate it’s coming and it’s looking slimmer. I have not met with the doctors on him. We’ve kind of gone in two- or three-week intervals. He has not been able to do anything as far as running or anything. He is doing more and more with the strength of that leg. It’s going to come down to now, is it fair for Gavin. Forget the program, is it fair to Gavin.

And, you just look at Miles or you look at Denzel last year. You look at all these different athletes miss that amount of time, how long would it take to come back. So I promise you by my next press conference I’ll have a more definitive answer. We’ll probably make a more definitive decision.



We had an academic meeting last night because they start school today. He was walking fine. He said it was a little sore. I saw it on film, but it was kind of distorted. I talked to a few guys who said he really did turn that thing bad. We tried to get him back in and we tried to get him in right away so it wouldn’t swell up. It was a pretty good sprain by the end of the day. But it doesn’t seem to be a major problem where I think he’ll play. Whether he practices today, the trainer will let me know that by probably one o’clock.



Ben I think is 100 percent done. I guess I didn’t make that formal, but I’ve kind of said that the whole time because of the previous injury. And so then the decision will be made on what will he be able to do, and unfortunately the way that process goes it will probably be the end of the year before they let you know that.

There’s that sixth year of availability. Sometimes, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know how they determine that, I don’t know why they can’t determine that beginning of the year, middle of the year, end of the year. It’s the same deal. But for some reason you petition it and give the information. One of them was by injury, one was by transfer. That’s where it’s a little different.

Ben has been an unbelievable kid as far as how he came in here and it’s just almost criminal with how it’s worked out for him because has been such a good teammate, such a good guy around the building. We love him. And hopefully things will work out for him one way or another because I think he’s a guy that definitely could go to Europe. He was born over there and everything so he’s got a lot of things I think he can do over there if basketball doesn’t work out here for him.


The second question on it being a challenging January


“I don’t know about the schedule because the schedule is always tough, but what’s really difficult is - and my staff said this today - we think Nick has made progress. Josh Langford has made some great progress over Christmas, Christmas when you can have two-a-days, when your buddies are gone, your girlfriend is gone and you get to really be a basketball junkie and you get to spend a lot of time on the game and Miles has missed all of that. So that is the hardest thing for him. 


“If you think about what he missed, we were going through some stats today, he played in arguably our six toughest games, when you look at Arizona, Kentucky and Duke and the three down in The Bahamas, Wichita State, he played in all of those and then to use a Jim Boeheim thing, you hope to get healthy and feel better about yourself against teams that aren’t as good. So he played against Mississippi Valley, which beat handily. Other than that, he has had no games to kind of play average the first half and regroup in the second half like people get to do when you win by 20.


“So Miles has had maybe the toughest of any freshman that I’ve ever had here in that respect. So he misses those - I don’t want to say this disrespectfully - easier games and then he gets thrown into the fire, right into the Big Ten, without a Christmas. God, that’s hard. It’s hard for him. But of all the people that I think can handle it, and I had a meeting with him this morning, I think he can handle it. 


“But is it more difficult or most difficult? Well, it’s more difficult but I think every year it gets more difficult because of all the noise we have to deal with, but I think it is one of the most difficult because of a player of that caliber and because of the other youth that we have. We just do not have the veterans that have been through the wars. 


“I mean we are talking about MVD. I mean he is a lettuce farmer walk-on who didn’t even play basketball for a couple of years and that guy is starting on a Big Ten team. And I’m not making fun of the lettuce, I happen to like lettuce, and I’m going to eat a lot of it because it will keep me cancer-free, right? But I think it kind of shows you what we’ve dealt with.


“We looked at Nick and we went through his stats and I think he averaged like 15 minutes a game in his first seven or eight games and now he is averaging 25 or 26 minutes a game. We have been through the grind. Mike Garland said it best: We got pretty good at learning how to grind. We’re not always pretty but we’re grinding it. And at Penn State we didn’t grind the same and that’s what we’re disappointed in and that’s what young guys have to learn and that’s what inexperienced guys have to learn and then we as coaches have to do a better job. We have to understand that too. Patience is not one of my great virtues and I don’t plan on it ever being, just so everybody knows. But with that comes some difficulties too because there is a process to this whole thing. The key is how do you speed the process, staying in a realistic realm? That’s what we’re trying to do and we’re making progress. 


“I don’t know if we had a setback. People think Penn State, because they came in 9-7 or whatever they were, but their starter, the Reaves kid, missed five games early and they lost two games that they would have beat nine out of 10 times. So if they were 12-5 coming in we might look at them a little differently but that is a team - I don’t know how many saw the Michigan game but they had them down 14 - that is a good basketball team. Northwestern, I watched some of that game yesterday and that is a real good basketball team. Minnesota is a real, real good basketball team.


“I kind of agree with what some of you guys said, I think it is the deepest middle (of the Big Ten). I’m not sure what the middle is. It might just be the deepest right now that this league has ever been since I’ve been here, and that’s been a few years.”


Great coaches in the Big Ten?

“We have great coaches in the league right now and I think they kept upgrading the coaches in this league. The guy at Rutgers? He has done a hell of a job there. He is getting guys to do things that didn’t do it that way at all last year. There are so many less bad shots and things that are going on. I think they are getting better every day. He is a proven, good coach and he is going to be a good coach in this league. They are not young but they have a lot of sophomores and juniors and by next year that will be a very good basketball team and this year I promise you they are going to beat some decent teams. That’s a pretty good basketball team.”

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