Izzo & the Spartans are Set to Face “Hated” Wolverines Again!
East Lansing, MI
The Michigan State Spartans (14-9 6-4) enter tonight’s contest with the Michigan Wolverines (14-9 4-6) on a roll. The Spartans are winners of their last two (Including a win over UM nine days ago) and more importantly they are playing their best basketball. They also have not played their best basketball, a scary thought.
Izzo broke down the Wolverines saying, “As Michigan goes you can look at the loss to Ohio State I am sure was a disappointing loss. Ohio State was been a team that has played well at times, very up and down like everyone else. But it was just ten days ago that they (Michigan) shot an incredible percentage and scored 90 points against an Indiana team that held Wisconsin to 36 or 38%. You look at what has happened in the last ten days or two weeks.”
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He went on to talk about their potent offensive attack saying, “They make more than nine threes per game, that is their strength and that is what they do. They do it well, they shoot the ball well. Almost as well as taking care of the ball. If they are not the best, they are among the top three teams in the nation taking care of the basketball. That is opposite of us. We have done a poor job of that.”
But Izzo thinks a player who scorned the green and white to play for the Wolverines is the key to the game. “The key to me this game is Derrick Walton. I think since our game he is playing at another level. He is looking to be so much more offensive. He is starting to shoot the ball from distance off of the dribble and in the last six games he is averaging over 20 points per game. There is no doubt that he has become their go to guy. Several other guys can be good. Both (Moritz) Wagner and (DJ) Wilson got in foul trouble in the last game. (Zak) Irvin has struggled a little bit, the last two or three games, but we have gone through that with some of our players too. So I think it’s gonna be incredibly difficult for our bigs to guard guys out on the perimeter. We’re gonna have to do that, we’re gonna have to keep an eye on Robinson because he’s such a prolific shooter. But Walton is the key to this team if you ask me. He’s really upped his game. He’s done what a senior should and could do, what you hope all seniors do. He’s played his best basketball of his career and we’re gonna have to contain him somewhat. So looking forward to going down there!”
Tom Wywrot broke down how deadly Walton has been. “Over his last three games, Derrick Walton Jr. has three 20-plus point games, averaging 23.3 per game, including a season-high 25 against Ohio State (Feb. 4). He is shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 88.5 percent on free throws, including a career-best 14-for-15 performance at Michigan State (Jan. 29). He is hauling in 7.2 rebounds and dishing 4.2 assists, with a double-double vs. the Buckeyes (25 points, 10 rebounds).”
So with the Spartans surging, does Izzo think it helps add fuel to the fire to be playing an arch rival? “Yeah, I hope so. We talk so much about our players staying focused. All I talk to them about are phones, distractions. You know, you look at some of the teams that struggled this weekend – Kansas, at home, loses their 54-game (home) winning streak. There’s distractions. I mean, it’s so funny. I sit up in my office when they know I have a press conference, they always ask if I’m gonna talk about Twitter. Now, I get more guys saying, ‘You know what? All those distractions you’ve talked about for two years and different reasons you have them are caused by some of these things.’ And consequently – I told you guys at the beginning of the year, I told you at the middle of the year, I’m gonna tell you at the end of the year – it is probably I think the biggest problem we have to deal with in college now in general, and that’s all of us, is just keeping guys focused on the task at hand. Does it help that it’s your rival? I think right now, I’ve harped on it so much, I think my team is starting to understand this thing about staying focused, starting to understand that we’ve gotta – we don’t have that many distractions that I can see, so that makes it a little bit better. I’m sure anytime you’re playing your rival, the one thing you should get is the best focus you can get. I mean, that’s for them, for us, for anybody that’s in a rivalry game. And there’s a lot of them this week.”
Tom Izzo has been very open that he hates Michigan. It is part of his UP roots, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like Beilein or respect the Wolverines. In fact it was Izzo that personally led Beilein on a tour of Breslin Facilities showing him all of the aspects of Spartan basketball.
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So does it take the edge off of the game since Izzo and Beilein are so friendly? “It’s like I always said, early in my career, I almost hated it too much. I said this, and we laughed about this, him and I did, one time about four years ago, when I said, ‘I hate my rival.’ All the fans were booing when I walked out, and he said, ‘Why would you say that?’ And I said, ‘Well, I mean, you do, you do.’ That doesn’t mean you don’t respect them and that doesn’t respect mean you don’t respect the people that are running it. I do have great respect for him. I think there’s a common bond there, both small-town guys. He worked in smaller colleges and so did I. I think there’s an appreciation so I guess hate would be a bad word, but you can’t like your rivals. That’d be illegal, un-American, put in jail, all those things should happen to you. But you respect the people that you’re playing.”
Does the hatred still stand the test of time? “I think it’s a more healthy rivalry. It seems like over the years, they’ve won games, we’ve won some games. It was a rivalry that was one-sided for them, then it got a little one-sided for us, and now it’s been pretty much every game is a game that’s up in the air. So that should be healthy for the media, that should be healthy for the fans. I do have great respect for him and what he’s done, how he’s done it and the way he’s done it is maybe the most important thing to me. And I would think he feels the same way. We don’t recruit against each other a lot -- just different players -- but some. I think there’s a great respect for how we both run our programs, and maybe that’s the best thing of all.”
Wywrot shared some great detail about this heated rivalry that spans way off the hardcourt.
THE SERIES WITH MICHIGAN STATE
• In a rivalry that dates back to Jan. 9, 1909, Michigan leads the all-time series against Michigan State, 97-81. U-M holds a 60-31 record in Ann Arbor.
• U-M has dropped its last five games to MSU after a three-game winning streak of its own. The Wolverines' last win was a 79-70 decision at Crisler Center (Feb. 23, 2014).
• Overall 58 games have decided by fewer than five points. U-M is 33-25 in those games.
• In the series, there have been eight overtime games, with one double-overtime. U-M is 6-2.
• John Beilein is 6-11 all-time against Michigan State. Tom Izzo is 25-14.
Tonight’s game tips off at 9 PM and you can watch it on ESPN. As always Spartan Nation will be there with plenty of video coverage and analysis.