Hurricane Head Coach Larranaga Sees A Lot of Michigan State Style in the ACC!
When the #9 Michigan State Spartans (19-14) tip off tonight somewhere near 9:20 PM ET against the #8 Miami Hurricanes (21-14) it is going to be an old school Big Ten matchup. While we all know that the Hurricanes hail from the ACC, their style of play would fit in nicely for the Spartans home conference.
Senior Miami guard Davon Reed said of the Spartans, “Michigan State is historically a great program, led by a great head coach in Tom Izzo. They like to rebound the ball. They like to run the ball up the floor in five seconds to get a quick lay-up. They have a ton of set plays on offense. So we'll have to do a good job of taking care of all those things and keeping them off the foul line because they like to get fouled as well.”
Coach Larranaga has had a long and distinguished career in college basketball. His 609-402 record speaks for itself. He tried to stay political and polite when asked about playing Michigan State and his friend Tom Izzo. “We're very excited to be here in Tulsa and competing in the NCAA tournament against the Michigan State Spartans. We have the utmost respect for Tom Izzo, his staff and their program. Tom and I have had a very good relationship since my days at Bowling Green, and my team is looking forward to competing against them.”
Most Spartans fans might now know that the Hurricanes head coach has had such a long history with Izzo. He expounded on it adding, “I took the head coach job at Bowling Green State University in 1986 and Tom was an assistant at Michigan State at the time. And my first encounter with them was when we identified a player named Steve Smith, who was out of Detroit, and my staff and I watched him play. We started recruiting him very, very hard. And we went to Steve's home in September of that senior year of his. And at that point in time we offered Steve a scholarship and he told me he was going to visit, that he was very seriously considering Bowling Green, unless -- I said, What do you mean, Steve? Unless what? He said, Unless Michigan State offers me a scholarship because they're my favorite. Magic Johnson is my hero and if they offer me that's where I'm going.”
He went on to add about the ICONIC Spartans recruiting process that, “And I don't know if Tom would repeat the story like that, because I think he saw Steve play that next weekend and Steve had like 47 points, and he went to Steve's home by himself, without Coach Heathcote or from the scholarship. And I believe, if I heard the story correctly, Steve Smith committed to him on the spot. But that was our first encounter. And then our teams played.”
But the history is not just connected to Steve Smith. It goes even deeper. “My Bowling Green team played against Michigan State several times, and then when Tom was named the head coach, I just was so impressed with the job he did immediately. He just took them to a whole other level. And then for those of you who don't know Stan Heath was my assistant coach at the time. Tom hired him back in 19 -- I believe that was '94 or '95. And then five years later they won the National Championship together. And that got Stan's head coaching career started and jumped from Michigan State to Kent State. So known Tom an awfully long time and have the utmost respect for him.”
But while there is even plenty more that you can talk about in the relationship between the two coaches, this game is about tonight. Larranaga thinks to stopping the Michigan State machine in March is not easy.
“First of all, you have to recognize that Michigan State is a highly disciplined, highly organized machine. Before our season ever began and we started talking about the importance of getting back defensively against any opponent, we used as an example that the University of North Carolina and Michigan State are the two best college basketball programs in the country, that scoring within the first five seconds of their possession, whether you score on them or not. So if they rebound it, they can score on you within five seconds. If you score on them, they can still score on you, and my coaching staff wants me to refer to it now as the three-second lay-up because they're scoring that fast.”
The Hurricane head coach thinks the entire attack of the Spartans starts with the speedy Bahamian that leads Michigan State in LouRawls TUM TUM Nairn. “With a point guard like Tum Tum, we can get out and push the ball or either an lay-up open three that quickly. So you have to practice that not for Michigan State but for every opponent, but you have to be at your best if you're facing North Carolina or Michigan State because they are the two best programs at it.”
Tom Izzo thinks it was wise of his opponent to recognize the skill set of Nairn. “It's hard to control the tempo. I compare them a little bit to Wisconsin of old days, and that's not a comparison because Miami will run. They're most athletic. But he has the ability to control tempo, and we'd like the tempo to be high. Tum brings that. We're going to try to push it. But what's been good about my teams most years, if you want to play fast, race horse, we'll play it. If you want to play smash mouth, we'll play it. Freshmen don't understand smash mouth yet quite as good. So we're going to try to up tempo it. But understand that I think one of their strengths is the way they control tempo, and so don't get frustrated by it if it doesn't go that way. We gotta find a way to win and that's what we gotta do in this tournament.”
With his team freshly coming out of ACC play, the Hurricanes head coach tried to explain the style of play from two of their young stars to some guys in the ACC that his team and the nation may know. “Miles Bridges and the great player he is and compared him to a Jason Tatum of Duke of how well he can score from three-point range but what a great athlete he is and can score in a variety of ways. And then we compared Nick Ward to a Kennedy Meeks, who Kennedy Meeks in the ACC is one of the premier low-post players, a tremendous offensive rebounder, tremendous jump hook shooter. Kennedy is right-hand. Nick Ward is left-handed. But there's a lot of similarities.”
MSU head coach thinks Larranaga’s comparison. “I think there is some comparisons. I've said all along, I said when I recruited him I think he's going to be one of the best passing decision-making intelligent guards that ever played here. And he is going to be. Everybody wants the process to be sped up so fast. And you know, as he gets stronger and better and a little more experienced, you know, he's working on some things. He's improved. He's had a great week of practice. So I hope Jim's right. But I do agree. He can do some things on the offensive end because he sees the court so well. He can make shots. That's the one thing when I recruited him, I didn't know he could make shots like I see. But since I've had him here, he's really a guy that I wish would look for a shot more. Can he be in that Scott Skile-ish mode, a shooting point guard, some day? I think that could happen, too.”
Larranaga heads into this tilt with a much older and experienced team than MSU. He doesn’t want to hear it. “It's interesting that you would ask that because one of the teams in our league that was picked preseason No. 1 is now a No. 2 seed. They rely very heavily on freshmen, guys like Frank Jackson and Jayson Tatum and those Duke Blue Devils. So we know that youth and the inexperience plays a role very early in the season, and it takes a while for the young guys to kind of get their feet on the ground and know what they should be doing and what they should avoid doing. But by this time of the year, those freshmen are at least sophomores and have played at a very, very high level for a long time. So I don't think there's an advantage on either side of the rosters.”
No doubt this contest will be a battle. Two very evenly matched teams. Miami won’t score 100 points and they want to slow the game down. MSU wants to get out and run. So who wins? It is fair to say whoever dictates the tempo. With the late tip you can almost guarantee that the eyes of the nation will be set on TNT watching this heavyweight tilt.