Izzo was at it again yesterday urging his team, which is preparing for Saturday's BasketBowl extravaganza at Ford Field in downtown Detroit, telling them to view opponent's mindset as an attack on their character.
"You've got to figure out 'hey, somebody is challenging my character'," Izzo said. If they are challenging other things [like] your skill level, that's one thing," explained the coach. "But if you're backed up against the wall, um, where I'm from, I can't think of anyone who wouldn't come out fighting."
It does appear that the Spartans are backed up against the wall at this point. Not ranked in the top-20 (#21) for the first time this season, the Spartans have fallen to 3-3. After opening with an easy win vs. Bucknell, MSU suffered its first loss in Allen Field house in Lawrence, KA when the Jayhawks pounded the Spartans inside for an 81-74 win.
After a couple of feel good wins in the Coca-Cola classic annually held on the MSU campus, the Spartans were pummeled by the Duke Blue Devils in one of the worst losses in Spartan history, a 72-52 thumping of which Izzo called embarrassing.
The Spartans improved and nearly upset the Oklahoma Sooners who eventually prevailed in a foul filled 80-77 overtime game, their third loss.
Junior Kelvin Torbert, who is emerging as a team leader, said Izzo's message is starting to get through. "A lot of guys started taking it personal. It might help us out a lot if we go play like we have a chip on our shoulders."
If the Spartans are to regain some of the luster that has been rubbed off their program with the two bad losses, they need to get a win over a top ranked program.
First up, Kentucky.
The Wildcats come into this one sporting a 4-0 record and are ranked #8 after defeating MSU's next big opponent UCLA. Wildcats head coach Tubby Smith is also not satisfied with his team's play despite being undefeated.
"Do you know how demanding Tubby Smith is?" Izzo said, laughing.
Smith railed against his team in the 52-50 win over UCLA for bad shot selection. Kentucky shot 27% in the first half and then followed that up with a 25% shooting performance in the second half.
"Guys were trying to create shots off the dribble," Smith said. "You're less effective when you put the ball on floor rather than catch and just shoot. Our offense is designed to screen for each other, create opportunities for your teammates by screening." Michigan State will try hard to deny the ball into the post, fight through screens and force Kentucky to rely on dribble penetration, something that hasn't been strength.
Kentucky is led by guards Gerald Fitch (19.3 ppg) and Erik Daniels (15.3) who provide the bulk of the scoring for the Wildcats, while MSU coach Izzo has the greatest respect and admiration for Wildcats forward Chuck Hayes (10.8 ppg. 10.5 rebounds per game), who he coached in the Pan Am games.
"He's small for his size. He doesn't shoot well from the perimeter but he's kind of one of those guys who wins for you — a bigger Mateen Cleaves," said Izzo. I'd give my right arm for Chuck Hayes [on my team.]"
Izzo won't have Hayes; they'll have to defend him and their reputation.
As Izzo says, expect MSU to "come out fighting."