COACH IZZO: Well, to say we're excited would be an understatement. Our mantra all the postseason has been to win the weekend. That hasn't changed any, but we do realize it's one game at a time and our margin of error is so small. But being connected like we've been, I think we're ready for this task.
The connectivity has made this team a very special team in a lot of ways. But the team has had success because it doesn't get too far ahead of itself. It's truly taken things one game at a time. I think everybody wants to win a national championship when you come to college and sometimes you dream too far ahead. This team hasn't done that.
Right now all we're concentrating is Texas Tech. My staff and I looked at all three teams Sunday and Monday or Sunday night and Monday. And the attention goes on Texas Tech. And if we get the opportunity to advance then that's what those long nights will be for on Saturday night and Sunday.
Not much to say any different than we've already said. This team is mentally as tough as any I've had. What excites me is what some of the former players have said to our guys: It's time for you to get your piece of history here. As I say, your footprint in the sand, your banner on the ceiling, whatever makes people remember about you long after you're gone. And it's a great credit to my staff and players that through all they've been through they have a chance to do that.
Texas Tech, I think they had 13 out of 14 games. Said to be the best defensive team in America. And after watching film I would say they live up to that. They get a lot of steals. They get 17 points off turnovers a game.
Where they've gotten better is starting to shoot the ball better. They're better offensively. The kid, Culver, is definitely a pro prospect. And they have some guys that are very good. Moretti, a guy from Italy, is a good shooter. Maybe in their league is talked about being one of the best shooters in the country.
And Chris Beard has done an unbelievable job. Bobby Knight disciple, but he's been a disciple of a lot of people. But I think you'll see a lot of Bobby Knight characteristics in his team -- the motion offense, the way they move and guard. He's done a phenomenal job.
We talk about getting older. He's got a very, very old team. I think he's got five redshirt or four redshirt seniors on his team, some grad transfers. He's got very few freshmen that are integral parts of their team and so it's a veteran team in different ways. But all that being said, I'll open it up.
Q. I don't think it was ever really definitive, would you expect Kyle to be able to play at all this weekend?
COACH IZZO: I don't. I don't expect him to play at all. Saw him running on the treadmill yesterday and gave him the three thumbs up. But it's 99.5 percent he'll not be ready to play. If it got to the point we could suit him up, case in, case in, case in, I'm sure we would. But I would inform you of that. I don't hide that stuff. As of right now he hasn't touched the floor.
Q. Would you recommend any of your guys going through the NBA feedback situation, like (indiscernible) did last year, after this season or is that too far ahead to even think about?
COACH IZZO: I appreciate the way you said it -- is it too far -- but I will say it in a non-insulating way that we're playing in a Final Four. It's probably the last thing from my mind. And I think what's different about this team is the last thing in their mind. And I would just say I would be more than happy to answer that question a week and a couple days from now.
I wouldn't want anything else from them focus -- I've got enough outside people focusing on everything else. So I do appreciate the sincerity. You have the right to ask the question. I have the right to not insultingly say, but are you crazy? We're playing in a Final Four. There, how's that? I got my two cents in. I would have said it a little differently but I've cleaned up my act as you've noticed.
Q. You alluded to this a moment ago with the age of Texas Tech. But of the Final Four teams your team is most reliant on freshmen scoring of any of the four. Does it talk about a seismic shift coming back to reality with basketball with the one-and-done?
COACH IZZO: You know, again, I don't know those questions. I've been amazed at the little I've heard or the questions at all of the interviews I've done, I think more people are leaning to, is this such a good way. It brought up so much, it was so hard for us because I remember just a year or two ago I told you all that if -- when Miles could have left, he would have left and would have been a top-10 pick. It was probably better for our program than if he stays and wins a national championship.
And that was kind of, it was sick of me to say as your question. But at the same time, your question's reality; so is mine. And I think it's hard to win with freshmen. It's hard to win with a lot of freshmen. It's hard to win with key freshmen no matter how good they are. Experience does matter.
And I don't know what it will do, but it got a lot of people thinking and talking. And I just think that even, like, using Kenny. Yesterday we had a meeting so we get all our tickets, hotels, parental things out of the way. It was, hey, Kenny remember this? Do you remember that? Kenny, make sure you tell the players about this? At least he went to one.
So I think experience does matter. I don't know if it will be a seismic change. But I think people are going to start looking at things a little differently. It's hard to try to get these super teams, even in the NBA or NFL.
You still need people to get along, people to understand their roles. Everybody can't be the leading scorer. Everybody can't be the best player. And when you're fighting about things like that, it's hard to deal with them. And if you don't have any leadership -- remember the Izzo way of a player-coached team is better than a coach-coached team -- because players are around each other, like, in an hour they'll be in their locker room talking, they'll be no coaches in there. They'll be in there after, at the meals at night talking. And that's where a lot of work gets done.
And every game -- I'll say it again to Cassius and Josh and Matt -- you know, remember, the games are going to be won with what goes on the next couple of days from plane, hotel, to practice. And if you don't have any experience telling you that -- I give a lot of credit to what John Calipari has done and what Mike has done and won a lot of games. But there is nothing. But when they had success there were a couple of key upperclassmen, I think. It's just hard to do. COACH IZZO: When they had their most success they had their key upperclassmen, I think. It was just hard to do.
Q. I know you love Twitter and on it all the time --
COACH IZZO: On it all the time, on it all last night.
Q. Maybe you haven't seen these things maybe someone showed you ton of clips people videoing themselves reacting to Michigan State winning. The alumni groups and just guys in living rooms watching and going crazy and screaming running around houses. I'm wondering that combined with what you guys came back to the other night in the arena helps you kind of understand and appreciate even more it's big for you guys. But what this means to I guess a fan base, a school, as a whole, really?
COACH IZZO: I don't know it's the best question but it's the most important one to me because I saw one video. And it was of Khalil Mack in his Bulls uniform pretending to be a basketball player, which I might even talk to him about today see if he has any eligibility, if he wants to come up. But what I came back to the other night for me was, it just says it all. Looking out there and seeing more people than in my hometown that were -- it's been exciting. We've had great welcomings over the years never won this late or this big and the credit goes to this arena, to our marketing people, to our police, who came out and did such -- we came back and the players couldn't believe the parking lot was packed. And there's always people that are involved in that.
But it wasn't the number, it was the passion that that number had that night. And I have gotten letters. We always get letters or emails from all over the country. But I think because of we've been through a lot here. I think people it's part of the process of people just expressing the platform we have and what it can do in a positive way. And if I can be a small part of that, that's as good as it gets. And that and the fact that you put that with what Earvin said to our team at that breakfast, you know, about 40 years, is that Earl's wife again? Earl's not even here. He's probably with his wife so that can't be -- anyway, you know, when he talked about it's been 40 years, because I always say the memories you have you can affect so many other people. You talk about all those things and here arguably definitely one of the greatest players that ever played the game is telling them the same thing without any how important it is. He could rattle off everything that happened and he talked about the impact that it had on Lance and he talked about the parade. All the things that affect so many other people.
So that night was special to me because it was later than normal. It was bigger than normal and it was louder than normal. And the only problem I had is that I was trying to help our police and everyone else, because I hate when things get out of control. And I hope they won't get out of control this weekend no matter what happens.
But I did reference they could burn a couch at my house. Those who have been at my house, I have a big pond in the back. I thought I could put out a couch so it wouldn't cause any or problems. My wife was ecstatic about it because I think she wants a new couch. So it all worked out. And we'll see what happens.
Q. Can you talk about (indiscernible) players having to create their own legacy. Reflect on Cassius and how you get them to [inaudible]?
COACH IZZO: I mean, this kid has done a lot. Everybody asked me about the last play. And I said, he was the one that suggested it. We're trying to figure out how to get him free and sometimes as a decoy, sometimes as a screener, sometimes as a second option when they may take away some things.
And so he kind of covered the entire gamut. He scores points. He's playing better defense. He's making other players score points. And he almost gets to coach the team a little bit.
I think that's what Mateen did for me. I know that's what Magic did for Jud. So he's trekking down the right road. And unfortunately this day and age it's almost like you've got to finish it to be considered. If a free throw goes in and we win a game, you're going to look at everything one way and if a free throw doesn't go in (indiscernible) the whole game. That's the price you pay for the occupation we pick.
But I think Cassius has done enough to set himself in that same footprint with those guys, just the way he's led, the way he's handled a lot of situations in the last couple of years and the way our players respect him.
You can like the player you play with, your quarterback. And that will help make you better. Or you can respect them and that means anything he does and says you do follow. To have a great team, you need a good leader. To have a really great team you've got to have good followers.
And I think those guys trust and respect him so they follow. And I told him the only burden that means is if he goes through the layup line half speed, all the ducklings are going through the layup line half speed. If he approaches practice that way -- that's the negative side of that. But I think that will be the driving side for him now.
Q. You mentioned Chris Beard being a Knight disciple, and looking at the other side [inaudible] is that for the Big Ten legend kind of their impact still being had [inaudible]?
COACH IZZO: I'd like to say no because I hated playing against Bob and I double hated playing against Dick. His teams were so hard to play against. But that's what the weekend's going to be. And Auburn has a little different style but he was in the Big Ten, too, at Iowa for a lot of years. So in a lot of ways it's going to have a lot of Big Ten flavor to it. And I think that's a real positive for us.
And me personally, I was pulling for Purdue to get in and it would have been really cool. And I saw Gene Keady in the stands and talked to him a couple times since. But I think there's going to be a real Big Ten flavor to this. Hopefully Bob can get there and I think for everybody else it will be -- I know Dick will be there.
Dick didn't used to go to Tony's games because he agonized over it. And seeing him in the stands last week, it was great for me because I think last time we played him he didn't come to the game. He was sitting in the hotel watching it. You know how Dick is; he's the best, but he gets nervous and tense. And seeing the joy on his face when they won was special. I've known Dick most of my life. Worked camps when he was at Wisconsin Stevens Point. So, yeah, it's going to have a Big Ten flavor.
Q. You mentioned yesterday you and Chris Beard talked on the phone. First of all, how common is that, that you would talk to the opponent, the coach leading up to the Final Four? And then also what specifically did you guys talked about?
COACH IZZO: It was different. I appreciated it. He called me, said good luck (indiscernible) the play. And I asked him if he wanted to switch scouting reports. Neither of us had any interest in that. We talked about our mentors a little bit, and talked about Bob. I talked about Jud a little bit, and just what a thrill it is.
And I said, even though you don't want any or need any advice, my only advice I'm going to give you has nothing to do with the game, but has a lot to do with get your tickets and hotels done today. And he laughed and said okay. It was great. He was okay. It was good. Not a long conversation. Not a lot. But appreciated that he did cal.
Q. You talked about Kenny maybe being the only player in this Final Four to have that experience. The rest of your guys, they played on a big stage game, the Champions Classic or whatever tournament they've had. How do you think that's made this team both this season and going into the Final Four?
COACH IZZO: I think a lot. I think it's made them battle tested. And just like -- when I looked at last year's team and talked about it a lot and talk about some talent, maybe more talent. And I think everybody would agree. We look at that negatively, like, this team isn't as talented, is that -- best thing.
But what I said all along is that team last year wasn't nearly as experienced. So maybe we went through the same thing other people are going through. And it's the experience that matters. And Kenny doesn't have a lot of since he didn't play in the game, but he had a lot because he was just around it.
And I think for McQuaid and Cash and Nick and some of those guys three years now playing in the Champions Classic, of having some big wins and having some humbling losses, it gives them a better perspective. So I think all in all we're as battle tested as you can be. We've still won more games than anybody in the Quad 1s. We've done some things that matter. We've won our conference championship. We've won our conference tournament championship.
We've won big on the road. And yet we've had a couple of humbling defeats. So I don't think you can be any more tested than we've been. And if we don't win, it won't be because of our schedule or anything; it will be because another team played better than we did.
Q. Texas Tech's defense, their screening patterns, no middle rim protection, forcing the ball in one direction -- where do you think it will put the most strain on what you guys try to do? And can you equate it or relate it to anything you've seen?
COACH IZZO: We've got good teams in Michigan and Purdue that's like the defense -- we're a pretty good defensive team. They're a little different as you say, Dick Bennett and his teams played against Tony a lot with their defensive philosophies. And it's going to put pressure on all of us.
I think the one area that we need to get better in (indiscernible) and someone else, I thought we were getting stagnant ball screens and standing around. And so yesterday we talked about it, walked through a few things. Today we're going to (indiscernible) it on us becoming better movement, better screening. We do need to screen well against them although they do switch a lot.
There's a lot of things they do. I think we can get the ball inside. I think we can hurt them there. I think it's the perfect time for Nick to be getting better. And the way Tillman and Goins are playing, I think that's going to be one key.
But I'm sure they're going to trap and try to take Cassius out of a lot of things. But maybe they will. But if they do they'll do something that not many other teams have done. Pretty good defensive teams that he's either scored on or made other people better by the assists.
The big thing will be the same as it's been now for the last couple of weeks. Turnovers and they have been susceptible to rebounding, which I'm sure that's one thing Chris talked about. I think they call it their Michigan State Drill.
And it's whether we can offensive rebound and score points that way, because it's going to be more difficult to score points. You saw some of the games they've played recently. But we're going to come up with some things. We're just going to -- we're not going to be able to change everything in a week, but we'll come up with a couple of things we think will hurt them and at least some things that we can't do. We know driving baseline they're going to trap. They're going to do some things.
But you run into that with other teams. Some teams with ball-screen defenses do it. A lot of tape, getting our players educated on what works, what doesn't and then executing the game plan is the final piece to achieve.
Q. How would you respond to some critics maybe even some Spartan fans who will say Tom Izzo needs that second title to validate your tenure and your time here with this program?
COACH IZZO: I'd say they're right because I need to validate it for me. I don't need to validate it for them. I have my own goals. And I have my own aspirations of what I want to do. And what I want to do is put Michigan State University in rare air -- two national championships by the same school starts to separate you from the 40-some that have won one.
Three national championships with the same school validates it. The more I keep talking about it, puts you in a smaller fraternity.
But you know what? Listen, I've learned that people that question you are going to question you. The haters are going to hate you. All I've got to make sure I do is what's best for my team and the university I work at. And I'm going to do that each and every day. And really five years ago fire and brimstone in me would have wanted to fight that person. Now I want to say, you're right. I don't want to say it to get them off my back, I want to say it because if that's your goal for me, I promise you my goals are bigger than your goals for me, just like, I'm sure, your goals for yourself are bigger than the ones I have.
And what's neat about my job is I get to take things that are players' goals and I get to push them passed what they even dreamed they would be because they're not experienced. They're not as old as us. They're just starting their dreams and their journey. And I get to help mold that journey. And hopefully if you demand a lot and you get a lot, that's going to improve that journey as that individual goes on in life. And maybe he'll be a better president of a company. Maybe he'll be a better NBA player. Maybe he'll be a better father.
So my goal is to win as much as I can win the right way. My goal is to make as many people happy that are fans and my goal is to make sure my players understand that to do great things it's going to be very, very, very difficult.
I was asked a good question this morning by someone who interviewed me and said, how can it be where you could play the same game the entire game? You could be so good in a 3-point shot goes in or doesn't. Look at the Purdue situation. He goes to a Final Four. He's done something they haven't done there in 40 years. They played so well. Matt did an incredible job, I thought. And a freak thing happens -- a guy trying to make it and he misses it or whatever happened on that. And boom, boom, boom, and now all of a sudden you're not as good. I think I'm past that stage.
I was in that stage earlier in my career. It drove me crazy. Now I've matured a little. And I can handle that. So tell them I appreciate it and they're motivating me to win another one. And then I'll need you to find some other friend that says, well, two is good but Mike's won five, so you haven't done much yet, so why don't you -- and you know what I'll thank that person, too.
Q. Before the Duke game (indiscernible) were talking to Mike Krzyzewski and he said Cassius wasn't just the best guard in the Big Ten but in America. He reiterated those after the game, those sentiments. Talking to Cassius about it he reminded me about his freshman year where he wasn't that good and how hard you were on him. He said I guess I'm blessed to have Coach push me. It doesn't happen very often but it does when a player reaches where you push them, is that one of the satisfying parts of the job that the fans don't get to see?
COACH IZZO: I told you guys the story, even his mom on the floor, I said, was it worth it, his freshman year? Not that his freshman year was so bad -- it was a normal freshman year. And she found a way to say, we've got some work to do yet, in a roundabout way.
So I would say to you it is rewarding to see Cassius growing, but he's not Wilt Chamberlain yet. He isn't fully grown yet. And probably, as I tell my guys, I'm not yet either. So they've got a lot of years to keep getting better. But it is rewarding when a player sees the work or tough love or pushing and pulling that you have to go through to be great. And for Mike to even put him somewhat in that realm speaks volumes.
And as I told Cassius -- Cassius Winston might have changed the most the spring of his freshman year when he wasn't thrilled with the season he had and yet neither was I and understood what had to be done. And when everybody went home that summer, right when the semester ended they had four weeks off to try to get them away, took two days and went home. And Cassius is close with his family and his brothers as anybody I've had here. He came up here by himself and lived in that weight room.
That I felt better about than even this because I realized that he listened, he heard, he executed what needed to be done. And that was behind closed doors and nobody knew. Kept saying, wow, Cassius really changed. Why? Because he stayed up here and worked out with (indiscernible) a lot.
It is odd. When you have a chance to go home it's odd when you have the family like he does, his brothers to him are like this. And that made me realize, like, he may not have liked what we said, but he figured out that it was going to be best for him. And so that was done on his own, not by me or anyone else. And I think that's where he grew. And I think everybody in life has those moments.
Q. Looking back yesterday after the teleconference, you said something yesterday that you said 20 years ago when you were in St. Petersburg, that you never know when you're going to be back. And that got me thinking how much in the last 20 years since the first appearance have things changed and how much are they the same?
COACH IZZO: They've changed a lot with Twitter. You can't say and do what you want to say and do. I kind of walk off the court now -- and saw some guy (indiscernible) and so I whispered to my assistant (indiscernible) things change in that respect.
But they keep talking about kids that change and I keep telling you guys they haven't changed as much as we all change. It's not them. Quit blaming them. They want to win. They want to get pushed. Me personally I've seen so many of these guys grow. I've seen Cash grow in miles. I've seen Quaido grow and Kenny has grown a lot. That's supposed to be the norm. 20 years ago that was the norm.
Now we expect to put -- it's like putting a baked cake in the oven. You put it in the oven so that it bakes, we now we just put baked cake in the oven. It's already baked, you say, ah, there, shazaam. Doesn't make any sense to me. We don't give a chance to these guys to grow, to mature, to make mistakes, to fail. So that part bothers me.
But the part that doesn't bother me is discipline is still the greatest form of love you can show somebody. When I was in junior high school, if he's not on you he doesn't care about you. And that doesn't change. Jud had a line DWW. Id' be working with some kid that couldn't play dead in a cowboy movie, and gotta say DWW. What the hell does that mean? Don't waste words. Don't waste words.
So you don't waste words on people that you don't think can get to certain levels or can accomplish things or can help win. And I think these kids, these guys, these half men as I'll call them, these guys that are trying to become something special, I think they want to be pushed. They want to be poked. They want to be told what to do. They just don't like it at that exact point in time. And neither would I.
I got fired more times with Jud than any of you have been fired. And I didn't like it. But -- I'll fire my assistants every once in a while. It's part of the deal. But I don't think winning has changed. I don't think the way to win has changed. You can talk about freshmen and juniors and seniors, experience still matters.
I don't think it's any easier. As I tell my guys, I think less guys are willing to sacrifice to get where they want to get. And that part I really love about this team. I think they have sacrificed. (Indiscernible). I think they've been through a lot. And I think they've found a way to just keep moving forward even better than I have. They've taught me a lot.
Q. Along those lines there's a lot of college basketball bluebloods watching on TV. David Thomas said at Michigan State our teams weren't blue blood; we were blue-collar. You've been to eight Final Fours. Are you blueblood now or are you still blue-collar.
COACH IZZO: DT, that makes me proud of him. I've got a guy on my staff that I think really stands for what I believe in. No, I'm going to stay blue-collar. I'm going to stay blue-collar. And to me blue-collar is the way I always want to be. And -- but I want to keep winning, like the blueblood. That's your guys' decision on what to call us.
I always argue that Bilas. He always says, you are one of those programs. That's for all of you to determine. For me to determine is to keep this thing where we're a working man's team, just like my father and my grandfather, no different: Every day go to work in your little chisel, get down in the mines and do your job.
If I change that, man, it will be time for me to go. I just talked to my boy, Mariucci, last night. The first thing he said is, man, you guys are the ultimate team. And a lot of coaches that have called me and talked to me about it. And you're a team when you're blue-collar because, in my humble opinion, because somebody else doesn't anoint you; you do it yourself. You work for it.
And, so, I'll take what any anointments or any insults what anybody gives, but I'll keep my blue-collar for me. And what I like is I've got a blue-collar attitude in my team.
Q. I know we've talked about Xavier's approach once he got here and the work he's put in. But just since he came into the starting lineup, if you just look at numbers, how they've risen, have you seen even a bigger change from him since then, kind of understanding and seeing as each game goes what he means and how much experience he brings?
COACH IZZO: That's where I give Josh and Matt and Cassius credit, because I think those guys, you know, knew we lost a lot in Nick when he went down. And I think they rallied behind Xavier in a lot of ways. And he got some confidence. He got more minutes. All those things help. And he's done what people tell you you should do. He's taken the ball and he's run with it. He's gotten his opportunity and he's made the best of it.
And yet I don't want you to forget, like, this is a game, again, where I think we need everybody that's got a body. And You look at the last game, we get Nick in there and he scores two baskets right away. And I think there is a spot for all three of those guys. And yet I think the best thing is, when Nick first came back, I went to Xavier because I was going to try to get him back in the starting lineup and then we realized that it wasn't whether I do that or not, it was whether Nick was ready.
And even his conditioning now is -- the hand, I think he's finally feeling as comfortable as he can with the hand. But Xavier said, Coach, whatever you need to do, I'm fine with it. And some guys say that because they're talking to the head coach. And I looked at him and I said, well, you're crazy if you don't want to start. He said, well, I want to start, but I want to do what's best for the team.
I don't think there's one guy on my team that I don't have that that's way. And that's saying a lot. That's why those juniors and seniors are so incredibly important. And I think why you've enjoyed them so much. They're fun interviews because they're real. And they're going to tell you the truth, I think.
Listen, I know there will be a million more press conferences, but probably none where it's just the same guys that have followed us all year. And any adversity that we've all been through, I do want to thank you for being around (indiscernible) this team because this team has been special. And you should get to know them even better.
What I love about the Final Four is some of you in this room will do some incredible individual stories on people and you'll find out more and more about them. And I tell my guys and I tell you this, whether it's college, whether it's pro, there's nothing better than getting down to the point where instead of analyzing the game -- there would still be a couple people doing that -- but I think most writers analyze the people.
And these guys deserve to be analyzed because there's a lot of great things about them, their families, how they've been to each other. And so I want to thank you ahead of time. I probably won't get to do that as much at the national news. But you won't be forgotten up there either because you've been the people that have been with us the entire time.
I hope you enjoy your trip up there and time up there. And hopefully we can play well enough to play on Monday. That's the goal. The goal is to win the weekend. But we've got a hell of a game on Saturday night against a team that we saw with our other Big Ten foe right down the road is as stingy as you can be defensively and maybe more so than any team we've played this year. And we're going to try to go and win a game and keep you working.
I said great to be working this week. Most people want a vacation. I would like to work some more. Next week I'd like to have a damn vacation. Have a good day.
Michigan State will face West Regional Champion Texas Tech in the Final Four on Saturday, April 6 at approximately 8:49 p.m. ET in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at U.S. Bank Stadium. The game will be televised on CBS.
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