Reflective Tom Izzo Has High Praise For His Spartans As They Pursue His 2nd National Title

Denze.l Valentine 2016.  Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard
Denze.l Valentine 2016. Photo courtesy of Mark Boomgaard

Breslin Center

East Lansing, MI

As Tom Izzo pushes ahead for a second national title, he has what I have called his best team since Mateen Cleaves led him to his first national title. So how does Izzo feel this team compares to so many of his great teams?

“Well I’ve said it’s hard to, it’s really hard to, because someone will get insulted. I don’t want Mateen made at me, that’s for sure, because that will be tough on me. And I don’t want, I saw Chris Hill in the stands and his group, and Day-Day, I definitely don’t want him mad at me. But if I took all the aspects of it, what they did on the court, off the court, in the classroom, in the community, you know, this team has to rank 1. Because all four guys are graduating and it’s not even an issue. Colby is gonna be operating on me some day. I mean, I don’t want to insult him. The hell with Mateen. I don’t want to insult Colby, he could be taking care of me a lot later in life. I think Matt has grown a lot. I think Bryn has grown a ton. And when you get that kind of growth, it means that, you know, coaches will get some credit for it. But it’s the players and the players around them, and the players that are holding each other accountable. And Bryn pushing Zel, and Zel pushing Bryn. And so, you know, who knows? There’s so many ways to look at it. I guess one way to look at it, though, we’ll see in the next three, four weeks how good they are.”

But for Izzo, it means so much more to him what a player becomes than what they are when they arrive. I can’t tell you how many times freshman feel his wrath pushing them for more that they have no clue they are capable of giving, yet as seniors look back with fondness. How far has this class come?

"Well, I think Denzel has improved a ton, I mean he was barely a top-100 player. Matt Costello was barely a top-100 player, Bryn Forbes, I don't know if he was a top-100 player and Colby was not a player. I like to sit up here and beat my chest and say 'look what I turned them into,' it didn't happen that way. I'll be the first to tell you, assistants did a great job, managers probably did a great job. But those kids, it's like, I always look at millionaires, and the first thing I say is that millionaire, is that handed down, or is that earned? Nothing was handed down for these guys, I sure as hell didn't hand anything down - they worked, they earned it, they did it. I'm not sure any group has come from here to here, no matter what happens next week or the week after, like this group has. It's usually praise for the end of the year instead of the regular season, but it must mean they moved me too, and I appreciate people. I was sitting in my hotel room two days ago, at Rutgers and the Bad Boys things came on and when Isaiah Thomas said at the end 'I gave everything I had, I had nothing left.' And I looked at those four guys toady and I said, 'I think you guys have given me everything you've had - but you better have something left,' and that's the way I look at it."

With all of the adoration and love, Izzo will not be happy with a team this good sniffing out his elusive second national title. So what are the warts on this team that many favor for the title?

“Defensively, it’s gotta get better. And rebounding, we’re rebounding pretty well. I think we went three games in a row where we were plus-4 and we’re normally plus-10 or 11 or 12 and today we were plus-10. I didn’t think we were great. I don’t think we are cutting out well. I think we’ve got a lot of work there to do. We’ve gotta work on getting a hand up. People are shooting threes in our face. We’ve gotta work on cutting out better. We’ve got enough that I don’t think I’m going to take a four-day vacation. I’m just going to stay here and do some work.”

The Spartans will be returning to action against either Penn State or Ohio State Friday. MSU has blown out each team twice this season. The game will tip on BTN at 6:30 PM.