The #2 Michigan State Spartans have their best chance at Tom Izzo’s second national title and the schools third since Mateen Cleaves was the MSU floor general. Sporting a 26-3 (13-5) record as they open the Big Ten tournament Tom Izzo knows that the Buckeyes are talented, but young.
“Ohio State, they finished 11-7 in our league, 21 wins and that is in our first round. They’ve beaten Kentucky and he (Thad Matta) has done a helluva a job with a young team there. I think that is a very talented team.”
The Spartans have beaten the Buckeyes by an average of 17 points in both contests. That poses a unique problem for most teams. How does Izzo keep his team from looking past the Buckeyes? This is not most team. Izzo has four seniors to help with that, but I asked him about the danger.
“One of the better questions because that is the battle cry. How many close games have we played in? Not many. In the last 10 or 11, not many at all. Is that a plus to us or is it a minus for our future? I mean you have to know how to play in those kind of games and so I think the seniors are going to be incredibly important this year. And I think they know it and I think they’re working and doing the things they got to do, too. I still say, when I say Colby (Wollenman) on down, I mean Colby on down. They’ve done a good job.”
Sticking to that point he added, “I’m telling you, I feel confident we can win the Big Ten championship and I feel unfconfident enough to know we can lose in the first game. Anybody that thinks that’s a motivational statement, I don’t feel as good about things because I respect the other teams and I think they are good.”
But don’t mistake Izzo’s concern for anything less than anticipation for the conference tournament. “So it’s gonna be a hell of a tournament an when you’re in a tournament like that, you need your upperclassmen to make sure we’re focusing on each and every game on the step, that’s when you get knocked off.”
Ohio State Buckeye JaQuan Lyle said after losing to Michigan State the second time this year that he believed they were the best team in the nation. Last night after beating PSU Lyle said of his comments about MSU, “I still believe that. It's just a great basketball team led by great seniors. So what makes them great? They get through adversity real quick, get to the next plays quick, and they shift defenses real well on the offensive end.”
After beating Penn State last night Thad Matta was asked how his Buckeyes can beat the Spartans after having been handled so easily this year. “They are a great team. You know, they just -- they pose so many problems. But with that said, as I told these guys, we have to play better than we played the first two games. If they shoot 68 percent or whatever they shot against us five days ago, we're probably in trouble. So we know the first thing is we're going to have to defend and do a great job doing that. And we're going to have to play harder and we're going to have to play smarter, and anything can happen now.”
So it begins ladies and gentleman. The Michigan State Spartans are on the quest for their third national title and another Big Ten Tournament crown. It is March. It’s Izzo time. I can’t wait and I am sure you can’t either.
MSU vs OSU tips off tonight at 6:30 PM on BTN.