Now that the regular season has drawn to a close and the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans (24-7, 13-5 Big Ten) ended their run with a definitive win over the Northwestern Wildcats, the time has come for head coach Tom Izzo and his players to focus on the tough challenges ahead. Namely: The Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament.
On Tuesday, Izzo told reporters that though his team has seen the entire spectrum of the ups and downs this season... the good and the bad (and the ugly), he looks at it as a very, very good thing.
Still, the coach made sure to emphasize that while the lows can make you stronger, at this point of the NCAA season, there's little room for further error.
“I guess, like probably all coaches, you worry about how many times you can go to the well,” Izzo said. “I think on the other side of it, it’s still going to benefit you that you can sit in a locker room before a game or talk in a huddle that, you’ve played teams like this, you’ve played teams as good as this whoever you face. So I still think the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Michigan State was named a three seed into the conference tournament after closing out the regular season with two-straight victories. The Spartans are set to take on the winner of this Thursday's match up between Iowa and Northwestern at Chicago's United Center. MSU earlier knocked off Iowa in January in Iowa City 62-59.
Iowa has grown to become a more dominant threat since they hosted Michigan State earlier in the year and Izzo spoke to his admiration for the late-blooming team.
“They have played awfully well in their last eight games and won as many as anyone else in conference,” Izzo said of the Hawkeyes. “I think we could be facing one of the hotter teams in the league and we could be facing a team we just played. Either way, I guess we are ready to go.”
Izzo has never been one to boast... about anything really. He relishes in his team's ability to play the scrappy underdog role, despite their usual winning record, and is a student in the school of the understatement. So the fact that Izzo hasn't been touting his player's praises and making outlandish statements of guaranteed victories comes as no surprise. Instead, the coach focuses on the here and now; understanding his weaknesses; and growing as a group in full acceptance of them.
“Nobody thinks they’re better than they are,” Izzo said. “Cockiness sometimes comes into play on teams, complacency comes in. We haven’t always played great but I don’t think it’s a complacent, arrogant, cocky way where we think we’re better than somebody. That, now that I think about it, might be the best thing that we have going for us.”
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