Michigan State should enter Penn State tonight and dominate the Lions. Should being the key word. What they “Should” have done to less teams this year is NOT what they have always done. In fact Izzo talked earlier in the week about playing down to the competition. CLICK HERE TO READ.
The Lions of Penn State may not have all the talent, but they are MORE THAN capable of getting the upset of the Spartans tonight and Izzo knows it. He talked about the Lions and tonight’s matchup.
“Going into this week we’ve got to play better at Penn State as they went on the road and played pretty well against Purdue, real well against Wisconsin and then we have a big home game with Ohio State. It is an incredible weekend or week for us.”
He then zeroed in on the Lions saying, “As far as Penn State goes I look at them a lot like I do Minnesota. A poor man’s Minnesota. They have very good strong guards. Marshall and Newbill are playing well. They are getting a variety of players inside, I don’t think their strength is inside. I think it is more on the perimeter. I think they are very well coached and I think they play very well defensively and they will switch things up man and zone.”
The anguish in Izzo’s voice was palpable when he went on to say, “So I am looking at this as kind of a way to find the glass half full or a half empty thing. We still 14-3 and everyone is going to keep going through their different things. I keep reminding everybody of that. Iowa is not a 1-3 team, I can promise you that. The schedule made them a 1-3 team, almost more than their performance. Everybody is going to go through some of those dips and you got to win those games that I guess you are supposed to win on paper and you got to steal as many road games as you can and you have to win as many home games as you can.”
As you can tell, playing a team less in stature doesn’t mean they are any less of a concern. Izzo knows that his team is a good team, but they still have blemishes.
What are those concerns? Izzo wasted no time talking about them. “We are not rebounding the ball as well. We put a lot of emphasis on that with our guards and then our two guards get 15 then the rest of the guys don’t maybe rebound as well. Defensively our field goal percentage defense is not as good as the rest of the league, but a lot of that has to do with one game when I think Minnesota shot like 52%. Just shooting the ball and executing better offensively. I don’t think we are screening as well and I don’t think we are executing as well and when you don’t rebound as well, for us you don’t fast break as well. Teams take away your strengths to. I think the coaches in this league are going to take away things. I think Tim did an incredible job last night and Pat is a one of the better coaches in this whole league. Look at the people we’ve played. Painter does a great job, Iowa he’s done a great job there. Player got to learn that there isn’t going to be any easy road because people are going to take away what you do and they are going to take it away the best they can take it away. Because of that there are a lot of areas we are going to have to improve on.”
He went on to address the offensive concerns, “I would say offensively you make some free throws and make a couple of shots your defense is going to improve. Just in your free throw shooting alone, both games that we just shot average even we shot really well down the stretch. Which I think bodes well for us. That says something about us. We are rising up at the right time. Those stretches in between when a three or four point lead could be an eight or nine and then who knows what happens. Then were missing four of five or six out of seven free throws, who knows what happens. That’s critical. So then you got to make five out of five or six out of six down the stretch. But if you did it in the middle, maybe you wouldn’t have to do it down the stretch.”
When you are a team of grinders, and this Izzo squad is, you make your living at the free throw line. The Spartans have been as constant and consistent as Sybil. Izzo said, “”The funny part is we work on free throw shooting, we brought them in extra the last week to spend more time on it. We’ve been feast or famine, we’ve been 2-for-12, 13-for-20 some, we’ve been 18-for-22, we’ve been 17-for-20, there’s never been an in between, it seems like we’re in the 50s or 60s or we’re in the 80s or 90s.”
He went on to make a great point in proving his case. “I don’t think, like in Keith’s case, he’s probably been one of the best free throw shooters we’ve had since we came here. So I think some of it is mental, though he was 6-for-8 last night I think. He was better than you think you’re just not used to him missing free throws and in the Iowa game he missed a few free throws early and then he made all of his free throws down the stretch. I don’t know if it’s a lack of focus. AP works on it a lot, he’s got as good a looking shot as anybody. Some of it’s probably mental. You’re not shooting the ball well in general sometimes I think it carries over to the free throw line. You look at Nix he’s been shooting the ball better and he’s been shooting free throws better. He does probably, if I had to say who’s worked on their free throw shooting the most, Nix would be at the head of the class. If I looked at who in the next month I’d say BJ has worked on it as much as anybody and he went 0-for-4 last night. Those stretches, he goes 0-for-4, and here a guy like Byrd who’s a good free throw shooter comes in and goes 0-for-2 after a potential missed dunk, those are four-point, six-point swings and I told the team this too, a team like Nebraska who can run the clock down, if you let them stay in the game early, you’re gonna be in for a dogfight and that’s just what we did.”
You can hear Izzo’s angst. Even when reading it.
But Izzo still wasn’t done. Free throws were on his mind and they should be. “You know, the funny part is that even in the league, even in the league now I don’t know what we are. What are we ranked? Are we down to seventh or eighth? Social media, you should be able to punch that in right away. But I mean we’re probably third or fourth overall in the conference. So if we’re not shooting good, a lot of other teams aren’t shooting good. What I’m trying to say is it doesn’t help out when BJ misses four early and then you start looking at it that way. But that’s no excuse why Payne or Appling or Trice should step up there and miss free throws when they’re very good free throw shooters.”
Has Izzo just accepted it? Of course not, but he is dwelling on it. “So, I can’t make a big deal out of it because we shoot it really well in practice. I mean, you guys are there some days. I think last week was a day you guys were there and I laughed to one of my assistants. I said this is going to screw these guys up because they’re going to see everybody making every free throw and won’t be able to say is the coach on Dial-a-clue or not. But I can’t beat a dead horse. If we’re working on them and we’re making them and they’re coming in extra and shooting. They came in Friday night and shot them. It’s just, I think it’s part of are we focusing in on the games that aren’t the marquee games? And if you let down a little bit, does that affect all aspects of your game? And sometimes it rears its ugly head at places like that.”
Free throws. They will be the silver bullet of Spartan success or the kryptonite of their failure. They are called free, but as valuable as free money in the ultra-competitive Big Ten.