For Tom Izzo being 16-3 on the season and 5-1 in the Big Ten is not the be all end all of the year. At some schools it would be. He has confessed that for him seasons are not judged by wins or losses, they are about banners. Hanging them. Izzo is excited about the improvements he sees on the court. Izzo has admitted in the past he loves drama and turmoil, but this year there has been relatively little of that.
He said of his team and their improvements that, “We have to cut our turnovers down to 11 or 11 ½ a game compared to the astronomical. I think it was triple digits at one time it was so ridiculous. That has definitely helped us. I don’t think we are shooting the ball great, I think our guards have been struggling, but down the stretch, from the foul line even to the field last three, four of five minutes of the last four games we are shooting fifties, were shooting almost 90% from the line. That speaks something about us.”
He went on the address the people who don’t like his being skeptical. “I mean I have been the first to be critical, we don’t seem like a 16-3 team in a lot of ways, so I think we are doing some things better than I give us credit for. One of them was learning how to win down the stretch.”
Why are the Spartans doing better down the stretch? “I think Keith Appling has had a lot to do with that. Even though he missed some great shots early, he has had a lot to do. Turnovers are down, were finding ways to win down the stretch. I mean Payne has been playing great, he is averaging 14, 15 a game he’s shooting I think 75-80% from the field, and pretty good from the line. Dawson is getting back to where he ended the year last year when I think he averaged 11 or 11 ½ and seven rebounds his last 10 games. He’s back up to averaging that and rebounding even better in some ways.”
This team was plagued like ancient Egypt early in the year with turning the ball over. As Izzo addressed about it is getting better. To fix it Izzo has done a lot of things, including making players run the steps of Breslin for being careless.
At the end of the day fixing bad habits like turnovers is hard and Izzo said about it, “It is hard. I thought ours were casual turnovers and so that is why the punishment. That hasn’t happened many times in my career that we’ve turned it over. But we have done a much better job of not just making passes to make the, but with a purpose. Not so casual one hand bounce passes, those kind of things. Our turnovers now have been of traveling or charging more than they have been steals. I think Tubby Smith said something to me in their game, against Michigan. I think they had 13 turnovers that were steals and those kind of things kill ya. We’ve had less of those. Maybe it is the steps, maybe it is guys growing up a little bit. Like Denzel, starting to realize those things, a little better job in the post with the turnovers. We’ve just done a better job and it’s helped our team.”
But don’t think the rarely happy Izzo has changed. Just because he gave his team a little praise doesn’t mean he is going to be selling green Kool Aid anytime soon. Getting back to reality he said, “Well I still don’t like what they aren’t doing, so don’t kid yourself. That hasn’t changed any. I just know we’re a better shooting team than we’ve shot. But when you quit turning the ball over and you quit making as many foolish fouls as we were doing, than to me, as I said in football, when a team’s got a lot of penalties, you start seeing some discipline coming back. I’ve seen some focus and discipline in that area. The free throw shooting and the lack thereof in a couple of games. We’ve been a feast or famine team. But we worked on it very hard, there’s been no screwing around and I really feel comfortable that everybody’s doing their job, coming in extra, doing some things, so that always makes a coach feel good. So between that and the turnovers is why I feel a little better about it.”
Izzo takes SOME comfort in the fact that the rest of the nation has their warts also. He said, “When I look around the country or I look at some of the teams we play, I got a chance to watch Kansas a little bit against Texas and they too were awful for part of that game. I think everybody’s got some of the same issues and I think it’s because more and more and more teams are scouting more people. Scoring’s gone down a little bit. Possessions have gone down a little bit. There’s a lot of good coaches out there that are doing a lot of good things to stop people and it’s not going to always look pretty, and I guess I’ve got to start realizing that at 16-3. I said we could have lost two or three games that we won, but you know we could have lost (Izzo meant to say won) two or three of the games that we lost.”
So why does Izzo seem to be down when he self admits so much is getting better? “I’m not a great glass half full guy I’m more of a half empty guy I guess because I’m a coach and you’re always looking for ways to make your team better. No matter what happens this week we’ve done a pretty good job in a lot of areas and I do think this team is getting better right now. Dawson is a better player right now. Payne is a better player right now. Keith is getting to be a guy down the stretch that I think players feel comfortable with him, he feels comfortable, and I feel comfortable. That’s a pretty good deal. And maybe that’s why.”
Izzo has changed his lineup as of late. Going bigger with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix and bringing freshman Denzel Valentine off the bench. Izzo talked about the possibility of that being a reason this team is on the upswing? “Well, No. 1, I feel good for Denzel, and that’s the way it started. Just like I felt good for AP, because his started with the foul trouble. But that is still something I will be looking at. AP did a good job, he’s in a whole different place right now. I don’t see that as a problem. I like Denzel coming off in some ways because I think there’s things he can do coming off, he can be a little more relaxed and see it. Am I married to it? Probably not married to it, but do I feel real good about it? Yeah, I do feel real good about it.”
The Spartans have a monster road test in Madison on Tuesday and against the Hoosiers on Sunday. Both games I think the Spartans can play very well in both and still in my opinion will lose them both. There is no shame this year in a road Big Ten win. How far MSU makes it in the race for the title will be told in those road games.