Tom Izzo Sounds off on Tough Wisconsin Badgers and Admits, “Bo Knows…”
When Tom Izzo’s cagers take the court tonight in Madison, Wisconsin, you should be looking for a traditional street fight to break out in the Kohl Center. That is how these games play out. The Badgers garnered top 25 considerations and with the Spartans one of five top 15 B1G teams in the national rankings this one has all the qualifications to scream: Classic.
The #13 Spartans have their own issues, but entering the season Wisconsin faced a lot of questions at PG. They have found their answers. Izzo said of the improving Badgers that, “As far as Wisconsin goes I think everybody made a big deal about the point guard situation, and rightfully so, and they tried a couple of different guys and now they’ve settled on Jackson. He’s done a very good job of running their team and you can’t forget about the three seniors. Those three seniors have been through the wars. Two of them are fifth year seniors. Evans is a very very solid player, Berggren of course is a fifth year guy that has been there along with Evans and then the curly top guys has been, he’s everybody’s favorite. He just plays hard, he’s gotten better every year, he can shoot threes, he can post you up, and then you’ve got a guy like Brust who is a shooter.”
So what does all that mean now? Izzo continued, “So when we were question Wisconsin early it was a little bit at the point guard chaos, but that has been settled down. Still like taxes, they do what they do every year. Taxes and Bo I guess it is because they don’t turn the ball over, very solid, they defend the three very well, they are at the top of the league. They’ve earned it, I respect it and I know it will be a tough game for us tomorrow.”
He can be affectionately referred to as “Curly Top,” but even without the best stats on the team senior forward Mike “Curly Top” Bruesewitz is the straw that stirs the drink in the Badger state and the feed off of his energy.
Izzo said of the Badger star who can get under opponents skin, “It’s funny. I mean, I think he got under Indiana, he really doesn’t get under mine. I kind of like the way he plays because he’s not a dirty player. He plays hard but he can do a lot of things; that’s what I like about him. He can put the ball on the floor, he can make a post pass, he can run the court, he can get a few rebounds, he’s got energy. He’s shooting the ball better from all areas. You know, I don’t want to make him out to be Superman but I really like the way he plays and I think in that system, he’s kind of the perfect guy. He’s got a demeanor about him where he’s semi happy-go-lucky within that to. For me, he’s fun to watch play. I hope I don’t enjoy it as much tomorrow night.”
The Badgers will go right at Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix with a twin tower approach and Izzo is very cognizant of it. “Well you know those two guys, they’re not as big as Payne, but they’re good post defenders. I mean one thing they do a good job of is they get around and get a lot of steals in the post. They don’t just sit back. They chase guys off the three and they do a good job in the post and a lot of times you’ve got to have a good mid-range game to beat Wisconsin and probably nobody in America has a great mid-range game, so that’s the problems it possesses. But we’re going to try to do what we’ve been doing and that’s get the ball in there and hopefully when we kick it out, we’ve got to do a better job of making those shots. And so, I don’t know if it’s any better or worse just because guys are one or two inches smaller. I tell you what, those Evans and Bruesewitz are very, very good post defenders.”
There is no doubt that when Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan showed up in Madison that for a long time he had the upper hand against Izzo. That tide has turned and Izzo was not willing to accept that. He said, “I don’t really think so, just like I didn’t think it was that much when it was the other way. I think for the most part it’s been a pretty good rivalry and one that, they’ve beaten us more than we’ve beaten them and that isn’t the case with many teams in the league. It’s because the only way you beat them is to beat them. We’ve gone through where we’ve beat ourselves a few games. It happens so very seldom with them. They just don’t make many mistakes. They lead the nation, not the league, in turnover margin year after year. It’s the way they play. Sometimes you hear people complaining about it but it’s so solid and (Ryan) just plugs different guys in. I think last year we had an X-factor guy, a player that was almost their system. Day-Day plays that way, although it was funny cause I watched that tape last night of the Big Ten Tournament. I think Day-Day had a bunch of turnovers in that game.”
According to MSU SID Matt Larson, Draymond Green had seven turnovers. Izzo went on to add when informed of the actual number that, “Not that you were counting. It looked like that many when I was watching it. But I don’t think there’s anything to anything, I really don’t. I think last year when I watched that game we were really solid and I watched a couple of our games we were really solid, we’re not as solid as we were last year yet, but I think that’s what you gotta do to beat them. You can’t make a lot of mistakes and it should be a war tomorrow, that’s for sure.”
If you are old like me, you remember when Bo Jackson was at the height of his popularity. There were a series of popular Bo Knows commercials from Nike. Izzo brought those back to like when talking about Bo Ryan and the Badgers.
“I always said, I look at some teams that try to pressure them and try to take things away from them and I said I don’t know if the Lakers could do it. Well, this year they couldn’t, I don’t know if the normal Lakers could do it. Just because it’s one of their strengths, it’s something they don’t deviate from. You grow to respect things like that and I have. I think one of the reasons we’ve always had success against different kind of systems is we’ve been able to play both ways and not always try to impose ours on them. I saw a couple teams this year I thought tried to do that and were not successful. So it’s almost smashmouth to smashmouth. They’re gonna play solid, physical, disciplined, tough inside, run you off the threes and you’ve gotta be able to match that and not get frustrated.”
MSU has protected home court this year. They have the talent to win the very deep B1G, but they don’t have the player leadership. With a future Hall of Fame, $4 million dollar a year head coach and an experienced staff they will have to lead them.
If Michigan State has any shot at winning another coveted B1G crown, a night like tonight will be the key. MSU has the ability to win this game, but will they dig and find the mental toughness. Tonight will tell us a lot about the Spartans.