Tom Izzo’s Spartans have given him his second best start of his career. They are 20-4 (9-2) and ranked in the top ten of the nation. All of those are good things. For this day, they don’t matter. At 9PM tonight the Spartans will tip off with Michigan and that is what matters.
He said and he meant it. “Big week. No secrets it’s a real big week and we have about three of them coming. And yet your rival is your rival. There is no secret that I have said all along that Indiana and Michigan are the top two teams in this league and they there are about three or four of us that are fighting to get into that league or that group, that atmosphere. It’s games like this that give you the chance to see where you are.”
Izzo know that these games are big. With the resurgent Wolverine program this is more than just a Big Ten matchup. The Spartans came up empty for 2013 recruiting and the Wolverines are not second hand citizens in the state with recruiting anymore.
Izzo said, “I don’t think there is any question that I am excited to see where we are. It’s been a crazy week with the two games we have played and the injuries we have had, but I think it shows some character. We battled through it. On our teams part, I think the turnover thing has single handedly one of the best things we have done averaging 14, 15 and 13 in two games and that has been a big difference when you are averaging seven instead of 15 like we were averaging earlier in the year has made a big difference.”
He added that, “We are shooting the ball better. When you look at the stat wise these two teams matchup very well and yet I don’t think there is any question (Tim UM G) Hardaway is probably in a different zone the way he has been playing the last few games the way he is shooting the ball. I think (Trey UM G) Burke is a different player than he was last year. Last year I think it was about him getting shots, this year I think it is about him getting shots. He has done a phenomenal job of taking shots when he needs them, but definitely getting other people involved.”
Izzo is a man of emotion. You have seen him coach. He loves the energy and he bemoaned that basketball doesn’t stoke the fires of emotion like football. “Well I have said that the one thing I always envy football on and I dislike about basketball is you have rivalry games, you have big games and you have a day to prepare for them or something. This is something that is a quick turnaround for both teams. You get back late Saturday night and all of a sudden you’re getting ready for a game immediately. So you don’t get to get that buildup like you do in football.”
That doesn’t mean the players on both sides aren’t ready or know what is at stake. Izzo said, “Our players know it is a big game and I am sure their players know it’s a big game. When you look at the national rankings it is one of the biggest Michigan Michigan State games. When you look at both teams at the top of the Big Ten conference. When you look at it’s tough to win a championship. It’s one of the bigger games. I have tried not to make that the biggest thing because I know how many big games we have left.”
Known for his love of football, Izzo couldn’t hold back going back to the pigskin when talking about tonight’s big matchup. “Any time that you can, Jud used to always say that it is a privilege to play against an interstate rival because not everybody gets to do that. There is a few. Alabama and Auburn in football, Duke and North Carolina, there is a few where it is really at a high level a lot of the times. For it to be this way is great for you guys, great for the fans great for the water coolers, great for the coffee shops, but I think it will be excited for our players to.”
So how big is this game? Izzo said it eloquently. “Well I think the better statement is the nation’s talking about it now. You know, the state almost always talked about it because it is what it is. There’s Hatfields and McCoy’s in every relationship but I think the nation is talking about it now and I guess there’s a sick side of me that it makes me happy. Who wouldn’t rather dominate a series? But it’s not a series that should be dominated by either squad because both teams should be good. Both teams are good this year. I don’t think there’s any question that in my estimation, this is their best team in a lot of years. They are solid in just about every position and it should make for a heck of a game. I think it’s fun to actually feel like the game matters in every way, shape or form both locally and nationally and I’m not sure that’s happened since I’ve been here.”
Michigan is ranked #4 tonight and the Spartans sit at #8. A good thing Izzo talked about.
“Two top ten teams; that hasn’t happened here in ever. Surprise, surprise. I guess that makes it where it’s bigger than a local game because of that and I think we’ve worked our way up from wherever we were at the beginning of the year. They’ve maintained in the top 5 all year and deservedly so. That’s the challenge ahead for us.”