Even when things are going well, Tom Izzo can be a difficult man to please.
The irascible Spartans head coach called his basketball team “the weirdest 14-3 team” he’s ever coached, following a 66-56 victory against Nebraska on Sunday and the backhanded compliments continued at his weekly press conference Monday afternoon.
As Izzo spoke to the media, he described the No. 18 MSU men’s basketball team (14-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) as a group of “grinder kids” that battle through close games by playing to the level of their competition, something he isn’t particularly thrilled about.
“I have no comfort in it, can’t you tell?” Izzo said. “I hate it right now. You can say that’s what MSU has done, but we’ve blown out our teams. We have very seldom, I don’t think, played to the level of our competition as much as we’re doing this year. And I still say there’s some leadership things on that. And I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault.”
Although the Spartans have been able to find a way to win the close games to this point in the season, Derrick Nix said it’s something the team can’t continue to rely upon.
As the schedule gets tougher in the upcoming weeks, the Spartans’ senior center said it’s critical for MSU to find a way to bring consistent energy for a full 40 minutes.
“We need to improve because you ain’t going to be able to grind it out when you’re down by 20 on the road,” Nix said. “It’s hard to grind that out. You’ve got to be a super grind team. So, we’ve got to improve and we’ve got to come out with more energy than we did in the last game.”
Energy is just one aspect Travis Trice feels MSU needs to improve before the team braces to face eight of 11 games against ranked teams, following Wednesday’s game against Penn State.
Izzo said this week will be critical to prepare the team for that stretch, and his sophomore guard echoed the sentiment, noting that traveling to face the Nittany Lions won’t be an easy task either.
“We just need to hone in and value each possession more,” Trice said. “Talking about ranked teams, Penn State, they might not be ranked high but they play extremely hard and that could be a trap game at their place. So I think this week we just need to value possessions and each possession is that much more important now.”
For junior guard Keith Appling, MSU’s inconsistent energy and carelessness are attributes that come with a youthful rotation.
As more players gain greater experience throughout the season, Appling believes the Spartans will retain only the positive qualities that come with a grind-it-out team.
“I like the tough, MSU basketball part, but I don’t want to be known as a grind-it-out team,” Appling said. “We’ve got enough talent where we should be blowing people out, night in, night out. But we’ve got a lot of young guys in our playing group, so they just have to mature and continue to grow as players and as the season continues to progress they’ll get better and we’ll get better as a team.”