Seventeen hours after Tom Izzo said he wanted to see more film of the Spartans’ first NCAA Tournament opponent before commenting on them, MSU’s head coach made his way back to the very same podium with some bags under his eyes and very possibly the same set of clothes on.
“I’ve got a feeling that I’ve got the same clothes on that I had on yesterday, and some of you have the same clothes that you had on,” Izzo said to the media with a smile. “I’ve got a better excuse than you do.”
Anxious days and sleepless nights have returned in full force for Izzo and the Spartans, as the No. 3 seed MSU men’s basketball team (25-8) prepares to take on No. 14 seed Valparaiso (26-7) at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Thursday (12:15 p.m., CBS).
Yet, it wasn’t something he spotted in hours watching film that scared Izzo most about the Crusaders, but rather something he could have noticed in just a quick glance at their roster.
“The number one issue we have with (them) is (this is) a complete senior-ladened team with five starters, as I said last night, all seniors, two of them fifth year seniors,” he said. “Experience at the end of the line I think helps you play at a different level. So that’s the bad news for us.”
The concern stems from the composure Valparaiso displayed throughout this season, particularly in a game against Detroit, where the Crusaders rallied to steal a one-point victory after trailing by 18 points at halftime and 11 points with three minutes to go.
Valparaiso forward Ryan Broekhoff said it’s the type of game they wouldn’t have won a year ago.
“We have a lot of trust and a lot of camaraderie between us,” Broekhoff said. “We know how each other plays. We know how each other thinks. It really benefits us when we get tired or when things don’t go our way.”
Broekhoff is a particular matchup nightmare for the Spartans as part of an undersized lineup that looks to stretch the floor with outside shooting.
The most dynamic shooter is the 6-foot-7 forward, who leads the team in 3-point shooting percentage (43.2 percent), scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and minutes played.
Defending him will be the initial responsibility of junior center Adreian Payne, although Izzo conceded sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson could get a shot at it as well.
“It’s going to be difficult guarding another guard, similar to (Ohio State’s Deshaun) Thomas, who can shoot the ball very well,” Payne said. “The whole team can shoot the ball very well. They’re quick and they run their offense very hard. It’s just another challenge I’ve got to come up to and take it face-to-face.”
Although he recognized MSU’s size advantage, Broekhoff said Valparaiso has a confident group, ready to embrace the challenge.
“We’ve got a little bit of everything on the offensive end, and defensively, we try to see ourselves as a shut-down defense,” he said. “We might not be the biggest team in the world, but we play hard, we play physical and we try to leave it all on the floor.”