It can be tough to consistently win with a target on your back, and MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo knows this well.
“Expectations are definitely high this year, and they should be high,” Izzo said. “Expectations are always high here.”
There definitely is a target on the back of the Spartans this upcoming season, and Izzo weighed in on the expectations.
He indicated the team has had an excellent summer thus far, and spirits are high.
“It’s been so much fun,” Izzo said. “I see a lot of effort and team bonding. This is the closest knit team I’ve had in a while.”
After finishing in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship, and returning four starters, including 2012-13 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Gary Harris and a potential 2014 NBA Draft lottery pick in senior center Adreian Payne, the Spartans are considered to be a favorite for the 2014 national championship.
“We have talent, we have depth, we have experience, we have the ingredients. We just have to get people back and keep them healthy,” Izzo said. “Having (senior guard Keith) Appling and (junior guard Travis) Trice back will certainly help. (Sophomore guard Denzel) Valentine improved as the season went on and should be better as well.”
The lone starter missing from last year’s squad will be departed senior center and team captain Derrick Nix. Izzo expects either junior Alex Gauna or sophomore Matt Costello to step up and take Nix’s spot at center.
“We will probably use Adreian more at the four,” Izzo said. “Costello and Gauna will play the five. They have to have strength, play defense and rebound. But they both can shoot, which gives us another dimension.”
Junior guard Russell Byrd could be another factor next year, after playing through injuries for most of his career. Izzo expressed cautious optimism on Byrd’s future.
“He’s been injured for three years, and there’s nothing he can do about that,” Izzo said on Wednesday. “It’s been frustrating for him, frustrating for the fans and for everyone. I’m hoping the time he’s had away will help him, and help his confidence. He had the best workout he’s had in two years today.”
Izzo also dropped a familiar name when comparing this year’s team.
“This team reminds me a lot of (former Spartan Mateen) Cleaves’ team,” Izzo said. “I’m optimistically excited, we just gotta get out there and win some games.”