Luckily for him and the MSU men’s basketball team, the NCAA Tournament gets underway Thursday afternoon against the No. 13-seeded Delaware Blue Hens in Spokane, Wash.
“We’re well aware that Delaware is a pretty good team,” senior guard Keith Appling said. “They have three players that average over 18 points, so they have every right to be confident. But, at the same time, we’re playing some of our best basketball, so we’re a pretty confident team as well.”
Delaware is a battle-tested team, as all five of its starters are upperclassmen.
The Blue Hens blazed through the Colonial Athletic Association and won the conference tournament with a 25-9 record.
The top 25 has not been kind to Delaware, as they are 0-29 against ranked teams, and 0-18 against Big Ten schools all-time.
Nearly every player in the starting five averages more than 30 minutes a game, led by Jarvis Threatt, who plays 37.1 minutes each contest.
“(He’s) a phenomenal athlete that is as good with the ball and getting into the paint as anybody we’ve played against,” Izzo said. “Transition defense, getting into the paint, where it’s not like he makes as much happen on kick-outs like some point guards do, he makes it happen by getting fouled.”
Besides Threatt, who averages 18.1 points per game, other Fightin’ Blue Hens can fill it up, too — he’s third on Delaware’s scoring list.
Senior guards Devon Saddler and Davon Usher lead the way, averaging 19.7 and 19.4 points per game, respectively.
As a team, Delaware ranks 24th in the nation in points per game, with an average of 79.5.
“We’re playing with confidence as well,” sophomore guard Gary Harris said. “If we come out and do what we’re supposed to do, listen to the game plan, (and) listen to what coach (Izzo) has to say, I like our chances.”
While the Blue Hens have had more than a week since they won their conference tournament, the Spartans have had to turn around quick, only being in East Lansing for one day before flying across the country to Spokane.
Junior guard Travis Trice said it’s been hard to adjust, but it will all be worth it in the end.
“That was kind of tough,” he said. “Being on the road for a few days, bus ride home, go to class, have a little workout and then leave right away and you have that time change. But that’s what we signed up for.”
MSU has some added pressure as President Barack Obama picked the Spartans to win the national title.
In six years of “Barack-etology,” Obama only has picked the national champion correctly once.
Harris aims to change that.
“That’s an honor for him to say that,” Harris said. “I’m glad he has high expectations for us, but nothing has been accomplished yet.”