Amid tournament talk, Tom Izzo focused on keeping out the white noise
With the grind of the Big Ten regular season underway, MSU men’s basketball (12-9, 4-4 Big Ten) has hit a roadblock, losing its last three games and four of the last five.
With MSU's most recent defeat to Purdue, head coach Tom Izzo was asked about the impending NCAA Tournament and whether or not the Spartans are worried about the rocky performance this year.
"Nobody should have been disappointed that I had to throw some guys in there that just probably aren’t ready to play, aren’t good enough to play in those situations,” Izzo said. “I had no problem with that. That’s not insulting to our fans. I thought that the fans that were there did a great job. If some are at the local pubs and are complaining, that’s their freedom of speech. It’s a great country, freedom of speech.”
Visually frustrated during the game against Purdue, Izzo snapped his clipboard in half after redshirt-sophomore Kenny Goins missed a free throw.
MSU will have a subtle reprieve in its next five games, battling the University of Michigan twice, Nebraska, Iowa and Ohio State University for the second time. Each one of those teams are less than .500 against the Big Ten. However, the highly competitive conference has seen teams like Iowa defeat Purdue.
Under Izzo, MSU has reached the NCAA Tournament 19 straight times, the third longest active streak in college basketball. MSU trails only Duke, 21 years, and Kansas, 27 years.
A main staple to the disappointment of last year’s first round bounce to No. 15 Middle Tennessee State, fifth-year senior guard Eron Harris highlighted the problem of looking too far ahead.
“We’re not out,” Harris said. “Our record is our record, but our chance is not obsolete. We have to win one game at a time. If we do that, the tourney will take care of itself.”
Yet a common issue this season has been the disconnect of upperclassmen leadership to the freshman class. While guys like Harris and junior guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. lead on the practice floor and in the locker room, on the court the connection appears lost. On the court, Izzo said he is looking for freshman forward Miles Bridges to step up and take the leadership jump.
Being able to protect the freshmen from all of the “white noise” surrounding the program, Izzo said, will be a tall, yet crucial task for team success.
“If we can fight through adversity, that’s what championship teams do,” Bridges said. “We have a lot of goals in our mind and the season isn’t over yet. We just need to fight through this. March is the time that Michigan State starts rolling, but we need to get it earlier because we have a lot more losses. One of our main priorities is staying focused for 40 minutes and playing hard for 40 minutes.”
Bridges continued to talk about how this team cannot be counted out because of the potential of winning the Big Ten Tournament, hosted this year in Washington D.C. As fans get antsy, Izzo said he wants to keep to focus on his team day by day, rather than the big picture.
“I don’t care about the fan base,” Izzo said. “If people want to complain, I don’t care. I really don’t. I know what I’m doing, I know what this team is doing, I know what they’re going through. I know what they’re going through. Nobody knows what they’re going through because nobody’s had to do it. I’ve been here before, too. Been here before, and got to the tournament.”
MSU will play U-M at home on Sunday. The game is set to tipoff at 1 p.m. and it will be televised on CBS Sports.