Carter out for season, Izzo looks to shake up "stagnant" offense against Minnesota
After MSU’s “humiliating” loss to Penn State on Saturday at the Palestra, men's basketball head coach Tom Izzo took the podium Monday for his weekly press conference to address the current state of affairs with the team, along with previewing MSU’s next opponent, No. 24 Minnesota.
Izzo opened the presser by discussing the current landscape of the Big Ten and how he’s never seen such a close group of teams in the opening week of conference play. Izzo highlighted No. 17 Purdue and No. 18 Wisconsin as the clear front-runners early on in conference play, but each team is sharing similar issues out of the gate.
“Now we’re two weeks in, I think everyone is going through the same thing,” Izzo said in his opening statement. “Trying to keep their team focused on the task at hand. It’s hard to believe, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a league where everybody has got a loss after two week. That’s the way it is right now. I still think there are four teams that are above the rest right now along with a couple other that are in the middle. What I mean by that is I don’t think there’s any question that Purdue and Wisconsin are still the class of our league. Indiana is right up there and I think Minnesota has proven now that they’re one of those teams.”
Izzo also mentioned the improvement the Golden Gophers made since the Spartans defeated them in come-from-behind fashion on Dec. 27, earning wins over Purdue and Northwestern on the road and most recently against Ohio State University at home. Izzo credited improved performances from guards Nate Mason and Amir Coffey and said they have given Minnesota new life.
Izzo said the key to sweeping Minnesota in the regular season will come with consistency — a trait he said his team has been lacking but is capable of achieving.
“I think we learned how to win when we were at Minnesota when we were down, I’m not sure we learned how on a consistent basis,” Izzo said. “I don’t think we executed that as well the other day. For some reason, we’re getting off to some slow starts on the road in this league and for some reason, everybody tells me that’s what happens when you have younger players, but I am not liking it too much.”
To cure the offensive lull, Izzo said he would be moving freshman forward Miles Bridges around in the lineup and making other adjustments to shake things up. Since Bridges returned to the team from an ankle injury, Izzo said Bridges is still working on restoring his stamina and conditioning to pre-injury levels.
“(Bridges) has to get his feel back for the game which will take a little longer than it would take a ‘Zel (Denzel Valentine) who was a senior who had been through four years," Izzo said. “Players have to learn how to play with him, too. We will be moving him around a little bit. I thought we were very stagnant offensively, some him, some us. But I have to look what I can do to help him, because I know what kind of player he is and we have to get him more involved, as I said after the game. That will go with our players and our coaching staff.”
Izzo also talked about the status of forwards Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, each of which have not played this season after sustaining injuries during training camp. The head coach also discussed with the media about redshirt-sophomore forward Kenny Goins, who left during the Penn State game, but ultimately returned.
Goins sprained his ankle against Penn State, but Izzo said he doesn’t see it to be a “major problem,” and he could practice with the team later Monday, pending a trainer's approval.
A decision will be made on Schilling at next week’s press conference after meeting with doctors. Izzo said Schilling has been able to make progress with strength training, but has not been able to run or condition with the team. With the time it would take to return to full strength, however, Izzo said a return might be unfair to Schilling.
Carter, however, will be sidelined for the rest of the season. Izzo said the team would be looking to petition a sixth year of eligibility for the transfer from the NCAA, but is unsure of what the outcome would be.
“Ben I think is 100 percent done,” Izzo said. “I guess I didn’t make that formal, but I kind of said that the whole time because of the previous injury. So the decision will be made on what we will be able to do. Unfortunately, the way that process goes, it will be the end of the year before they’d like to know that.”
Izzo closed his press conference by assuring that his team will be looking for consistency and another Big Ten win.
“What I’m disappointed about is maybe getting a group of guys to compete at a level they have no clue how to compete at. They’re going to learn or they’re going to get their brains beat in a little bit,” Izzo said. “We’ve been through the grind. And maybe Mike Garland said it best, ‘We got pretty good at learning how to grind.’ We are not always pretty, but we’re grinding it. At Penn State, we didn’t grind the same and that is what we’re disappointed in.”
The Spartans host Minnesota with tipoff set for 7 p.m. on Jan. 11 at the Breslin Center.