'Masochist' Izzo enjoying growing pains with current team
Head coach Tom Izzo addressed the media for the second time in less than a week, and the first time since the Spartans fell short of completing a 20-point comeback against Indiana on Saturday.
With No. 20 Purdue coming to the Breslin Center Tuesday and the University of Michigan on Sunday, Izzo emphasized the importance of this week for the program as the Spartans reach a crossroads in the season. But despite the recent pair of losses and the important slate of upcoming games, Izzo said he prefers to keep the pressure off his players.
“I’m going to deal with it, but one of the ways I’m dealing with it is we don’t talk about those things,” Izzo said. “We’re just talking about getting better. We do talk about this as a big week. We've got two big home games. Big week. It’s a big week for our fans, it’s a big week for our players, it’s a big week for our staff and that’s the way we’re approaching it. … You guys know I’d put pressure on my mother. I’m not going to put pressure on four freshmen for what they’ve been through.”
Izzo was also elaborate in talking about the team’s progress in recent games, along with confidence it can compete against the 5-2 — in Big Ten play — Boilermakers.
Enjoying the pain
Izzo noted there’s been a correlation between the team’s wins and losses during conference play stemming with performance in the backcourt and ball possession. Izzo said the Spartans hold teams to 37 percent shooting from the field in conference wins, but 47 percent shooting in losses. Izzo also said in its Big Ten wins, the team averages about 12 turnovers per contest, but turned it over 15 times on average in its losses to Penn State, Ohio State and Indiana.
“It seems pretty simple and generic,” Izzo said. “That kind of tells us that we are not handing the turnover very well. We are not responding to losing the ball and coming down and making a big defensive play. I don’t know if some of that is youth and some of that is whatever. We have to do a better job of moving on to the next play.”
With each of the four members of the freshman class getting significant time on the floor, Izzo has talked about the strides his team has made despite the growing pains. Izzo embraces the pains, however, as he said it gives him motivation.
“And you know me, one good thing about me, I know a couple of big words, but I think I enjoy being a masochist," Izzo said. "I think I enjoy it. I enjoy it when everyone wants to throw stuff. I enjoy the pain, and it drives me. There's some joy to it some nights, there really is. So, I'm going to make sure my team knows that and understands it. We'll do better."
Not up to par
When the team hits the court against Purdue Tuesday night, the 4-3 Spartans will be in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten standings. Izzo has said on multiple occasions the team has been in “uncharted” territory, but also said playing four freshmen, though, is no excuse for the team’s current position.
“We’re meeting on it, we’re talking about it, we’re trying to do it, but we’re 4-3 (Big Ten record) and 12-8 (overall),” Izzo said. “I know that’s not Michigan State standards. Nothing has been Michigan State standards this year. Not what our record is, not who we’ve played even, definitely not the players we’ve played and the experience we’ve gotten. Nothing has met with the standards of this program. So we’re braving a new trail, and we’re going to be better in the long run.”
In his last minutes, though, Izzo talked about how the team has improved generally on defense and free throw shooting. Izzo also admitted mistakes have been made from the top down that have led the team to its current position. Even with the team’s endeavors, there is still a lot of basketball to be played.
“If I give up on a team, I’ll tell you," Izzo said. "But it probably ain’t gonna happen in your lifetime, so it’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime.”
Tipoff against Purdue is scheduled for 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.