MSU men's basketball says there is no added pressure heading into Tulsa
Just a season ago, former MSU guard Denzel Valentine was holding his hand to the back of his head, heavilyy breathing at the sudden reality of a first round exit as a No. 2 seed.
However, head coach Tom Izzo said the pressure placed upon the team wasn’t the reason for the exit. Because of the MSU label placed on each athlete, Izzo said there is an inherited pressure.
“I hope and think that when you come here, after 20 years, that you almost embrace the pressure,” Izzo said. “You talk about in the summer. You talk about it with the former players. You embrace the pressure. It's a privilege to have that pressure. I do think that these guys feel the pressure.”
As his Spartans head to Tulsa, Okla. to take on No. 8 Miami (Fla.), his four freshmen: forward Miles Bridges, guard Joshua Langford, guard Cassius Winston and forward Nick Ward, will get to experience a new kind of pressure to perform under.
However, to them it isn’t a concern.
“There’s been pressure on us all year, so we will be able to deal with it,” Bridges said.
The failure of last season’s tournament run still looms over the heads of some players. Not many MSU players have a lot of tournament experience, but sophomore guard Matt McQuaid has a changed perspective of the tournament.
“After last year, I kind of learned that none of that matters now,” McQuaid said. “Everybody is on an open playing field and everybody is almost even. Anything can happen.”
Junior guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr. has arguably the most tournament experience, reaching and starting in a Final Four game his freshman season.
As team captain, Nairn has been in charge of managing the emotions of the young core.
“All the teams that I have been a part of since I’ve been at Michigan State have handled things very well,” Nairn said. “This team, a lot of injuries early, a lot of injuries late with Eron (Harris), you know a lot of seniors go down and for us to still be where we are at today shows a lot about how we came together in times of adversity, so we have been doing a good job of that.”
Focus issues have plagued the Spartans all season. Their peaks and valleys have come with their inability to focus for a complete game.
“If there's any problem that a freshman has, it's focusing in on the task at hand,” Izzo said. “A little pressure doesn't hurt. It won't be what last year's was and that would probably be too much for this team.”
Nairn said the pressure experienced this season is nothing more than the inherited, natural pressure of playing for MSU.
“A lot of players and a lot of people never get that opportunity to play Division I basketball, a lot of people won’t get to play at Michigan State, so it’s definitely a blessing,” Nairn said. “When you put that jersey on it’s not just about you or the name on the back of the jersey, it’s about the people who came before you who made this program.”
MSU will be an underdog throughout the tournament. A victory against Miami would most likely set up a game against No. 1 Kansas.
“We don’t need to worry about that, we just need to go out and play with a chip on our shoulder and play hard, and try to put all things that we have been doing over the season together into a 40-minute game,” McQuaid said.
However, the underdog label is motivating to some players.
“You know, I like being an underdog, I’ve been an underdog all my life,” Nairn said. “It’s no different, it’s still basketball, the seeding is different as far as who you play and where you play at, but we got in it so we just have to go play now."