Izzo and team answering only hoop questions, Winston hitting stride
In the wake of the NCAA investigation involving the men’s basketball team, head coach Tom Izzo said at Wednesday’s practice the team will no longer be answering questions unrelated to basketball.
“We’re not answering any questions, my team, anymore about anything but basketball. That’s going to be it. It’s basketball questions,” Izzo said. “I owe it to them, and I mean this strongly, I owe it to them and I owe it to my staff that we’re gonna focus in, because there have been a lot of distractions. I’ve tried to do it as best I can do it for all of you, never cut off our locker room or anything else, but now it’s going to be basketball time.
"These players, this staff, deserves to focus in on basketball. That’s what we’re going to do and see if we can make this incredible year even more special.”
Izzo did expound on the investigation at practice, however, and said he fully expects sophomore wing Miles Bridges to remain eligible to play for the rest of the season.
Bridges was ruled ineligible Friday by the NCAA for one day after MSU's compliance officer found he had committed an NCAA violation while conducting an internal investigation. A day later, Bridges was cleared.
“Our compliance people had sent the information to the NCAA,” Izzo said. “They conducted their own search, sent it to the NCAA, it came back, they cleared him unequivocally. We do not have to, at any shape or form, think that there will be anything else that he has to go through. I expect him here for the rest of the year.”
Izzo also said he believes the team has cooperated with every investigation regarding the allegations from the Yahoo! Report.
“As far as all these allegations, I’m just going to tell you that I feel very comfortable that we’ve emphatically cooperated with everybody on every search. Everything we’ve done, I think we’ve appropriately handled it exactly the way we were supposed to handle it with the rules at the time,” Izzo said.
Winston confident heading into the postseason
The men’s basketball team will head into Madison Square Garden Friday for its Big Ten Tournament opener on a 12-game winning streak, and fresh off of clinching the Big Ten title outright for the first time in nine years.
Bridges and freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., both expected to be lottery picks in this year’s NBA Draft, have certainly played a big role in the team’s recent surge like they have all season, but in the postseason the team might only go as far as the starting point guard, Cassius Winston, takes them.
Winston has been hitting his stride lately on offense. And if the numbers aren’t evident enough, the sophomore will say so himself.
“I was raised to have a lot of confidence, so now that I've got a lot of confidence and the talent or the skillset to back it up, it just helps a lot more,” Winston said after Wednesday’s practice.
Winston’s numbers are up across the board from his freshman campaign, but where he’s seen the most improvement is in his 3-point shooting. He’s shooting 56.5 percent from three on the season in comparison to his 38 percent shooting percentage from downtown last season.
The Detroit native credits his improved shooting to the amount of work he put in toward perfecting his jump shot throughout the offseason.
“It was definitely more repetitions,” Winston said. “I might have changed it (jump shot) a little bit, just with me getting stronger and my body changing, but it was just a lot of repetition in the summer.”
The Spartans will have loads of talent to lean on in the postseason in the form of Bridges and Jackson, but Winston has proven recently not only to be a reliable shooter, but also a dependable closer late in games.
Against Northwestern, Winston scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half, and helped lead the team out of a 27-point hole. Two games later at Madison, Wisconsin, Winston went six-for-six on threes and scored a team-high 20 points to help MSU hold off a determined Badgers team.
Jackson said seeing this aggressive side of his point guard on the offensive end isn’t surprising.
“He’s always been a scorer I think, but because he’s tasked with facilitating the ball to us he sometimes shies away from it,” Jackson said. “Because he’s got it going a lot, he’s kind of been picking his spots a lot better.”