Saturday, April 4, 2020

Izzo firmly believes defense wins championships

April 1, 2009

MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo holds up the NCAA Midwest Regional trophy with the rest of his team.

Photo by Nick Dentamaro | The State News

Tom Izzo blames Bo and Woody.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler and Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes were the poster boys of a rough-and-rugged Big Ten Conference.

Izzo, the 14-year head coach of the MSU men’s basketball team, thinks the concept has spilled over to basketball, where the conference is often described as slow, methodical and ugly.

And you’re darn right he takes this as an insult.

Especially when, come the NCAA Tournament, everybody is scoring fewer points.

“I mean, you got to realize that this tournament is a perfect example of Big Ten basketball,” Izzo said at his Tuesday press conference. “How many games are lower scoring? Because possessions matter. Because defense is being played at an optimal level.”

Other than Connecticut, Villanova, North Carolina and MSU have seen their scoring drop in the tournament.

As Izzo said, it’s a trend that goes throughout college basketball in March.

So why do the Spartans still get knocked for not scoring enough points?

“I’ll tell you what the big deal is,” Izzo said. “You’re damn right we check. We check because of Vince Lombardi. We check because of Pat Riley … I’ve watched Chuck Daly’s teams. They were tough. Joe Dumars — tough defender. Why does everybody write about and why does everybody preach that defense wins championships?

“Pick the sport. Go ahead, pick it. … It doesn’t matter what sport you’re in. I do it every single year. I take hockey, baseball, football and basketball. I always put it up on a board or I reiterate it from a piece of paper. Who won the championship? When Baltimore was in it, best defensive team.

It’s 90 percent of the time it happens. So I guess I just learned that that’s the way you have to win championships.”

That doesn’t mean Izzo wants to just play defense. He said he wants to run down the court every time. He wants to be known for defense, rebounding and shooting. You name it, Izzo wants the Spartans to be known for it. Before he’s done, Izzo wants someone to look at the Spartans and say, “You know what, they’re good at all aspects.”

Don’t misunderstand him. Izzo loves that the Spartans are known for their toughness. That’s why he recruits kids from Detroit, Flint and Saginaw.

He loves kids from those places because, “Those guys didn’t have silver spoons in their mouth, that’s the way they’re raised.”

Tough kids can play defense. But they can also shoot a 3-pointer, throw down a dunk, run the fast break and dribble between their legs.

Players at MSU and from the rest of the Big Ten can play basketball — not just defense. That’s why the Spartans are in their fifth Final Four in 11 years. That’s why the Big Ten has been represented in seven of the past 11 years.

“And so I’m not gonna condemn anybody else, but I’m sure not going to sit here and let not you but other people throw rocks at our nice glass house because it’s pretty good,” Izzo said.

“It is what it is. It’s a little harder to score in our league. But maybe that’s why we’re still surviving.”

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