Michigan State men's basketball Head Coach Tom Izzo spoke this morning during the second round of Big Ten Media Day at the newly renamed Gainbridge Fieldhouse, formerly known as Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
"I'm really excited about my team," Izzo said. "Not many times was I looking up in the last few years. ... We're a little bit more unproven, while there's some teams in the same league that are very proven.Our league ... there's been some incredible teams and players around. Don't be alarmed. Sometimes the league is really good and ... sometimes the league isn't as good. Still, you have to be judged by the 20 games. If you go through 20 games in our league, led by the attendance record we've held over the years, you earn your stripes.With my team this year, we're better. ... We were trying to put round pegs in square holes last year and that inherently falls on me, the head coach, and nobody else."
Here are some more details from today's press conference:
Q: How excited are you to have the Big Ten basketball atmosphere back around the league?
A: I never found a cardboard cutout that could yell at an official, so it wasn't a lot of fun for me. I'm anxious to have those fans back, even when you go on the road, because there's nothing like when you go to schools like Purdue and Indiana, even the Wisconsin rivalries we've had over the years, there's nothing like that in some of the greatest venues in the country, much less the Big Ten. ... I think everyone's looking forward to it.
Q: Who are you excited to see take the court? How do you decide how to deploy players like (A.J.) Hoggard and (Tyson) Walker, given the point guard situation? Who will play together and how has it worked out in practice? What's the rotation going to be like, in terms of impacting the season? Who are you expecting to be the main benefactors and get the most out of?
A: Sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard has really improved and lost some weight to be a definite positive for the Spartans. Northeastern transfer and junior guard Tyson Walker was named the Colonial Athletic Association, or CAA, Defensive Player of the Year and still found a way to score 17-18 points a game. Izzo said Walker's going to be a huge helping hand with his abilities.
Freshman guard Max Christie, the leader of the class of 2021, Izzo said he thinks will be the best recruiting guard since 2012's Gary Harris, who forfeited his junior and senior seasons to play in the NBA and is now a part of the Orlando Magic. Freshman guard Jaden Akins will be one that comes in and makes a big difference in rotational play, alongside junior forward Julius Marble II and sophomore center Mady Sissoko.
There's also a good amount of experience in the more seasoned veterans, such as captain and junior forward Malik Hall, redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser and senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr.
"They've been through the wars (year in and year out)," Izzo said. "Some dealt with COVID different than others and unfortunately, when we were hit in the middle of the season last year, it rocked us a little bit. But, we're through that now. The guys have had great summers and falls."
Unlike football where there's only one quarterback, basketball allows you to have multiple guys with the same skill play together, Izzo said. In a league that's filled with big men, the Spartans have a couple of very good big men, Izzo said. While they went small at the end of the 2020 season, putting them together this year has been seamless so far and he said fans will see how the different matchups work out as they get going.
"The most successful teams I've had are the ones that have been the most versatile," Izzo said. "You can play big, small, fast or slow. In this conference, you've got to be able to do that. ... We're going to be a better passing team, a better running team. Because we're going to have guys that can penetrate and kick more, ... we're going to be able to utilize our depth a little bit more."
Q: How are you adapting to the new era transfer portal?
A: I've been very vocal about the rule and one thing I'll stick with is that I'm in for anything that will help the student-athletes. I've sometimes given people things and options that create problems for them. I'm more worried about what happens. It's going to work to your advantage sometimes. A fourth-year guy with experience is going to be better sometimes than a first-year guy who's considered a star. I just worry about all the movement. What are they moving for? When the going gets tough, are we just bolting or are we hanging in there? There's a place and a time where everybody thinks the coaches are worried about roster management, but hey, we get paid to make roster management decisions. I'm more worried about what does it do to the student-athlete and I think about how many guys I've had, as we've had reunions two weeks ago, would have transferred if it was the modern-day.
What's hard is, I get a kick out of people picking things in magazines. Nobody even knows who everyone has in terms of transfers – who's going to adjust, who's going to come in, who's it going to work out for and who's going to be a bust.
The Spartans are slated to open their schedule with two exhibition games, one on Oct. 27 against Ferris State and another on Nov. 4 against Grand Valley, at the Breslin Center before they head to Madison Square Garden to square with Kansas for the annual Champions Classic.
It only gets tougher as they go on, especially when they finally get to in-conference play, Izzo said. Big Ten schedules are second to none and this year, he hopes their league is going to stand up through the end.
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