Since the Spartans are traveling to Bloomington this evening, prior to tomorrow night's match up with the Hoosiers, Draymond Green came to Tom Izzo's press conference to meet with the media.
And while he is always a great guy to get a quote from, he was exceptional today. Aside from all of the "We're not just satisfied with sharing a Big Ten title" talk, Draymond was insightful about why this championship is different from his first two.
"I'm gonna be real about the situation," Green said.
To me, that was a great start. He had me on edge.
"We weren't sure where we were going either," he said next, regarding preseason expectations.
With that, he got me hook, line and sinker.
"We knew we had the pieces where we could possibly put it together, but nobody knew how it was going to come together. And, it was a lot of work."
It was a ton of work. And there is still plenty of work to be done. With Draymond, he doesn't just say something because Coach Izzo wants him too...he let's it out on his own accord.
And that's why later, when he addressed taking things one game at a time, I knew he wasn't just speaking the "Coach-speak" language. This team really needed to do that. At the beginning of the season, they were young, inexperienced and needed time to gel. And in that regard, this title happened quickly.
"As the year has went on, we've been reassessing our goals. Especially coming into the year, not being really sure how everybody was going to progress and how the team was going to come along. So we've just been reassessing our goals."
Speaking of reassessments, I can't imagine that if the Spartans were expecting a Big Ten title, that it would've come this soon. Even a week ago, it seemed that the title would be decided on senior day against Ohio State. Now, thanks to a pair of rivals - Michigan and Wisconsin - already, it's an accomplished goal for Michigan State...well partly....
"You know, you were thinking that you're going into Tuesday playing for a share of the title. Have to reassess that goal and now you're going into Tuesday playing for an outright title...sometimes you do have to reassess your goals."
This season has been special to cover from a media standpoint. So I can only imagine how special this title must be for MSU's unabashed leader. This week, the Spartans have a chance to shut the door completely on Ohio State and Michigan.
"To be a leader of a team that went from unranked - to wherever we're at now - to contending for an outright championship. That does mean a lot.
"Coming into my freshman year, a lot of people expected us to win. And my sophomore year, people expected us to win. Even last year, people expected us to win. So, it's kind of a new thing for me, not being ranked, not having all of the high expectations. So you know, it is pretty sweet for me."
MORE PRESS CONFERENCE COVERAGE
You can listen to Draymond Green's entire press conference right HERE
Tom Izzo's press conference is HERE.
He had some more great quotes as well. Especially, when he first stepped up to the mic:
"Well, you know, kind of a surprise, half-Christmas present yesterday, by my old buddy Bo (Ryan)."
Tom also had his own version of how he wants to win the Big Ten season to finish:
"We want to earn something our way, the MICHIGAN STATE way."
Tom Izzo metioned that Travis Trice did practice on Sunday. But he is "doubtful, doubtful, doubtful", for tomorrow's game at Indiana, according to Izzo. Trice has sat out four straight games due to his ankle injury.
Also, as you may recall, Derrick Nix left the Nebraska game late, limping on his right foot. Izzo said on Monday that Nix did not practice on Sunday due to a little bit of a sprain in his arch. He's hoping that Nix would be able to practice a little on Monday.
Winning the Big Ten conference is a great accomplishment. But over the years, it’s been proven that reaching the summit isn’t always a thing of beauty.
Last night, the Spartans saw the uglier side of things in their five point triumph in Minneapolis. However, a win, no matter how ugly, is always a pleasant sight for sore eyes.
The Spartans were outworked on the glass by a 33-27 tally…and, for the first 30 minutes they were also out-hustled. But despite those deficiencies, the Spartans proved to be up to the challenge yet again.
“We got outplayed most of the game, I’m gonna make no ifs, ands or buts about it," said Izzo afterwards. “The effort-related things just weren’t there. The only thing I would give this team credit for is, if you’re in a championship-type run, you’ve got to steal a game somewhere"
Outside of Draymond Green (whose 17 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist, 4 steal performance was considered an off night), consistent individual performances haven’t been this team’s norm. What has been consistent for this team however, is that one or two other individuals ALWAYS step up. So let's give credit, where credit is due.
Lost in the midst of Keith Appling’s tech and two critical fouls on jumpshots – leading to seven free throws by the Gophers - he recorded five assists and didn’t turn the ball over a single time. Appling also connected on six straight free throws in the final minute to ice the game away.
We also saw a solid, 13-point performance by Brandon Wood, a guy who hadn’t scored in double figures since a January win over Iowa. Of those 13, eight came in a seven-plus minute second half time stretch, when he was the only Spartan to record a field goal (MSU also made seven free throws). Wood also contributed to the stifling MSU defense over the final 10 minutes of regulation. He was only credited with one steal, but he played the passing lanes well and forced his man to work well beyond the 3-point line.
On a night where the atypical Spartans allowed Minnesota to shoot 45.7-percent from the field and outrebound them by six, MSU escaped, thanks to some key, yet over-looked numbers.
As a team, the Spartans turned the ball over a season low five times. Defensively, they recorded nine steals - six of which came in the decisive 27-13 run in the final ten minutes. During that same run, the Gophers made just two field goals.
Winning in the Big Ten is sometimes ugly. The Spartans proved as much in last night in Minneapolis.
Their first place, 12-3 conference record however, is a thing of beauty.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
Last night's win in Minneapolis was MSU's 5th straight victory at Williams Arena. In fact, on February 22nd of last year, the Spartans trailed the Gophers 47-40 with 3:37 remaining, only to go on a 13-1 run to close the game. Final score 53-48. Same five point margin as last night.
You think the Gophers want to play the Spartans in Minneapolis on February 22nd next year? I doubt it.
Following Green's 17 point, 5 rebound, 5 assist, 4 steal performance in Minnesota, he is now 10 rebounds away from 1,000 and 11 assists away from 400.
When he hits those marks, he will be the only Spartan to have 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 400 assists in his career.
Green's four steals moved him into a 4th place tie with Travis Walton, at 167 career steals. He is one steal behind Mark Montgomery for 3rd.
Day Day recorded one blocked shot as well. He is now all alone in 2nd place all time with 107 career blocks.
What a great player.
In yesterday’s blog, we learned that MSU’s leaders (Izzo, Green, and Thornton) believe toughness, leadership, focus, and togetherness were the keys to road success in the Big Ten conference...all of which are intangibles.
On the road, you must remember that it’s always harder to run fluent offensive sets, and thus, execute more efficiently. Thanks to the combination of an amped up home crowd, the home team typically clamps down defensively and feeds off of the energy in the building, making it tough for opposing offenses to get off to a good start. When that happens, it can often be hard to get it going.
In my mind, that’s why defense wins championships. With offense hard to come by on the road, defense and rebounding (MSU’s staples) is most exemplified by toughness, focus and togetherness. Michigan State’s Championship teams typically dominate in those categories…and again this season we are seeing the same.
Based on those four intangibles, it’s time to take a look at the tangibles (statistics) that make up MSU’s 4-3 conference road mark.
4 WINS (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Purdue)
In MSU’s four road victories, the Spartans are shooting the ball well at 44.3 percent, just 3.2 percent lower than its season average. While the Spartans have struggled to convert on their 3-point opportunities, their defense has been great. In all four victories, MSU still turned the ball over more times than its opponents, but only by a slim margin. For the season, the Spartans rank 7th in the league in turnover margin, which virtually breaking even in their 4 road wins.
Nebraska Wisconsin Ohio State Purdue
FG 23-50 (46%) 24-60 (40%) 21-52 (40.4%) 30-59 (50.8%)
3FG 3-14 (21.4%) 2-5 (40%) 4-16 (25%) 5-13 (38.5%)
FG Defense 18-50 (36%) 18-54 (33.3%) 14-53 (26.4%) 22-65 (33.8%)
3 FG Defense 7-25 (28%) 5-22 (22.7%) 2-15 (13.3%) 6-22 (27.3%)
Rebound Margin +14 +8 +3 +12
Assist Margin -2 +5 +2 +5
Turnover Margin -2 (14) -1 (9) -1 (16) -3 (9)
FG 98-221 (44.3%)
3FG 14-48 (29.1%)
FG Defense 72-222 (32.4%)
3 FG Defense 20-64 (31.3%)
Rebound Margin +37 (+9.1/game)
Assist Margin +10 (+2.5/game)
Turnover Margin -7 (-1.75/game)
3 LOSSES (Northwestern, Michigan, Illinois)
In MSU’s three losses, the difference is glaring. Their field goal percentage is down about 6%, while their opponents are shooting 12-percentage points higher than in their victories. You’ll notice that the Spartans rebounding totals are thru the roof. But you have to take into consideration that in those three road defeats, the Spartans have 47 offensive rebounds thanks to all of those missed shots.
Northwestern Michigan Illinois
FG 24-52 (46.2%) 24-50 (48%) 14-58 (24.1%)
3FG 9-18 (50%) 7-15 (46.7%) 3-14 (21.3%)
FG Defense 26-52 (50%) 23-45 (51.1%) 15-46 (32.6%)
3 FG Defense 8-17 (47.1%) 6-21 (28.6%) 3-17 (17.6%)
Rebound Margin +12 (39) +13 (31) +17 (49)
Assist Margin -1 (19) +5 (13) -3 (4)
Turnover Margin -7 (14) -6 (14) -4 (16)
FG 62-160 (38.75%)
3FG 19-47 (40.4%)
FG Defense 64-144 (44.4%)
3 FG Defense 17-55 (30.9%)
Rebound Margin +42 (+14/game)
Assist Margin +1 (+.33/game)
Turnover Margin -17 (-5.66/game)
There’s not a lot of margin for error when playing on the road in the Big Ten. But to win any league, let alone the Big Ten, road success is a must.
There are several small factors that can play a large role in the outcome of any game…especially a road contest: a slow start, a single lapse in focus, or one botched layup can signal doom.
In yesterday’s blog, I took a look at the basic numbers surrounding Michigan State’s defense in its Big Ten Championship years. And based on those numbers, it proved that a good defense is a much more valuable asset than a good offense (Of course, nothing could be better than […]
Defense and rebounding.
Heart and determination.
Leadership and preparation.
None of these basketball qualities are flashy. And as a guy who grew up playing basketball, they aren’t always fun either. However, winning is fun, and those aforementioned qualities demonstrate why Tom Izzo’s program wins on a consistent basis.
Thanks to former MSU head football coach George Perles, one of the most popular sayings around East Lansing, is “They all count one.”
While that sentiment is very true in regards to the record books, it doesn’t always apply to the brevity of each circumstance that a team finds itself in. For example, while Saturday’s contest between Michigan State and Ohio […]