By: Will Burchfield
Tom Izzo knows Miami has some advantages over his young Michigan State squad as the two teams prepare to tip things off in the NCAA Tournament.
“Very athletic,” Izzo said of the eighth-seeded Hurricanes. “Their best player, (Davon) Reed, is a senior and (Kamari) Murphy’s a fifth-year senior. That’s their leading scorer and leading rebounder, respectively, and I think that’s where there’s an advantage.”
Izzo also knows how to stop them.
“We’ve got some things we think we can do. They’re not a great shooting team until they get in the paint and kick it out and get good shots, so keeping them out of the paint, whether it be their guards or their bigs, is going to be a big key for us,” he said.
Miami finished 11th in the ACC in field goal percentage (45.3) and 10th in three-point percentage (35.9). If the Spartans can prevent the Hurricanes from getting clean looks, they’ll have a good shot of pulling off the upset.
“At the same time, we’ve shot the ball pretty well this year,” said Izzo. “I think we ended up second in the league in field goal percentage, and maybe second or third in three point shooting.”
The coach oversold his team a bit here. Michigan State was fourth in the Big 10 in both field goal percentage (46.8) and three-point percentage (37.6). Still, that represents an edge over Miami in both categories, which bodes well for the Spartans heading into Friday’s game.
“We’ve got to shoot the ball well, we’re not going to beat you a million different ways. We’ve got to play pretty solid basketball to win and I think this team is capable of that,” Izzo said.
Michigan State leaned heavily on four freshmen this season in Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford. Izzo believes the latter two will be instrumental in taking down Miami.
“I think Nick will be fine, but I think Cassius and Josh are big, big keys to this weekend. We need them and we need them to play well — and I think they will, I really do,” he said.
Izzo’s confidence in his young players stems from their ability to self-evaluate and adjust — to learn on the fly.
“As they say about an alcoholic, until you admit you’re one you never get cured or you never get better, and I think that goes for all of us in life. If you don’t understand what you’re doing wrong, how do you fix it? And if you do understand, you’ve taken a big step forward. I think those guys know,” Izzo said.
In a conversation on Tuesday night with Winston, Izzo reminded his 19-year-old point guard that just about every freshman that’s come through Michigan State has experienced growing pains.
“Denzel Valentine, Draymond Green – I named ‘em right down the row – they made a lot of mistakes as freshmen too. It’s just that they were playing 10 minutes a game instead of 23, they weren’t relied on in the same way and they had other seniors and juniors around them,” Izzo said.
“So let me tell you,” he added. “We put these guys through hell yet they’re still standing. And I’m proud of ‘em for it.”
Izzo hopes they can keep standing, and stand even taller, as the stakes continue to grow.