Coach Tom Izzo may face toughest task ever leading Michigan State Spartans in NCAA men's basketball tourney
By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo, as usual, is taking Michigan State to the NCAA Tournament.
The Hall of Fame coach extended his streak to 20 years of leading the Spartans to college basketball’s showcase event, relying on freshmen more than he ever has in his career.
Miles Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford combine to score nearly 44 points in 92-plus minutes combined every game. They’re scoring and playing much more than Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert and Alan Anderson did during the 2001-02 season, the last time Izzo depended on multiple freshmen to play key roles for a team that lost several players from the previous year.
“It’s just been different than any year I’ve even dreamed about here,” Izzo said.
Izzo insisted he is confident in his team’s chances.
Ninth-seeded Michigan State (19-14) faces eighth-seeded Miami (21-11) on Friday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The winner likely will face Kansas, the top-seeded team in the Midwest Region, on Sunday.
“We’re good enough to lose any game we play right now,” Izzo said. “But we’re good enough to win ’em.”
Bridges agreed, saying the Spartans are going to be a dangerous team for any opponent.
“We’re good on offense and defense,” he said after practice Tuesday night. “We beat ourselves a lot. If everybody comes out focused, I really don’t think there’s a team that can beat us. It’s all on us.”
Izzo has won an NCAA Tournament-record 13 times as a lower-seeded team, but is 0-2 with a 10th-seeded team and 1-1 with a ninth-seeded team.
The 2000 national championship coach took a seventh-seeded team to the 2015 Final Four, his seventh trip to the national semifinals, and guided fifth-seeded teams to Final Four in 2005 and 2010. Each of those teams, though, had upperclassmen Izzo could lean on.
And Izzo knows he will lose his freshmen’s attention if he talks too much. Instead of putting his players through hours of film study, meetings and walkthroughs, Izzo plans to limit such sessions to 15 or 20 minutes to make the most of their limited attention spans this week.
“I think I’ve been even more honest with my team,” he said.
To avoid losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive years for the first time, Izzo will need his freshmen to play to their potential in the biggest game, or games, of their lives.