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Everything Tom Izzo said ahead of Michigan State-Michigan basketball game

Spartan head coach Tom Izzo discusses the loss to Illinois, the game against Michigan and many other topics

On Thursday, Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo met with the media to discuss a variety of topics leading up to the Spartans' home game against rival Michigan on Saturday.

On Illinois loss:

“First of all, you learn that it’s hard to win on the road. It’s taken me 30-some years to figure that out, but I was disappointed we didn’t play better on the road, coming off a good road trip to Wisconsin. I think we’ve had a couple of great days of practice so far [since Tuesday], and meetings. We’re excited to be home. We’re in a four out of five [game stretch] on the road.”

“Outside of Marcus [Bingham Jr.], on Tuesday, I don’t think anybody played great. To win on the road or to win in this league, you’ve got to have more than a couple guys have good performances.”

“I think it’s important to get Gabe [Brown] going again. He’s been really good all year, and maybe had a couple games when he’s been down, but I think he’s been practicing at a higher level.”

On Michigan:

“Any time you play your rival, things…get picked up. Doesn’t matter what sport or where you are. I know our fans are looking forward to Saturday, so are our coaches.”

“They’re playing much better. When we were going to play them down there, they were on a three- or four-game losing streak. And now, they’re on a three-game winning streak. [They’re] averaging a lot more points, shooting 55 percent from the field and almost 50 percent from the three.”

“They’re a big team, with [Hunter] Dickinson, of course, a monster in there. [Moussa] Diabate is a lot better than he was a month ago – typical of freshman. But, with [Brandon] Johns and [Caleb] Houston, that is a big front line. Maybe one of the bigger ones in our league, because both Illinois and Purdue play smaller power forwards. So, with Diabate in there, I think it makes [Michigan] very big.”

“My favorite player is [Eli] Brooks. He’s been there forever, I think. He’s a very smart player. He always checks [their opponent’s] best offensive player. He makes great plays, he makes great decisions, he gets all the loose balls. He’s their Draymond Green – he’s the glue.”

“With the amount of guys that are starting to play well, they are probably one of the more talented teams in our league. We’re just looking forward to the opportunity to regain a little momentum that we were starting to get.”

On preparing for Michigan once before:

“It’s been a little difficult. This is one of the things that’s been difficult for us, and maybe other teams, but you go to Illinois and ‘Is so-in-so playing, or is he not playing?’ You watch film on Michigan, and you say, well they had a couple of guys out for a couple games and then they didn’t play some of those games. So, you don’t have as much film.”

“They’re a different team than the one we were going to play the first time. [Michigan guard Devante] Jones is playing better at the point. They’re shooting the ball better. Houston’s been on a three-game hot streak, and he was really struggling to shoot it before that. So, they’re playing better and your sample size is a little smaller. We didn’t use a lot [of the prep work] from the first time, but we used a few things. For the most part, we’re looking at this [last] three or four games to make out evaluations, how we’re going to cover stuff and what game plan we want to use.”

On Michigan center Hunter Dickinson:

“We’re going to try to cover him in different ways. We will have different coverages. He’s playing well. He’s got that lethal jump hook, we all know about that. He’s shooting it a little better from the perimeter.”

“We hope to run them and get them up and down a little bit more.”

On Marcus Bingham Jr.:

“What I liked most about last week – Marcus started blocking shots again at Illinois. I had told you he hadn’t been the same kid since his COVID. He looked a lot more energetic [at Illinois], and he did today in practice, and yesterday just in the meetings I had with him.”

“Marc – He’s skinny, but he’s long and he’s active when he wants to be. So, hopefully, we can get him active and if he’s active I think he can cause a lot of problems.”

On late rally vs. Illinois:

“If you look at the whole game, this is a team that shoots the living daylights out of it. And those new guys they had instead of Kofi [Cockburn], they sprint up in those ball screens and sprint back and give us problems that, I won’t say we weren’t ready for, but we had to make some adjustments.”

“We felt pretty good defensively. It was the offense, and again, you have nine turnovers in the first half. You get 26 shots, or whatever we got, and we make eight of them. You never get into a rhythm when you do that. So, I think it hurt us offensively.”

“To the players’ credit, they didn’t quit defensively. We still rebounded well, we still defended well, and we made some very good plays down the stretch.”

On Michigan, Illinois preseason rankings:

“We kind of forget that Michigan and Illinois were Top 5-10 teams in all the preseason [polls]. That’s how everybody looked at them. Everybody had some injuries, everybody had some illnesses, everybody had some freshman to try to make sophomores. So, there’s some bumps in the road, but the beauty of basketball is it really doesn’t matter what you do in November or December. It matters what you do in March and April.”

“I think there’s no question that Michigan is playing much better than they did a month ago. Mostly because they’re shooting it better, and that makes a difference.”

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On Max Christie, turnovers:

“I expect him to rise up. He’s been very solid in a large number of the games lately. It goes back to, again, if you don’t turn the ball over, he gets more opportunities, you get to get in a rhythm.”

“Early in the year…you saw Gabe [Brown] hitting three, four shots almost in a row. You know, get our running game going, get this and that going. And then, when you start turning the ball over again, there’s never that rhythm.”

“There’s certain things I don’t worry about. I worry about a lot of things at night. But Max Christie, I’m not worried about. He has been as mature of a freshman that I’ve had since probably Gary Harris. He gets it, he understands it and he’s chomping at the bit to get going.”

On getting Gabe Brown more shot attempts:

“I hate to say it, but it’s not that difficult. When you’re getting ten less shots than your opponent, your best shooters should get two or three of those. So, instead of nine or ten [shots], its 12 or 13 right there. When you feel better about yourself, and you’re not turning it over, you get our [fast] break. He had a couple breakaways where we scored in three and a half or four seconds the other night. He was getting those for threes earlier in the year too. So, it’s just a matter of us taking care of the ball.”

“What can he do? He can get to the offensive glass a little bit more, which he’s starting to improve. We can get downhill and get him some shots. It’s not all Gabe or Max. Our point guards have to do a better job. You can have all those great receivers, but if you don’t have a quarterback… Our quarterback’s got to do a little better job of getting them the ball.”

On having fans back for rivalry:

“I’m excited to do that, and I’m sure so is Juwan [Howard]. Whether you’re at home or on the road, nobody wants to play in front of nobody, that’s for sure.”

“When you’re playing rivalry games, as Jud Heathcote used to say, there’s not as many of them as you’d think that are really rivalry games. Teams have to be in the same conference, usually. It helps when they’re in the same state, helps when there’s some closeness in distance and it helps when both teams are good. There’s not as many key rivalries, I think John Beilein said that once, and I’d have to agree with him.”

“A rivalry is not the same without fans, I promise you that. They’re the ones that make the rivalry, the rivalry. Coaches try to do their part, and players do their part, but it’s the fans. There’s 550,000 to 600,000 of them out there on Saturday, and at least half of them are living or dying on whether we win or lose. So, I think having fans back is really important for everybody, and I think I’d rather [have fans] if I played there, and they’d rather [have fans] if they played here. That’s the beauty of a rivalry.”

On playing in rivalry game after a loss, turnovers:

“I don’t think it [matters]. It shouldn’t. We’re 15-4. We have shown where we can play awfully well, and we’ve shown where, mostly in our turnovers, where we’re giving people – just think about, you can say you only beat this team by 10. Just think about getting 10 more shots. If you shoot 40 percent, which everybody does, that’s four more [made] shots times even two points, that’s eight more points. That’s a ton to overcome.”

“I promise you that that’s on our list. We’re charting every turnover in practice, we’re trying to do some different things. But, nobody turns the ball over on purpose. I just think sometimes there’s a lack of focus. Sometimes it’s immaturity, sometimes it’s people at new positions like our point guards. Sometimes it’s the freshman coming in, everybody goes through it. I don’t grade myself very high on taking care of it. I think it has to get taken care of, but it’s not because we’re not working at it. When the day comes that we do, I say that’s when the team turns from really good to maybe great, and that’s what I’m hoping happens.”

“Any time you play a rival – Jud said, ‘They all count one, but this one counts more’. I think that’s true, but I don’t look at it like, because we’re playing Michigan, now we’re going to rise up. I think we know – guys were down about how they played. They were disappointed in themselves, and I was disappointed in myself because I didn’t get it done. That’s not taking anything away from Illinois. It’s just the way we played. If we played well and lost, that’s tolerable. But if we play not very well, and lose, that’s not tolerable.”

On disappointment of first Michigan game postponement:

“The irony of the whole thing is – what, did they have a three-game losing streak then? And we had a seven- or eight-game winning streak.”

“The great teams are getting up for every game. The ones with great leadership, that’s something we’re still searching for, because – if you’re really good, not elite, but really good, you’re playing [against] yourself half the time as much as you’re playing your opponent. That’s what I’m concerned with. I’m concerned with us getting better every day. The wins and the losses will fall in place, but are we getting better? There were times last week in practice and everything – I told you when we were winning and not getting better. I came into these press conferences and told you that. I do feel like they’re starting to understand why and see why, and now it’s correcting it.”

On addressing turnovers with players:

“You try to handle each kid a little differently. Early on, it was more, get after them. Because I did not think they understood what the hell was going on. Now, I think they understand it … The first thing people say is, ‘Are they playing afraid to make a mistake?’ That’s such a phony statement. It doesn’t even make sense. My guys have the freedom to do what they want to do.”

“It’s even me. It took me until the start of the Big Ten [schedule] to look at stats and saying, ‘Ten less shots’. Our defense was [holding opponents] to 40 percent and under, and how many layups were people getting on us in turnovers? I tried to use the incredible positives, like when we don’t turn it over we’re shooting 48 percent, we’re shooting 40 percent from the three. We’re shooting 78 percent from the [free throw] line. If we get more chances, look what we could do.”

“Not every kid wants to play defense, but nobody wants to turn the ball over because everybody wants more shots, including me. So, we’ve tried to handle it differently. Probably went off on them a few times, probably hugged and kissed them a few times and trying to find the happy in-between.”

“The [turnover] bunches are the killers, and sometimes, maybe I should waste a timeout earlier. Because those bunches – we’ve had eight and nine [turnovers] in eight and nine minutes more than once. And then we’ve gone, like last week, 23 or 24 minutes without a turnover, or with two turnovers. It makes such a difference.”

“In just that [Illinois] game alone, just look at the difference. You talk about the defense – the defense gets energized by not turning the ball over too. They last ten minutes, they don’t score and we don’t turn it over and all of a sudden the game changes.”

“I know it’s frustrating, and I wish I had an answer for you, but I promise you this – there’s been a lot of sleepless nights over trying to figure it out. There’s been a lot of phone calls to coaches all over the country.”

On rebounding improvement:

“We’ve kind of gotten after it a little more these last two weeks and we’re not worried about guys being run down, or this and that. I do think we’re rebounding better. Our grading out in the last two games has been phenomenal, with guys that are cutting out. We’re not giving up offensive rebounds which, as you know, was the other [problem]. I mean, Northwestern – what’d we have, 17 turnovers and they had 17 offensive rebounds? So the number of shots, I think they had 68 and we had 51 or something. How is it a two point game? Because, for the most part our defense was good, we just weren’t finishing the job with the normal Michigan State cutout – rebound and run. That’s how that all adds up.”

“If you’re great at everything, you’d be the No. 1 team in the country and then we just sign up for the Final Four. We’re a long ways from that. We understand who we are and what we are. We don’t have a big margin for error. In Illinois, and Michigan, and maybe Purdue – maybe the talent level is a little different. But I like some of our veterans that know what they’re doing, and I like the fact that we have some guys that have been through the wars too. I think this team is going to keep growing. It’s not that long ago that we had a nine-game winning streak. I’m going to keep looking at the positive end of it, I just want to improve in a couple of areas.”