Tom Izzo Not Looking Past, “Unlucky” Gophers Tonight at Breslin

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Tom Izzo Not Looking Past, “Unlucky” Gophers

When No. 25 Michigan State (19-8 10-4) tips off tonight at the Breslin Center against Minnesota (16-12 5-10) don’t overlook the Gophers. Playing the legendary up tempo Pitino style of his father, Richard Pitino’s Gophers have struggled at times do to their own mistakes, but Tom Izzo adds they have simply been unlucky.

Izzo said of the Gophers season, “They are among the leaders in the whole nation is steals. We all know that. They press. But they have two guys playing their best basketball in Hollins and Walker. One big one guard. Maybe the scariest stat for me because I had them pegged as a sleeper along with Iowa, is the number of close games. Nine conference games have been decided by six points, seven they lost. That has been the difference. When they lost those six at the start of the season or whatever they lost they were all very close games. I think that speaks volumes. That they are a very good team and they’ve just been a little bit unlucky and just didn’t get the job done.”

You must ask the question, why have the Gophers been unlucky? Certainly a lack of execution at times and sometimes the ball simply didn’t drop or bounce their way. Izzo had his own theory on why they haven’t got it done.

“A lot of it was Hollins, he was really struggling early and he’s been on a couple of week rampage. He has really op his game up a lot. Walker the weight he has lost and how he is playing is a lot better than last year. They have some good young kids that they are starting and they have started a bigger lineup, at least they have the last couple of games. With a 6’9” wing guy and those things can cause a problem for us. My biggest concern is whether we continue to take care of the basketball and continue to play at the high level we’ve been playing at as far as our three stars. Whether we can get our role players playing a little bit better. I still want to get a little more out of Alvin Ellis. I still want to get a little more out of Marvin Clark.”

The Spartans are on a tear. They have one six of their last seven games and with the Spartans only major change having been moving Lourawls TUM TUM Nairn in to the starting lineup and bring Travis Trice off the bench the question begs to be asked. Why didn’t Izzo make this change earlier in the season?

“You know, that’s a good question. I mean, you know, I, I, I suppose in some ways it could have happened earlier. I’m trying to figure out in my own mind, it’s not like Travis didn’t do this, this and this. I still think a lot of it had to do with the way we wore people down early. And I see guys on other teams now that are playing 36, 38 minutes a game are starting to wear down. So I think part of the issue was we had to get Travis to the point where he knew what his role was, and he’s got the most multi-dimensional role on the team, really. You can say Valentine does but in my mind Trice does because he’s got to score, he’s got to still run the team, he’s got to guard usually a very good player. And then run our break, which is taxing on a point guard. So maybe Tum could have done it a little bit earlier, maybe it would have helped Trav a little bit earlier. But we were in such disarray most of the months of November and December with those injuries, hoping to get players back, that I’m not sure we could have done it much earlier. Maybe a little but not much.”

Legendary Iowa Hawkeye and current BTN analyst Jess Settles said earlier in the week on Spartan Nation Radio that the Spartans success is that they have figured out the roles of the players. A consistent trait in Izzo coached teams. I had to ask Izzo if he agreed with Settle’s analysis

“I do agree with that. I think that is every team’s goal. Bill Belichick coined the phrase do your job. It’s hard, especially in basketball. Everyone wants to do someone else’s job. Everyone wants to hear how from someone else how great they are doing scoring or what they are doing. If you look at the greatest players we have had they are guys that did their job. Right now we are getting more out of Dawson in that respect. I think both of our centers struggle at times, but they do their jobs. I think Travis is more comfortable in what he’s doing right now. And Tum, you know, understands he’s not a great shooter so ‘I’ll do my job.’ And so I think Jess is right, but I think that’s true for a lot of teams. But maybe especially true for this year’s team. I was just talking to Jake Boss and we talked about seniors having to adjust from role players to star players. Everybody wants to be able to do that, but not many can accept the responsibility that goes along with it. I think what we’re getting out of our upperclassmen is they’re starting to accept the responsibility – a little later than you’d hope. But as the saying goes, better late than never.”

As the Spartans prep for the Gophers press is Izzo worried after his tea floundered in Illinois when they faced it? “Well I thought we did an incredible job against Illinois. Every one of their fans thought we were phenomenal against it. We just handed it to them one time after another. But in general, the two areas that I think we’ve been incredibly successful in has been against pressure and against zones. Sometimes I don’t know how or why. We have had a few issues when maybe teams surprise us, or it’s an all-out, or maybe we’re in foul trouble and we have the wrong people in the wrong spots, but for the most part, over the years, presses have not bothered us that much and zones have not bothered us as much as sometimes I think they should or would.”

Izzo went on to say of his team’s failure handing the pressure and press at Illinois, “I thought some of what we did the other day was just basketball 101 and we flunked it, from the coaching staff to the players. I mean in-bounding the ball two inches from the baseline, you know? Just some mistakes that were made that we played right into their hands.”

What is Izzo expecting? “We’re going to get pressed, zoned, manned. We’re going to get everything that they can throw at us. And this team (Minnesota) has been an eyelash from being very good. And they are 16-11 and I think they have one of the best non-conference records (in the Big Ten). So I have great respect. And when they play a different style a little bit, something your guys don’t see all the time, how they handle it will be important. And you never know until you see a steady dose of that. It’s not just pressing at the end of the game; it could be throughout the whole game.”

Either way when the ball tips at 7PM tonight, if you aren’t in Breslin Center you better we snuggled up to the Big Ten Network.