At this time last week, pundits and fans were wondering if the Michigan State Spartans would even make it into this year's NCAA Tournament. The Spartans were squarely on the bubble and in jeopardy of having their string of consecutive March Madness appearances snapped at 12.
Not so fast. Thanks to a solid showing in the Big 10 Tournament, Tom Izzo's bunch is back in the Big Dance. And quite frankly, despite being just a 10 seed, their draw in the Souteast Region looks pretty darn favorable. The Spartans open with No. 7 seed UCLA -- a tough matchup for sure, but a winnable game. Were MSU to win, they'd likely face Florida who nobody feels was deserving of their No. 2 seed. From where I'm sitting, the No. 1 seed in the region, Pittsburgh, is the most vulnerable of all the top seeds. But one game at a time for Izzo's squad. That's the approach they've taken during their run to the Final Four the past two years.
Izzo joined WDFN in Detroit to talk about the Spartans' upcoming first round game against the UCLA Bruins, the fine line between staying in the moment and drawing on the experiences of the past, and how despite being frustrated with the overall trajectory of the season, that the team's goals are all still achievable heading in to the Big Dance. (Partial transcription via: SRI)
Which player on UCLA poses the biggest mismatch:
"I think it is Honeycutt, he is 6’8’’. Right now our wing guys are more 6’1’’, 6’3’’, 6’4 and I think Summers is going to have… I don’t know why but I feel that this has been a tough year for Durrell, and I think he is going to bounce back, but him having to go against a 6’8’ guy is a little bit more difficult. Last year we had Raymar Morgan, who was 6’8’’ himself. The big guys inside we can rotate people, the guard guards with the quickness with Appling, and of course, Kalin, I think we can handle that, but it is a difficult matchup. Penn State had a kid, Brooks, at 6’8’’ sometimes that gives us a little bit of a problem."
How he tries to get his team to realize the NCAA tournament is like another season:
"Well you got to tune them out to the outside because that happens a lot, because they watch TV, they listen to the radio, they read the newspapers, they get twitter, and they get texts, they go through all that, but I think that is one thing. The second thing is, what is unique about is, two years ago we went to the Final Four with a pretty good team. Last year we went to the Final Four with a mass unit. You look at three starters that could barely play in the Final Four because of injuries so they have seen it done both ways and, you know, we lost in the first round of the Big Ten tournament and made the Final Four, we have won the whole thing and made a Final Four, so when you have some history and tradition, and then you have players. Don’t forget, we have six players that have been to two Final Fours, so I think you can go back to that, are you begging, borrowing and stealing a little bit? But sure, that is what life is all about, trying to get people to live in the present and motivate them to understand when they can’t do something, and when they have already done it before in some ways it makes it a little easier."