Nov 9, 2011, 11:20 AM EST
It’s easy to call this a rebuilding season for Michigan State.
After all, the program graduated two high-profile players after last season: Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers played prominent roles for four seasons in East Lansing and led the Spartans to two Final Fours. Not only are they gone this season, but MSU fell far short of expectations last year—the team was favored to contend for a national championship and instead barely qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Considering that the 2011-12 Spartans still carry the weight of last season’s disappointment, and that they don’t have Lucas and Summers to lead them, Michigan State is likely to take a step back, right?
Tom Izzo doesn’t agree. He knows this season’s rotation isn’t yet proven, but he likes the amount of talent and depth on hand. He also thinks that this team will benefit from strong chemistry and leadership—Mateen Cleaves-like leadership, in fact, and while that comparison puts plenty of pressure on senior forward Draymond Green, it also speaks to how highly Izzo thinks of Green.
You get the sense that Izzo likes this team, and that he thinks if some things break his way this season might not just exceed fans’ tempered expectations—it could shatter them. Below, Izzo explains why this could be a special and surprising season in East Lansing.
Q: What’s your sense of your team heading into this season? What’s possible for this group?
Tom Izzo: We’ve got a lot of unknowns. I like the unknowns. Is [Derrick] Nix going to keep the weight off? He looks great right now. Adreian Payne is someone we think is going to have a chance to be one of the better big men we’ve had. He had shoulder surgery at the end of high school and missed six or seven months [before his freshman season], and so this will really be like his first year. Russell Byrd, a guy who would be one of our best shooters, he had a stress fracture [before his freshman season in 2010-11] that just never healed in 14 months, but now it looks like it’s healed. So I’m excited, but all those things are question marks.
I think we’ve got a lot of positives. We’ve got [freshman] Branden Dawson, who I think has got a chance to be a star. I think we’ve got a couple of great players in [Keith] Appling and Dawson and Payne, and Draymond Green, Up front we also have and Nix and Alex Gauna.
[In the backcourt], we brought a transfer in, Brandon Wood [from Valparaiso], who I think is going to help us. And I think [freshman point guard] Travis Trice will help us immediately.
So I think we’ve got depth. It’s just not depth that I’m [confident] of, because so many of those guys are coming off of either injures or a redshirt, or the one transfer. So you don’t quite sleep as good, especially with the schedule we’ve got.
But it’s exciting because I think our team chemistry is even better [than in 2010-11], and I think we’ve worked awfully hard in the off-season. I’m really excited for all the chances and opportunities we’ve got. We’ve had teams like this in the past that people would write off, and then later we’re right in there as contenders, and we’ve done very well in those years. I’m hoping this will be one of those teams.
Q: Is Draymond Green the kind of leader who can help propel this team to have one of those special seasons?
Tom Izzo: Yeah, I think he’s going to be that leader—the kind of leader that Travis Walton was in 2009 when we went to the Final Four with a team that nobody thought could do it. And even though it’s hard to match what Cleaves did back in 2000, I think Green has a chance to be that kind of leader.
Last year, we had some good players, but we just didn’t have the right chemistry, I didn’t feel, and we didn’t have the leadership that I think you need. When you win 19 or 20 games, you make the NCAA Tournament. But what I’m talking about is when you make deep runs in the Tournament—you need big-time leadership for that. And I think with Green we’ve got a big-time leader.
Q: Mateen Cleaves was a transcendent leader for a couple of seasons; it’s a little surprising to hear you say you had a leadership void last season, considering you think so highly of Green’s leadership—and he was a junior on that team. Do you think Green didn’t assert himself out of deference to last season’s seniors?
Tom Izzo: I think so. We had a weird deal with [Kalin] Lucas and [Durrell] Summers. Lucas had an Achilles’ injury, and he really missed six months. It took up until January for him to really get back on track with that Achilles. So for a lot of last season—and this is not to make excuses—but I think there were legitimate reasons why we never seemed in sync. Some of it was our fault—some of it was chemistry and some of it was performance—but some of it was also due to injuries and situations that we had no control over.
Put that together and you have a season that none of us feel good about. But when you have a bad season and you still win almost 20 games and you go the NCAA Tournament, that’s not all bad, either.
Q: One last question about the Big Ten newbie. What do you expect from Nebraska this season? How difficult will it be for Nebraska to adjust to the Big Ten?
Tom Izzo: I think it’s going to be hard on them and hard on us. [Doc Sadler] is a very, very good coach, and nobody in our league has been [to Lincoln recently]. I was there a lot of years ago, but it’s never easy to do that—to go into a new environment, a new situation.
I think [Sadler] is a very good coach, and he thinks he’s going to have a decent team. Everybody looks at Nebraska and just thinks about football, but Doc has done a great job for them down there, and he’s tough to play against.
He’s a very defensive-minded coach. [Because of Nebraska’s defense], you can play good and win by five, play great and win by six, or play average and lose. And that’s a problem.
So yeah, they’re going to have an adjustment—but so are we.
Steve Hendershot is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @stevehendershot
Dec 19, 2014, 11:45 PM EST
Here’s a rundown of Friday night’s action.
Alex Mitola’s buzzer-beater three gives Dartmouth a 58-55 overtime win over Northern Illinois (VIDEO)
Dec 19, 2014, 11:12 PM EST
Alex Mitola ended with 18 points for the Big Green.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:13 PM EST
Eastern Kentucky had 14 threes. Miami had 12 field goals.
Dec 19, 2014, 8:59 PM EST
The senior forward is apparently playing for the Wisconsin Bearcats.
Dec 19, 2014, 7:30 PM EST
Villanova is off to another good start in the regular season, but heading into the New Year, the Wildcats will need to rack up the wins in postseason play.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:49 PM EST
The SMU forward missed the first 10 games.
Dec 19, 2014, 6:15 PM EST
The Gators could be shorthanded once again in Saturday’s non-conference contest with Wake Forest.
Dec 19, 2014, 5:00 PM EST
The Indiana sophomore was struck by a vehicle driven by a teammate back in November.
Dec 19, 2014, 4:15 PM EST
Antravious Simmons averaged 0.7 points and 0.7 rebounds as a redshirt freshman at VCU.
Dec 19, 2014, 3:27 PM EST
The Wildcats are on the road to take on one of Conference USA’s best teams in UTEP, and both No. 18 Miami and No. 20 St. John’s are in action as well.
Dec 19, 2014, 2:44 PM EST
Jordan Gathers had yet to play in a game this season after undergoing hip surgery in June.
Dec 19, 2014, 1:26 PM EST
Kansas State is one of many programs looking to land Semi Ojeleye, but all of their scholarships are accounted for currently.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:04 PM EST
Jones’ dunk on five-star forward Cody Riley is one of the best you’ll see this year.
Dec 19, 2014, 11:30 AM EST
When you talk Duke basketball in 2014-15, you start with Player of the Year candidate Jahlil Okafor, but there are plenty of other keys to Duke’s success as we get closer to the new year.
Dec 19, 2014, 10:30 AM EST
Patrick Cole has been suspended indefinitely.
Dec 19, 2014, 9:00 AM EST
Oklahoma-Washington, Ohio State-North Carolina and UCLA-Kentucky are just three of the marquee matchups.
Dec 19, 2014, 12:41 AM EST
Even with the win there are things Duke needs to improve upon, most notably the fact that they’ve committed 36 turnovers over the last two games.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:45 PM EST
Also of note was Ole Miss avoiding what would have been their fourth home loss of the season.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:44 PM EST
Jabari McGhee suffered the injury in Tennessee’s loss to NC State on Wednesday.
Dec 18, 2014, 7:09 PM EST
Branden Dawson is the team’s leading rebounder, as he’s grabbing 8.7 boards per contest.
- Markus Kennedy cleared to play immediately for SMU 0
- Weekend Preview: A loaded Saturday slate highlights the weekend 4
- Rebounding, foul shooting help No. 2 Duke make up for 19 turnovers in win over UConn 0
- Michigan State starting forward to miss next two games with non-displaced wrist fracture 0
- Film Session: What’s plaguing Marcus Paige? 1
- Throwback Thursday: UConn ‘Shocks The World’ against Duke (VIDEO) 1
- New Year’s Resolutions: Virginia Cavaliers 1
- Gregg Marshall writes to Wichita State students after seeing empty seats in student section (PHOTO) (7)
- Report: David Robinson’s son will be preferred walk-on at Duke in 2015-16 (VIDEO) (6)
- West Virginia’s Bob Huggins torches Marshall after coach calls Huggs ‘afraid’ (5)
- Without Alex Poythress, No. 1 Kentucky’s offense looks comfortable in win over No. 21 North Carolina (4)
- Lauren Hill’s playing career over, to become honorary coach (4)