March 7, 2011

One-and-done time arrives early for MSU, Izzo

  • Izzo Podium Audio, today.

    EAST LANSING - Coming off one of the most disappointing losses of the season, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo now heads toward what has traditionally been the most successful, memorable part of the year: tournament time.

    "The regular season is important, the Big Ten Tournament is important but the NCAA Tournament is important," Izzo said during Monday's press conference. "It just happens that we are starting ours a little earlier. We are starting ours on Thursday."

    This weekend's event may as well be an NCAA Tournament play-in for the Spartans. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi lists Michigan State as being one of the last four teams in the NCAA Tournament field, by his unofficial projections. Michigan State will face Iowa in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

    If MSU goes 1-1 in the Big Ten Tournament, it might be enough for the Spartans to get a bid and keep the nation's third-longest streak alive. Win two games at the Big Ten Tournament, which would include an upset of Purdue, and the Spartans would probably move back into the "lock" category.

    If Michigan State loses to Iowa, the Spartans' streak of 13 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances will likely come to an end.

    Izzo is banking on tournament experience helping the Spartans this weekend, and possibly next week. But first, Izzo and his players must navigate unfamiliar circumstances.

    "I got a call from a famous coach today who said, 'You are going to struggle with this because you really haven't gone through it,'" Izzo said. "He said, 'You are not very often on this bubble talk.' Since the first year I went to the NCAA Tournament (in 1998), I don't remember being on it. Maybe one year. It was always seed talk. So when you haven't been through something, it is more difficult."

    But Izzo believes his Spartans should be able to handle the seriousness of the moment.

    "Normally I would be worried about the pressure you are putting on the Iowa game, but these guys have played in something like 14 one-and-done games in the NCAA Tournament," Izzo said. "When you do that, that's experience.

    "I don't think there is a magical switch, or a wand, or ferry dust. But I do think they understand it because they have been there. Like I told Draymond Green, we are just trying to get people to do things they have done before, which should be easier. But confidence is a funny thing."

    Michigan State's confidence was high after last week's 85-66 victory over Iowa on Senior Night. The Spartans shot 54 percent from the field that night, one of their best shooting performances of the season. But Michigan State reverted back to its mid-season woes by shooting 32 percent during a 70-63 loss at Michigan on Saturday.

    Meanwhile, Iowa is coming off a 67-65 victory over Purdue on Saturday, marking perhaps the biggest upset of the year in the conference.

    "I heard Matt Painter talking on the Big Ten (teleconference today) and talking about his seniors and he said the fact that E'Twaun Moore and JuJuan Johnson have been to the NCAA Tournament and they have won a game in it will help," Izzo said. "I have guys that have been to Final Fours in the NCAA Tournament. But I don't think it is a (matter of flicking a) switch as much as two things. One, getting through all the different things that have happened to this team and getting healthy. Two, would be the fact that they know they can win in one-and-done time, because they have done it."

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