Izzo Refocused for B1G Apple & Beyond

Izzo Refocused for B1G Apple & Beyond

Jack Doyle

Izzo Refocused for B1G Apple & Beyond

Spartans to follow Izzo’s lead with fresh intensity in New York City.

It’s March, and for “Mr. March,” it’s time to focus on basketball.

For over a month, Tom Izzo has had to deal with the fallout of ESPN’s vacuous Outside The Lines reporting, the confirmed $40 NCAA violation committed by Miles Bridges’ family members, and the corresponding questions that followed.

At times, Izzo has handled those questions poorly, knowing that it was best not to address the allegations at a press conference but having trouble keeping a cap on his unfiltered responses.

On Wednesday, on the eve of college basketball’s greatest month and the Big Ten Tournament, the Spartans’ head coach put the hammer down in an effort to limit the outside distractions and get his team focused.

He addressed the Larry Nassar survivors and the MSU community, saying he and his players will do everything they can to help heal. He also noted that the Bridges’ controversy was settled with the NCAA clearing the MSU star to play. He then said that any further questions would be answered if those questions were central to the game of basketball.

“We’re not answering questions anymore on anything but basketball. I owe it to them, and I mean this strongly, I owe it to my players, and my staff. We are going to focus in because it has been a lot of distractions, and I tried to do the best I could do it for all of you, and never cut off our locker room or anything else.”

“But now it is going to be basketball time, these players this staff deserves to focus in on basketball. That’s what we are going to do, and see if we can make this incredible year even more special.”

From a basketball perspective, this refocus should worry MSU’s March opponents, the first of which will be in the Big Ten Tournament.

Based on Wisconsin’s 59-54 victory over Maryland earlier today, the Badgers will get another quick crack at MSU. This means that the Spartans will play back-to-back games against the same team for only the third time under Tom Izzo. In each of the previous two rematches, MSU played better in the 2nd game than it had in the first.

That trend will not be an exception tomorrow. Even though Wisconsin boasts more alumni in New York City versus Spartan alumni (landgrantholyland.com), the Badgers won’t have the home court advantage it enjoyed for last Sunday’s narrow State victory. And “All-World” Brad Davison won’t be nearly as good. Look for Wisconsin to start strong but MSU to pull away for a double-digit victory.

While UMAA is on the #5 line for the Big Ten Tournament, it will be the favorite to advance to Saturday. The Wolverines should make short work of Iowa, setting up a revenge game of sorts against #4 Nebraska. UMAA fell hard in Lincoln, losing by 20 in mid January. Since then, Beilein and company have been warming up the bus, winning eight of ten and looking very good doing so. UMAA beats the Cornhuskers by seven, setting up a revenge game of sorts against MSU.

MSU lost to UMAA by 10 points, also in January. The game wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated as UMAA took advantage against a spread out MSU defense and a point guard (Cassius Winston) who had trouble defending the dribble drive of Zavier Simpson. But that was nearly seven weeks ago. MSU has rattled off 12 straight victories, partially due to its improved defense.

The lock-down emergence of reserve Gavin Schilling, combined with improved focus and determination of Winston (Izzo had enough confidence in Cassius to put him on Davison in the closing stages of last Sunday’s game) have helped MSU improve into a national top-10 team defensively. And it may have found a solution to UMAA’s spread-em-out philosophy when Izzo employed a “circle-and-one” philosophy against Purdue, one of the nation’s top teams at draining the long ball.

MSU kept four out on the arc, daring the Boilermakers to score inside over and over and over and over again. And score Matt Painter’s team did, with Isaac Haas netting 25 points in the paint. But the big man wore down late and missed a couple of key buckets in closing time as MSU pulled out the win.

While the Wolverines have a big German in Moritz Wagner, who can work inside or out, it doesn’t have the array of deep shooters that Purdue boasts.  Izzo and company will dare Simpson to challenge them with some top-of-the-key looks, and unless the young man from Lima, OH shoots lights out, UMAA will get the nice consolation prize of spending Sunday in New York with nothing to do. MSU by six.

Purdue beats Ohio State with relative ease setting up another titanic tilt between the Big Ten’s two best teams. That game might be too close to call for the national pundits, but give the edge to the Spartans. MSU’s depth will keep its collective legs fresher late in the 2nd half. And the Spartans have the tournament’s biggest intangible advantage.

A refocused Tom Izzo in the month of March.

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