Exclusive: Tom Izzo on seeding, guard play, and keys to a Final Four run

Seven years in the past, Michigan State suffered one of many largest upsets within the historical past of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The Spartans, led by All-American guard Denzel Valentine, ran right into a red-hot-shooting Middle Tennessee State crew and ended up on the flawed finish of a 90-81 defeat. It was simply the eighth time in match historical past {that a} No. 15 seed had knocked off a 2-seed.

Fast-forward to the current, and MSU head coach Tom Izzo has his crew again within the Big Dance for a twenty fifth consecutive season, the longest such streak amongst Division I males’s basketball coaches. 

Izzo’s crew earned a powerful 72-62 opening-round win over USC on Friday and can tackle No. 2 seed Marquette within the Round of 32 on Sunday. The Spartans, who’ve received six of their final 9 video games, are a well-liked upset alternative heading into Sunday’s matchup and have even been talked about as a sneaky Final Four choose by a number of nationwide media members. 

But Izzo is aware of what it’s prefer to be on each ends of the spectrum — he is been knocked off as a excessive seed, and he is made a Final Four as a 7-seed (2015).

“I’ve been to the Final Four as a 1-seed, and I’ve been beaten in the first weekend [as a 2-seed],” Izzo stated in an unique interview with FOX Sports faculty basketball reporter John Fanta. “I really don’t think the seeding is as important right now. It’s how you’re playing and what your team is like.”

The Spartans handed their first check towards USC by irritating the Trojans from begin to end with suffocating protection and well timed shot-making. Izzo’s crew held a USC group that was averaging 72.5 factors per contest to simply 62 factors on 41% taking pictures from the ground.

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“They played well, and I give them credit,” USC senior Drew Peterson stated after being held to simply 11 factors on 4-of-10 taking pictures. “They played a very solid defense.”

While protection is and at all times has been a calling card for Izzo’s groups, there was one other side of Friday’s sport that left him feeling hopeful about his crew’s probabilities transferring ahead.

“Not turning the ball over,” Izzo stated. “If we can take care of the ball against Marquette, that will have a lot to do with the outcome of that game.”

The numbers actually again up Izzo’s declare: The Spartans ranked twelfth out of 14 groups within the Big Ten in turnover margin (-0.97) this season and went 5-5 when committing at the least 12 turnovers.

It’s a telling stat for a crew that depends closely on the play of its guards. The trio of A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins mix to common 37 factors per sport, which is greater than 50% of the Spartans’ scoring offense.

“Guard play is big in the tournament,” Izzo stated. “Right now, we have three guards playing at a really high level. They’re a group that plays well together. 

“As my level guard goes, we go. And he [Hoggard] has been actually good currently, so hopefully we are able to go on a bit run right here.”

Hoggard will be matched up against another elite-level point guard on Sunday, as Marquette’s Tyler Kolek, the Big East Conference Player of the Year, ranks third nationally in assists (7.6 per game).

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Containing Kolek and a Marquette offense that averages 80 points per game will be vital for Izzo and the Spartans.

“If we are able to put that offense and protection collectively — trigger we’ve clearly been actually good offensively the final month — then we’ve obtained a run in us,” said Izzo. “If not, and we don’t need to guard, then we’re most likely going house.”

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