First Round Notes and Quotes: Marquette
First Round Notes and Quotes: Marquette vs. Michigan State Post-gameÂMarch 13, 2007Â
Notes * Under Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State has held six opponents to less than 50 points. The list includes Oklahoma (54-46 in 1999 round of eight), Valparaiso (65-38 in 2000 round of 64), Wisconsin (53-41 in 2000 Final Four), Alabama State (69-35 in 2001 round of 64), Florida (68-46 in the 2003 round of 16) and now Marquette (61-49 in 2007 round of 64). The 35 points by Alabama State are the fewest by any team in the NCAA Tournament since 2000.
* Michigan State improves to 23-11 and advances to play the winner of North Carolina and Eastern Kentucky in the second round on Saturday at Joel Coliseum.
* Marquette sees its season end at 24-10 and is the first higher seed (#8) in this years tournament (through 10 completed games) to lose to a lower seed. #6 Duke lost to #11 VCU moments after the completion of the contest in Winston-Salem.
* Michigan State improves to 41-19 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 16-5 in first round games. The Spartans are making their 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the second-longest streak in Big Ten history and the fifth-longest active streak in the nation. Only four schools have an active streak longer than Michigan States: Arizona (23), Kansas (18), Kentucky (16) and Duke (12).
* Spartan coach Tom Izzo runs his career NCAA Tournament record to 24-8. Among active coaches, his 75.0 winning percentage ranks third behind only Dukes Mike Krzyzewski and Louisvilles Rick Pitino. Izzos career record improves to 278- 120 in 12 years in East Lansing.
* Marquette is eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the first round for the fourth time in its last five appearances. The exception was its 2003 run to the Final Four. The Eagles are now 32-26 in 27 all-time NCAA Tournament appearances.
* Golden Eagle coach Tom Crean sees his record fall to 165-86 through eight years in Milwaukee and his NCAA Tournament record slip to 4-4 overall.
* Michigan State guard Drew Neitzel finished with 12 points to become the 37th player in Spartan history to reach the 1,000 point plateau. Neitzel scored in double figures for the 32nd time in 34 games this season and the 48th time in his career.
* Michigan State forward Marquise Gray scored in double figures for the 9th time this season and the first time since January 20th at Penn State. He had 12 points.
* Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan scored in double figures for the 21st time this season. He finished with 14 points.
* Marquette did not score until the 10:20 mark of the first half. At that point, Michigan State led 14-0.
* Michigan State center Idong Ibok left the game with 6:37 remaining in the first half with an arm injury.
* Michigan State led at the half, 30-18. The Spartans entered the game with a 16-1 record when leading at intermission while the Golden Eagles were 1-8 when trailing. Marquettes largest halftime deficit of the season was nine, vs. Providence on January 3rd. Tonight, the Eagles trailed by 12 at the half.
* Oddly enough, the Golden Eagles did not make a two-point field goal in the first half. They hit four three-pointers and six free throws, but no field goals from inside the arc. Marquettes first two-point field goal (and its first points in the paint) came at the 18:12 mark of the second half.
* Marquette guard Dominic James scored in double figures for the 25th time in 34 games. He finished with 18 points.
* Marquette posted season lows in the following categories: points (49), field goals (15), first half points (18) and tied a season-low for assists (7). It was not their worst shooting performance of the season, though. The Golden Eagles shot 29.2 percent in a win against Idaho State early in the year. Tonight, they shot 31.9 percent.
* Prior to this game, Marquettes largest deficit at any point this season was 18 vs. Georgetown on February 10. Michigan State led Marquette by as many as 20.
MICHIGAN STATE HEAD COACH TOM IZZO
Opening statement: It was one of the more difficult games I have played. It was a very difficult prep week for me, and yet I learned that you are going to have to play your friends once in a while. I thought we had to get back to our identity. We did a heck of a job defensively and they made some big shots at the end. I thought our defense, in trying to stop that penetration; there were five guys who did it. It was a great team effort. I am just happy we won.
Is the team where it needs to be? First of all, there is no condemning. We had some struggles at the end of the year. I didnt think all year long we had the defensive mentality you need to win. It wasnt all the players. I think I got soft. What I would like to do is take a couple years ago offense and this years defense, and thats what I am shooting for next year. I dont want to be just a defensive team. I want to run it every time we get it and I want to defend every time were on the other end. Basketball is a two-way game. Teams that advance and that are really good have to be good at both ends.
How satisfying is it to have players other than Neitzel come through? I keep saying Ramon Morgan is getting better. If he hadnt had that injury and missed six weeks, I think that kid would be the top freshman in the conference and be up there with some other really good ones. Maurice Joseph has worked really hard on his free-throw shooting and weve spent some time together. He looked like the player that I have been telling all of you he could and should be. They [Marquette] stuck with Drew pretty good and thank God our other guys came through.
Were you worried about not getting a good defensive effort? I wasnt worried about it because all year I wasnt giving our team credit about how good we were defensively. You look back and in 30 games we did the job in 28 of them. Sometimes we lost some games because we didnt do the job converting turnovers in our offense. We have been pretty good defensively.
Did you think the familiarity with the teams went both ways? Their personnel is different than the way people see us - the way we play this year. Those of you that follow us (know) it is not the way we normally play. Then we got into foul trouble. A couple years ago Jake Hannon was lassoing buffalo and now hes playing in the NCAA Tournament eight or 10 minutes. That hurt how we were going to play when we decided to walk it up. Thats not the way we normally play over the years and we had to this year. We did what we had to do. They run some different stuff, we run some different stuff. I was proud of 17 assists on 22 baskets. I think thats a very important stat for us.
Could you tell us about the things Drew Neitzel does other than scoring to help you win? The big pass to Marquise Gray I thought was big turning point. That got us up almost to 20. Give Marquette credit, they really came back on us. He [Neitzel] is so much better defensively than people give him credit, including me. I keep saying that, I am not sure I believe it. Ive had a career here where most scorers Ive had its illegal to play defense if you are a scorer. Drew is a small guy, who doesnt weigh much, but hes done a great job defensively and I dont think he gets enough credit for it.
What do you think about potentially seeing UNC in the next round of the tournament? Ive seen them play a lot of times. Marquette runs the ball as good as most teams weve played. I told our players the next team could be at warp speed. With McNeill, I think Marquette runs the ball well too, and even without him very well. At least we didnt play a team that didnt walk it up. At least we had some prep for something we are probably going to see in a couple days.
STUDENT-ATHLETES TRAVIS WALTON AND DREW NEITZEL
On allowing five two-point field goals and MSUs defensive mindset: Neitzel: Thats been our mindset for the whole season winning through defense. We dont have the most dynamic weapons on the offensive end, so weve had to rely on our team defense the whole season. In this game we wanted to force them to take outside shots. We wanted to limit their penetration by shrinking the gaps and not letting them get to the basket. I think we did that for the most part.
On MSUs familiarity with Marquettes style: Walton: We were familiar with their things. We executed pretty well. Our bigs set good screens. The guards came off the screens pretty well. For the most part we had a lot of open shots.
Neitzel: I think our coaching staff did a great job of preparing us through scouting. We knew all of their sets. It was team defense. It wasnt just one-on-one. We really shrunk the gaps and forced them to take outside shots, even their best shooters. We forced their touches on the perimeter.
On the games physical play: Neitzel: Thats going to happen, especially with coach (Tom) Crean. He preaches defense and playing physical. Thats what coach Izzo taught him. I knew it was going to be that way and you just have to play through that sometimes. You have to give them credit to try to limit me by playing me physical. The other guys stepped up and made some big plays for us.
On scoring his 1,000th career point in the second half: Neitzel: I didnt know that, actually. I dont know what to say. I dont know how many people at Michigan State have scored a 1,000, but its a good honor.
On not allowing any two-point field goals in the first half and its demoralizing effect on Marquette: Neitzel: When we started the game, it was 14-0. We talked about that before the game; coming out and getting a strong start. They made some shots. They hit a couple of deep threes on us in the first half, but we kept sticking to our game plan and it worked out, especially in the second half.
Walton: We stuck to the game plan and played great team defense. We stuck together and closed up gaps. For the most part we closed up all of the gaps. (We had a) great start and we did a great job on team defense.
On Michigan States forwards early foul trouble and minutes provided by Jake Hannon: Walton: This team is surprising. We have a surprising squad, with people stepping up. Jake Hannon works hard in practice every day. He challenges our bigs every day.
When he first came in, he got a deflection. He did a great job. It says a lot about our walk-ons and how much they give to our team. He did a great job. He picked us up and gave us a lot of energy.
On moving into the second round: Neitzel: Any time youre in this tournament, you want to win and move on. Were not sure who were going to play yet, but this is a big step for us. Not only making the tournament was a big goal for us, but now weve changed our goals to advance in this tournament. Were on the right path now. It feels good, especially after that tough loss last year to George Mason, to get back on the winning way.
How Neitzel has responded to Izzos challenge at the end of last season: Neitzel: To be honest, I try to do everything he wants me to do. He demands perfection, but thats what every great coach does. Im going to keep trying and were always going to keep trying as a team. He has great experience in this tournament and a ton of success, so were just going to follow his lead and let him carry us.
On Neitzels shot off the top of the backboard: Neitzel: That might have been one of the craziest shots that Ive ever made in my entire basketball career. Marquette did a great job. They were forcing me to take tough shots. They were on me all over the court. Even when I was cutting through, they were constantly bumping me. You have to give them a lot of credit. I guess you call that the shooters roll.
On MSUs focus on defense and containing Marquettes top scorers: Walton: We knew they were great players and they penetrated real well, so we just wanted to give them six eyes and shut up all of the gaps. Theyve been driving on a lot of teams this year and getting a lot of points to go into the basket, so we wanted to make them earn it from the outside.
Did you feel any sympathy for Marquettes scoreless draught to open the game? Neitzel: Not at the time. Youre trying to beat them 50 to nothing, if you can. At the time youre not thinking that at all, youre just trying to bury them even more. Thats been our staple the whole season, just our defense and thats what won us the game tonight.
On the injury to Idong Ibok: Neitzel: I definitely felt for him. I took one look at his elbow and it was nasty. I was glad to see him come back to the bench and feeling alright. Im sure its sore. That was tough. It happens, but we kept on pushing without him.
MARQUETTE HEAD COACH TOM CREAN
Opening comments: I thought Michigan State did a great job especially defensively. I think so much of this game was outside of the initial shots that they hit where we struggled and missed. They executed their game plan defensively we didnt execute ours. The credit goes to them, but at the same time we have to share in the blame for why we didnt win. There have been three areas all year long where we have been in a struggle or we have been inconsistent. These three areas show up: post defense, pick and roll defense and our talking. All three of those showed up in the wrong way tonight. The players to my left (Dominic James and Wesley Matthews) played outstanding and the numbers may not prove it, but that is not the issue and I think they have done an excellent job in four games they have played without their co-partner in Jerel McNeal. I have never been around three guys that make each other better that feed off each other more. I think these two have done an excellent job of building that even more so with their teammates. This was just not our night and it was more not our night because of our lack of communication defensively and it has to get better. We have the off-season to ponder it now and improve it. We look forward to looking back at this situation a year from now and talking about a victory.
Did Izzo throw any wrinkles that caught him off guard? They moved some people around and did a pretty good job there. They might put Travis Walton in a backdoor situation. They spaced Drew Naymick rather than posting him. They did a good job with that. I think we had some new things, but bottom line they executed their defensive game plan really well and we didnt. I think Dominic did an outstanding job. It is not easy to chase those screens. We got into some foul trouble early which set us back a little bit. Being down a perimeter player, especially one that was voted the best in the Big East, caught up with us tonight and caught up with us last Thursday in New York when we played Pittsburgh. We were playing against teams that have outstanding guards. Tom (Izzo) has outstanding guards. Drew is one of the best in the country. I have always liked Travis Walton, we had him for a visit. I think it came down to Michigan State, Marquette and one other school. They have outstanding guards, but it was more our lack of communication and execution in the post and the pick and roll.
What expectations do you have for your team next year? You cant look ahead yet. I am too busy dealing with a stomach that feels like it got kicked in to look ahead right now. We will get to that next year. I havent thought that far ahead.
How costly was the early foul trouble? Big time. With a short bench costly. We wanted to be aggressive without fouling, move our feet. We were already thin with Dan (Fitzgerald) in the starting lineup and then you take him out, and we were trying to mix and match on that front line all night tonight. We got outplayed badly on the front line. I can say this. Jamil Lott came in and did an outstanding job. His energy, his defense. He is not a great or even good scorer, but he is a tough guy and he helped us with great energy. When you have a short bench going in and you have two starters going down it is not going to be easy.
Contributions by other Michigan State players other than Drew Neitzel? That didnt surprise us at all. That is why they are here because they have gotten so much better. As you know when you go back to the Iowa game when they won at home they have been a totally different team. Since that point it really clicked. They beat us in their fifth set when they popped their guards out on the wing and for four days all we talked about was having our bigs stay in the paint because one of the things they do so well is hit the slip man. He always has. I mean I spent four years in it. When you get beat with Neitzel coming off and the big guy steps up when we had him covered and he throws it for a dunk that is the stuff that is disheartening. I think some of their other guys got easy baskets because their good and we let them stay open. It is not like we said all five guys have to be where Drew Neitzel was every time. We were very, very confident with Dominic James and with David Cubillan being able to guard him. They did an outstanding job. He played 39 minutes and had to earn his baskets and it wasnt like we were going to tire him out. He was averaging seven points in the first half and 11 in the second half during the Big Ten season. I think those guys did an outstanding job, but I think Michigan State did a great job of exploiting our mistakes and that is why they are so good and that is why they can play. He is a great coach at doing that and I was real confident, we were all real confident in our defensive game plan, but when we dont execute we look silly and that is kind of what happened to us tonight at times.
Comparison to slow start against Alabama last year? I think our youth showed up and I am not using that as an excuse because it has showed up when we have been inconsistent this year in our communication. If our big guys are not leading the way with our pick and roll calls&we got beat on our own plays a couple of times tonight. We just didnt talk up front. The youth of our team when you get down and it is not going perfect yet, you have to keep coming and your talk has got to move up. Our talk went the other way and thats where the disappointment is because after the 14-0 run, we out scored them 49-47. It wasnt beautiful, but it wasnt like we went away with it. You are going to score at some point and you are going to get back in it, but what you cant do is give them easy baskets. When they were making their run in the first half we were giving them easy baskets and that hurt us.
MARQUETTE STUDENT-ATHLETES DOMINIC JAMES AND WESLEY MATTHEWS
Offensively, were you not hitting shots, or were they taking you out of what you wanted to do? James: It was obvious from the jump. One of the things that was talked about in this match-up was the similarities between the systems, but the first thing that Coach told me before the game was that players make the plays, not the plays they dont make the players. We really werent knocking down the shots early on. We dug ourselves a hole, but we were still playing pretty well on defense. We were just getting beat on some of the things that we talked about in our preparation, and were still in the game. Our shots werent falling, but we gradually started getting back in the game, but there were little things in the game that hurt us. At this time of the year, those are the kinds of things that beat you, and thats what happened. Matthews: We were able to get looks, but we werent able to put them down, and thats what you need in a game of this magnitude. Every possession is crucial. We just werent able to capitalize. We played hard on defense. Our effort is never questioned on this team; its just a matter of executing. Like Coach said our top wasnt there every time like they needed to be on defense, and we got beat on things that we were ready for and we were prepared for.
Is 14-0 embarrassing? Matthews: I think for this team and this tradition and this program, being down is of course embarrassing. Its embarrassing anywhere. We hate being down as it is. Were so competitive as it is, and we get that from Coach Crean. Were tough-minded guys, were competitive guys, and we hate losing at anything. Name it, and we want to win. Being down 14-0 is of course embarrassing for us, but at the same time we have to show maturity, and we have to build back, and for the most part we did. We fought back, but like we said earlier, we just werent able to get the necessary stops through our communication and our talking. The concepts were there, the preparation was there, everything was set. We just didnt execute it enough. James: I wouldnt say embarrassing. I dont agree with that word. When we got back into the huddles, we knew the things that we were getting beat on, and we were talking about them in the huddle, but I dont think embarrassing is the word. Once we start getting down, we start getting that sense of urgency, but we start getting beat on the little things, and we know thats what happens.
Has it hit you yet that youre out so early? James: We already realized that we lost. Any time this ball club takes a loss we take it pretty hard. We wanted to advance further than we did last year. We felt like we had the personnel to advance. We felt like we had the matchups. We had an unfortunate injury in Jerel McNeal, and we really missed him. I felt like with him out there would have really made a difference, but I still thought we had the personnel to get it done. We still believed in each other and played well as a team, but unfortunately it didnt work out for us this time. Matthews: We fell short again. Its kind of like how we did it last year. We didnt come out in the first half like we should have. The same thing happened here. We just have to keep building, keep building, keep getting better and keep realizing how important playing every second of every possession is. It did hurt losing Jerel, but at the same time we were ready. We were prepared. We just didnt execute.
[Dominic] James, was Travis Walton one of the tougher defenders youve faced? James: Hes definitely a tough defender. Most of the time when Travis was guarding me I was on the top of the key, so obviously they had more help on the top of the key. Im not taking anything away from him as a defender, but once I got that ball on the side a little bit more, things started opening up for me. Its a little bit easier to guard somebody on the top of the key when youve got all five guys watching you. He had a lot of help, so Coach did a great job of putting me on the side in pick-and-roll situations, and thats when things started opening up. But he is a heck of a defender.
[Dominic] James, was guarding Drew Neitzel one of your best jobs defensively this year? James: Drew is an excellent player. He invests in the game a lot of different ways. I felt like he did more with his passing. He focused on it a lot, and that was one of the constants that we were sticking with. I knew I had Drew. I felt very confident with my defense. I felt like I was doing a great job on him. There were a couple of times when we started helping, and there was no need to help, and they started getting slips to the basket for easy layups. That takes a lot out of you, especially on the defensive end when you give them wide open layups, and they get and-ones. I feel like I did a good job on Drew, but it has to be a team effort. Everybody has to lock down, especially in these types of games. Matthews: Dominic, I see this kid every day in everything every practice, walk-through, individual, all that kind of stuff and hes underrated. Hes an underrated defender. I think he showed tonight. I just wish we all played with that energy that he had the whole time, his mindset. You could just see it in his eyes that he didnt want to let his man score. He played tough. He played through cramps. He was tired. You could tell. You could feel it. Hes like my brother. I could feel everything that he was going through. I think he just showed everybody tonight that he can play defense. Hes one of the best defenders Ive ever seen. Ive gone against him, Ive played with him, Ive played alongside of him, Ive played with him in games, and he just did a great job tonight. Like he said, its a team thing, and we all need to play with that mentality every time.
HEAD COACH TOM IZZO
Opening Statement Well, the opening remarks are there is some good news and some bad news. The good news is we had some prep for North Carolina in the Marquette game. They play similar styles. I said to our team, that the only difference is North Carolina plays it like the Star Trek era. Its kind of like Marquette is fast and North Carolina is warp speed. And I think that is going to be a big issue in this game and one we are going to have to deal with and yet we are excited for the challenge.
Tell us the origin of the war drill? And is it your own invention or have you adapted something else? Its one of the only things that I think was my own invention, at least I didnt know of anybody else that had it. It started because we were such a poor shooting team that our best offense was the missed shot and we had to go rebound it. So we had to come up with some drill to rebound. And there were times when it was a very physical drill I think our two teams have kind of changed. Its like, were not the physical team now and Hansbrough is the one swallowing the ball and people with it, he is a very physical player. We hopefully will hold our own in there somewhat. I think the loss of (Idong) Ibok is going to hurt us some in that area, but at the same time, we dont do much in an individual state defensively, its mostly as a team. Same with our rebounding we team rebound. We try to get our guards involved and everyone else. The war drill was just a drill to hopefully being some mental and physical toughness. We still do it about every day and its a hair what it used to be, but its still all right
Who is the master of the war drill? The master was probably Antonio Smith, Zack Randolph, Jason Richardson just because he could jump over everybody. But, Id say Smith, Randolph, a kid named Hudson we used to have, I hate to use that word in this day and age, but it used to be a real war in there. Now I call it powder puff football, were in there just bumping each other like its a dance. But we still do and try to hit somebody every now and then and work on being physical and rebounding which is what it is. I can promise you its kiddie cartoons compared to what it used to be.
Can you explain the principle of the six eyes and the genesis of that and the principles of your defense that have made you so successful? Our defense this year is a little different than other years in that we dont get many steals. We are kind of playing it inside out because we just dont have the athletes or the depth weve had in the past. The loss of Shannon Brown and Crannon probably hurt his years team in that respect. The six eye approach is any time a guy gets it I hope theres six eyes on him. And that means stopping the penetration a little bit. And weve had some success but not with a team that has as many or as good of penetrators. Yet thats how we tried to play an Ohio State, try to keep some of their guys out of the lane. Its more or less kind of a steal from Coach Daly of the Jordan rules, try to keep them in front of you and more than one person has to guard them because youre not guarding them by yourself. We have that problem, individually, other than Walton, we are not as athletic so we kind of do it as a team. So thats the origin and that is what it is.
What do you need from (Drew) Naymick and perhaps even Jake (Hannon) in this match up against Hansbrough? Well, we need to stay out of foul trouble. You know, hes very physical the most physical player weve played in a couple of years if you ask me. Its ironic the way he maneuvers in there. And sometimes the missed shot is the big time shot for him too because he just has great hands and he goes and gets it. I think staying out of trouble is going to be a key because now we are short a guy and if we have to play Jake a lot the size difference is enormous and the fact that he is walk-on doesnt make for good viewing at times. Naymick has been pretty good guarding very good post men. Hes done a pretty good job on an Oden. But I think Hansbrough has been more active than Oden was at the time we played him. And will be more difficult to cover in that respect.
Talk about your match up with this team in the 2005 Final Four. And particularly how Sean May and Hansbrough compare and contrast those two. I think in that game I thought we played a very good first half and sort of ran out of gas. Our kid Allen Anderson, who was one of our best players, was hurt and just did not play very well, I dont think he scored a point. But the second half it got away from us a little bit, I think for a lot of reasons. But they went to May. And May, in my mind, seems to be more skills. This kid (Hansbrough) is just tough as nails. When people talk about the Big 10 or Michigan State being physical, do you people out here not watch this kid? I mean, he is the most physical player Ive ever seen. And there is some irony is that, it is said that we are such a physical team, but that kid is more physical than all of our guys put together. So I think he brings that to the table. A little more active, I think, than May was. They both have good hands I thought Mays were incredible, I think Hansbroughs are fantastic May getting a little edge in that respect. But hes just tough, hes relentless. Hes like the Energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going and going. And thats why you get in foul trouble because he never relaxes. And thats what we told our guys, you just cant relax hes physical, hes thrown people around, he gets to the rim. Hes a heck of a player.
Drew (Neitzel) was a freshman that night in St. Louis two years ago, in what ways is he better now than he was then? Hes a lot better of a player. Hes a better defensive player by a long shot. Hes a more confident player, he looks for his shots more. He has some charisma about him. At that time he was only playing 20 minutes a game and was a point guard delivering to a lot of good guards. But we had a lot lot lot more depth than we have now. So at times hes going to wear down a little bit at this time of year. And I didnt help the cause by not subbing him. Hes matured as all players do. I think hes made a bigger stride defensively than offensively. He just didnt show the offense as much, he played his role a little bit more. Hes always been able to score. I dont think last night he shot the ball as well as I know he can so hes going to have to have a big time game. But its nice to see for us that he didnt have that and we still found a way to win some other guys stepped up and that was encouraging too.
Does Tyler Hansbrough remind you of Zach Randolph and the way he attacks and is relentless in rebounding the ball? I think Randolph had a knack around the basket because he wasnt that big to get shots up. But where they are almost identical, is when they put the ball up on the rim, if they shoot it, they are almost more dangerous of going and getting it than if someone else shoots it and they are going to get it. Zach had the ability to take a shot and he was already at the rim, he was below the rim because he played below the rim, but so does Hansbrough a lot. Yet, he was so quick to the ball. I think Hansbrough has great hands, Randolph had phenomenal hands if they get a finger on it, its theirs. Thats where I think there are some similarities, yes.
Watching you scouting North Carolina last night, you looked a little depressed when they got off to that strong start. Was wondering if you saw some things when they went into that lull that maybe gave you some more optimism? I just stayed depressed all night because at halftime I left to go back and look at some film. Because I thought, and still think, that Eastern Kentucky played completely different with their zone, their 1-3-1, so I didnt know if that would be a good barometer. I just wanted to see the speed for a while and let our players see it. Ive watched enough film, now that Ive spent the night looking at all their games, to know that the speed is there against everybody. But I think the physicality is what Ive been most impressed with because you never heard about that. You always heard about these great athletes at North Carolina that are McDonalds All-American and phenomenal talent. But they have a smash-mouth player now so with the other talent, that really creates a difficult situation.
Comment on how well your team has come together in the last month and a half and what have been the major changes? There have been a couple things. Our schedule at that time when we were really sliding was Ohio State twice and Purdue and Illinois on the road and that had something to do with it. But Raymar Morgan and (Maurice) Joseph were out for those six weeks, they came back in the middle of January and it takes a couple of week to get a player back playing. And I think Morgan is going to turn out to be one of the better forwards weve had at Michigan State and if he didnt miss that 6-7 weeks I think hes really be an incredible player. But he started playing better and I think our defense continued to get better. And our bigs have gotten better, I mean they are not where they need to be, Ive been harping on that. Marquise Gray is good enough; he played pretty well last night. They are getting better; I think they are making some progress. I think the combination of that and having some home games, because we had a brutal schedule during that stretch. All those things helped this team. But Im as proud of the losses as the wins. Weve been in 90 percent of the games. Its not like we havent played teams not exactly like North Carolina but weve played some of the best teams in the country too. For that reason I dont think well be intimidated - if we can play with them, only time is going to tell.
How much different of a team is North Carolina when (Reyshawn) Terry is playing well? I think a lot like Ohio State you get caught up in freshman, freshman, freshman when a team has a phenomenal batch of freshmen but I still think that Butler, Lewis, Harris, some of those guys are the keys to Ohio State doing well. I believe 99 percent of the teams in the country, comes tournament time, freshmen can be up and down and its usually your veterans that stabilize you. And hes been a guy thats been around a lot. Hes been in a lot of tournament. He played very well last night. And I do think hes a big key to the game, especially with that body and size and the way he
Should Michigan State be mentioned in the same breath with Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, the elites? No, I dont think we are there yet. We are in a different situation where we want to say we reload, but we really dont because recruiting isnt the same. We got to remember too that its been a test of time. Im proud that our 10 years weve withstood it and I think we are making some progress. But tradition still plays a big part. Its like Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State in football up in our neck of the wood when you have that may years of it you earn the right. And I think we are in the earning process. Were earning it. Now the four Final Fours put us up there with anybody but we still dont get to just snap our fingers and be on every recruit and things that programs of that stature do. So do I think we are in that five, six school group? No. Do I think we are in that 15 person group of some of the other great programs like a Maryland, Arizona or UConn? I think we are in that group.
When there is an appearance that you dont have a great shot to win a game, do you relish that or does that tick you off? No I relish it this year because Ive been honest with this team all year. I mean, it wouldnt take Einstein, Im trying to get a special pardon from the NCAA to see if we can warm up in the auxiliary gym because watching North Carolina warm up bothers me. I understand there is a difference in that respect. But before Im ready to give in to anything, weve taken Ohio State right to the wire twice and North Carolina played them without Oden and Ohio State took them to the wire. Weve beaten Wisconsin, weve beaten Texas, we played Maryland to a two-point game and weve played Boston College. So its not like we havent played anybody or havent proven ourselves. I think this is just an impressive team. We realize the role we are in, but Id have to say we cherish the opportunity, I think its one Im really looking forward to.
This will be like a home game for North Carolina, how big a factor is that? Does your team enjoy playing on the road this year and draw better effort in those situations? I think if anyone tells you they enjoy being on the road, they are lying to you. Our road record wasnt phenomenal by any means, in fact it wasnt average, it wasnt decent. But I dont think that has total meaning to what goes on in the NCAA Tournament. But is there an advantage? Sure there is an advantage. But we played at Illinois and Wisconsin and at Rupp Arena. Weve played at North Carolina and Duke, thats the advantage to being in a program like this. Not all of our guys have. But I think weve done a good enough job of preparing them and they understand what crazy crowds are like. And in some ways it can be a plus too. I think Id rather 15,000 Carolina fans pulling against us than stadium with nobody in it. So Im looking forward to that too.
People think you have overachieved this year. Can you talk about striking a balance, or maybe ignoring that fact, with the opportunity that lies ahead? I told the player, I was honest with, I thought, I dont know if overachieve is the right word. But I think we got as much out of this team as we could when the season ended. But I said now we got to reassess and redesign our goals. Ive talked to my team about - weve played some of the best in the country already and a beat a couple. You get in this tournament and its one and done, but its one and done for everyone else too. And sometimes when you are the underdog that is good and sometimes people dont handle it well. We are still young; we are young and maybe not as talented. But at the same time, weve played a lot of people pretty well this year.
Does it intrigue or irritate you that if George Mason had not gotten in the way last year in Dayton this could be the third straight year that these two teams could be meeting in the tournament? It irritates me. Because I think thats what you look forward to. Nothing against George Mason and we werent looking ahead to North Carolina, but I would have like to have the chance to play them because I respect Roy and respect their program. I think this is how you get the program up to the level you are talking about you got to play them and beat those teams. You dont get it by talking, you get it by doing. Ive always been a big advocate of playing as good of a non-conference schedule as we can handle. That wont change I love to schedule the North Carolinas and the Kentuckys because its the only way you can really build your program at least at Michigan State, for me, thats the way I believe it.
JUNIOR GUARD DREW NEITZEL
Can you talk about being the experienced junior going up against a freshman (Ty Lawson)? The experience factor, especially going to the Final Four my freshman year, making a run deep in this tournament is a huge advantage. Im going to have to use that to my advantage this game, but its not just him (Lawson). They have a great bunch of guys, talented young freshmen. Its going to take a team effort.
Is shrinking the gaps a principle you use no matter who the opponent is? That is one of our main principles on defense five guys helping each other and definitely shrinking the gaps and trying not to give up dribble penetration. North Carolina is similar to Marquette in their preparation. They both have great ball handlers, great athleticism on the perimeter, and they like to dribble-drive. It shouldnt be too big of an adjustment. We just have to work on keeping the guy in front of us and shrinking the gaps, like I said, having what we call six eyes the guy guarding the ball and then two guys on the right and left sides, trying to shrink the court down and make them beat us from the outside.
When you think about North Carolina and its program and tradition, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? The first thing that comes to my mind is Michael Jordan. Hes one of the best players to ever play the game, the best. That shows what kind of a program they have. Theyve developed so many great players. Also theyre the team that beat us in the Final Four a couple of years ago. It should be an intense game.
What has contributed to you coming together toward the end of the season? We fought through a lot of adversity this season, whether its injury or sickness or things like that. Up until a few weeks ago, we hadnt had our whole team together since Dec. 1, so I think that is a big key to our success. We had a tough four-game losing streak. We played four road games in a row, and then we came home and won four big home games to get back on the winning path. We knocked off Wisconsin when they were No. 1, and I think our confidence and our chemistry has grown ever since then.
How daunting is it for you to be playing North Carolina in this environment? Throughout the season, Coach Izzo has done a great job of scheduling. Weve played the best teams around the country, non-conference and conference-wise. The Big 10 is one of the top conferences in the country. We played at Ohio State, at Wisconsin, and weve played some top-ranked teams and beat a team when they were No. 1. I think were as prepared as anybody in the country to face this team. We just have to follow our game plan and execute and see what happens.
Are you looking forward to being the underdog and leaving everything on the court without pressure? Thats been the attitude of this team throughout this whole season. Weve been the underdog in a lot of games this season. Thats something thats a big key to our success we just left everything on the court every time we stepped on it. On the defensive end, rebounding the ball and just executing. Its another great challenge, and thats something we look forward to every time we step on the court, whether its Ohio State, Wisconsin or anybody.
Michigan State has a reputation of being one of the toughest physical teams. How does Coach coach that? Every day in practice, even in the offseason and our weight workouts, strength and conditioning program is very intense, and practice every day is very intense. The war drill is famous at Michigan State. Its just a war every time we come to practice, and if you go through that every day, its going to carry out onto the court. Thats just what Coach Izzo preaches. Hes a hard, tough-nosed guy himself, and that kind of rubs off on his players.
SOPHOMORE GUARD TRAVIS WALTON
Are you getting tired of the challenge of facing good guards? He (Ty Lawson) is a great player. Hes quick. He hounds the ball pretty good. But were going to play great team defense. Weve got to give him six eyes like some other great players have been given. We just have to play great team defense.
When you think about North Carolina and its program and tradition, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? You just think of great tradition, great program, athletic players, great players that can do everything dribbling the ball, shooting the ball, passing. Pretty much it is a great tradition with great players. Every player from one to 15 is great at something.
What are North Carolinas strengths and weaknesses? They play great basketball. Thats why theyre rated so high. Theyre quick in transition, they can shoot the ball, they have a great low post player, or two post players. Its going to be a tough game. Were going to have to play great team defense, shrink the gaps up and be aggressive. Its going to be a team effort.
What do you think is the national perception of Michigan State basketball? Were a blue-collar team. Were tough. Theres a great tradition here as far as family. Sometimes people dont think were going to make it as far, so they dont believe in us as much. We kind of surprise a lot of people.
What are some of the hidden things that Drew Neitzel does that make you successful? Hes just a leader. He has a lot of experience from last year and the year before that. Hes a great passer. Hes always communicating with us. When things arent going right, our huddle can get a little intense, and hes the player thats always telling everybody, Calm down, stick together, we have to keep fighting through it. Coach Izzo is a great coach, but at times, when he gets hard on us, Drews the one telling us Hey yall, calm down, just chill, relax. Listen to what he says, not how hes saying it.