Michigan State coach Tom Izzo (center) says most preparation is focused on the next opponent, with the odd look to the future. (Dale G. Young/Detroit News)
East Lansing — With 16 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, six trips to the Final Four and a national title, it's no surprise Michigan State coach Tom Izzo doesn't view the postseason quite the way he did his first couple years.
In the early days, he admits, it was simply about hoping to reach the Tournament.
But with the success Michigan State has had — Izzo has only missed the Tournament his first two seasons as coach — the approach has changed as much as the expectations.
"My first couple years, I just worried about that one team and made sure my team worried about that one team," Izzo said. "Now I make sure my team worries about the one team and I worry about the whole weekend — at least my staff does.
"I think as you got better in the Tournament, you realize getting in is not where you have the parade anymore. Winning the game isn't where you have the parade anymore. So I stole stuff from other guys that have been successful and said, 'You've got to win the weekend.'"
Izzo and No. 3 Michigan State begin their quest for winning the opening weekend at 12:15 p.m. Thursday when they face No. 14 Valparaiso in the Midwest Region at The Palace.
The bulk of the team's work the next two days will be on the matchup. But trends from other teams in the bracket won't go ignored.
"What you do is if somebody in your bracket this weekend is pressing more, you might work on presses," Izzo said. "If somebody is zoning more, you might work on a little more zone offense than you normally would. For the most part, for us, our practice sessions, it's going to be 98 percent on Valparaiso."
Izzo also believes, when healthy, the Spartans have as good a shot to win the championship as any team.
But, he sees similarities to last year's team that was a No. 1 seed before losing to Louisville in the Sweet 16.
"We're in a similar position," he said. "We got a similar team that we didn't just beat anybody by out-talenting them. I think if we were totally healthy with (Branden) Dawson and (Gary) Harris, we are more talented than last year's team. But we're not in that position and we don't have the leader with (Draymond Green)."
It doesn't mean, however, Izzo is expecting any less.
"I think we're good enough to make a run," he said. "We're a pretty good team and maybe a great team if we get more than two guys to play well at the same time. We struggled to do that for a variety of reasons, some our own self-inflicted and some that we don't have control of. I will be disappointed if we don't make a run."
The last time Michigan State played an NCAA game at The Palace was 2000, and the Spartans were on their way to the national title.
"They were great memories, unfortunately, they're only memories," Izzo said. "They don't help us win this game. … I don't know if the players remember it as much as the coaches do. For me, those are memories that will never leave me because those are two or three of the top memories of my coaching career."
If there is ever a highlight video of the NCAA Tournament, odds are you've seen Bryce Drew .
The Valparaiso coach hit one of the most memorable buzzer beaters in Tournament history when his 3-pointer in 1998 gave No. 13 seed Valparaiso a 70-69 victory over Mississippi.
In his second year as the Crusaders coach, Drew admits seeing it never gets old.
"Some of the players we've had here for quite a while had no idea about it," Drew said. "They looked it up on YouTube and couldn't believe it was me."
Michigan State vs. Valparaiso
Tip-off: 12:15 p.m. Thursday, The Palace, Auburn Hills
Records: Michigan State 25-8, Valparaiso 26-7
Line: MSU by 10-1/2
Outlook: Valparaiso set a program record for victories in a season with 26 when it defeated Wright State in the Horizon League championship game last week. Senior F Ryan Broekhoff leads the Crusaders, averaging 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds, while senior F Kevin Van Wijk averages 12.7 points.