MSU coach Izzo 'threw up' when rewatching UConn game

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Rosemont, Ill. — There wasn't any sort of bug going around the Michigan State basketball team this offseason, just game film.

And that, from one single game, was not only enough to motivate players, but it was enough to make some feel queasy.

That game was Michigan State's loss to Connecticut in the East Regional final last season. The Spartans were the higher seed and favored to reach the Final Four.

And despite building a double-digit lead early in the first half, it was seventh-seeded Connecticut that stormed back for the victory before marching on to the national championship.

Tom Izzo watched the game immediately after returning to East Lansing. He didn't watch it again until about a week ago.

"When I watched it again I threw up," Izzo said Thursday at Big Ten media day. "It made me sick."

Guard Travis Trice has had a similar feeling each time he has cued up the film.

"It's so frustrating and almost unhealthy to watch it too many times," he said. "You start getting sick because of being that close to something you always dreamed of and you can't grab it."

What's worse for the Spartans is, as Izzo said, it was Michigan State's best chance to win another title since capturing the national championship in 2000. There have been other trips to the Final Four, but with the mix of talent and leadership the Spartans had last season, everything appeared to be lining up.

Then they ran into the Huskies.

"I really felt like they played good, but I didn't think they played great," Izzo said of Connecticut. "But I thought we stunk. ... We looked out of gas. Why? There were a variety of reasons. We had been through so much mental stuff with all the injuries, but we did not play well."

Can that game spark Michigan State this season?

That remains to be seen, but the Spartans will have to do it without Gary Harris, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, all off to the NBA.

Instead, Izzo will be relying on his three most experienced players — Trice, senior Branden Dawson and junior Denzel Valentine.

Izzo lauded the improved leadership from Valentine and Trice but insists Dawson will be the key.

"Does he take another step up, does he average the 15, 16 points, eight, nine rebounds that he did the last six, seven games of the season once he got back?" Izzo said. "If he does that, I think this team could progress greatly here in the months to come."

There is plenty of disagreement over where the Spartans could finish. In the media poll released Thursday, Michigan State was picked to finish second behind Wisconsin.

But as Izzo pointed out, he's seen his team picked as low as eighth in the Big Ten.

"I feel like we are overlooked a little bit," Dawson said. "But that is good for us. Coming into the season we know we have things to work on. But you look at UConn last year at the beginning of the season, they weren't even ranked. Like coach said, they had a lot of guys that bought into what the coach talked about and they played their role. They played together .... and they played hard."

It will have to be the same formula for Michigan State, which will need contributions outside of the big three.

Will it be sophomores Alvin Ellis or Gavin Schilling? Could it be junior transfer Bryn Forbes? Or could it be the freshmen class of Lourawls Nairn, Javon Bess or Marvin Clark?

"We are really talented," Trice said. "You cannot replace any of those three guys, but the guys we gained can really help us."

And Dawson pointed out they already understand the pain of coming up a hair short last season. The motivation it has provided has already been explained.

Izzo is glad to hear it.

"It should (motivate them)," he said.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau