Tom Izzo, Spartans weighed down by big problems

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing – Just two days after Michigan State's loss at Maryland – one coach Tom Izzo walked away from feeling as frustrated with his team as he has all season – he didn't feel a whole lot better.

As the Spartans (12-6, 3-2 Big Ten) prepared to face Penn State on Wednesday, Izzo was still lamenting the things that bothered him about the 75-59 loss to the Terrapins.

"I wasn't happy with the way we played at Maryland," Izzo said at his weekly news conference at the Breslin Center. "The inexcusable missed layups. The fact that I didn't think our guards played very well offensively or defensively. … I thought we didn't play with the same energy that I thought we would play after a week off and some good practices. I don't have a good reason for that."

Much of the focus was on the play of guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine, as well as forward Branden Dawson, who despite scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, was the one responsible for most of the missed layups. Combined with poor shooting from Valentine (nine points) and Trice (five points), and it added up to a one-sided loss.

But, as Izzo reiterated, it's the play of those three that will dictate things as the Spartans continue through their Big Ten schedule.

"I've been disappointed with the consistency of our three guys," he said. "We've been a little up and down on that. What happens to a team that scores a lot and can score from the 3-point line over the period of a year, your offense can start dictating your defense. Maybe more than our offense, our defense let us down in that game. We were one of the (Big Ten) leaders in field-goal percentage and all of a sudden a couple of guys didn't shoot it well on their offensive side, and their defense was poor. That is what we have to correct."

The other big one for Michigan State is somehow improving its free-throw shooting.

The Spartans were just 4-for-13 against Maryland and are now last in the Big Ten at 63.2 percent. Dawson is 14-for-36 for 38.9 percent while Gavin Schilling is 20-for-44 for 45.5 percent.

Trice said over the weekend that Michigan State has worked more on free throws this season than in any of his previous three and Izzo added that assistant coach Mike Garland had started taking a larger role in working specifically with players at the free-throw line.

"We decided that Professor Garland will teach a class every day and he's in here shooting them," Izzo said. "I give Branden credit. There's no question he's not as bad as he's shooting. It's just, it's in your head, it happens. It's the way it goes. But then it becomes an epidemic because some good free-throw shooters are shooting not as well. Is it a problem? Yeah, it's a problem.

"What we're trying to do now is shoot some before practice, shoot some after practice, shoot some during practice. Because if you don't shoot them during, they're not tired. And then shoot some at night. I mean, yeah, it's a problem. But believe it or not, when you miss the layups we missed in the last game, that's a bigger problem than the free throws to me. No. 1, it's two points, not one. But No. 2, it's a one-foot shot, not a 15-foot shot. So there's always problems."

Too much stress?

The issue of injuries came up again on Monday at it wasn't specifically about Michigan State. The team's biggest rival – Michigan – lost its best player, Caris LeVert, to a full fracture in his foot.

It follows a stress fracture that LeVert suffered in the same foot near the end of last season.

It's something Izzo has seen a lot more of lately – freshman Javon Bess missed the first 10 games this season because of a stress fracture that required surgery – and Izzo is concerned about the amount of time players are spending on the court.

"This summer -- boy, it's scary to say this -- but there might be a month off where I say, 'You guys, I don't want you here. I don't want you working on your game,'" Izzo said. "I have to figure this out. And I think all coaches do. I'm tough on guys working out to get their games better. I'm not big on playing every day. To me a guy in the summer should do shooting, ball handling and drill work. … It's not as fun. But the great ones do."

Milestone for Izzo, Breslin

Wednesday will be the 400th game played at the Breslin Center and Izzo has been a part of every one.

And he's grateful to have the support of the home crowd.

"We've had still one of the best home courts there is," he said. "It's been a great place to play. I still love the fact that the fans are right on top of you, where a lot of these places it's not that way. I think the people in this building have done an incredible job of keeping the facility up. I go to these other facilities that are 10 years old and it's nowhere near (the same)."