Izzo says emotions run gamut in MSU-UM games
East Lansing — Tom Izzo has been through his share of games at Michigan, and he's heard just about everything from fans.
But instead of shy away from it, the Michigan State coach relishes it. And that includes when the Michigan faithful remind him he isn't the tallest guy in the world.
"I love it," Izzo said Monday. "I gave a couple of their fans a high-five on a couple of those great posters they had one time. I think that's all part of college basketball ... hostile but clean."
Izzo cut his teeth on the rivalry as an assistant to Jud Heathcote, and believes his former boss had it much worse.
"Jud was an easy guy to get on because of his mannerisms," Izzo said. "So maybe I am vertically challenged a little bit, but he had a lot of things that they looked at and that made for some interesting things on the bench. I shake my head thinking of some of the things they said to him and other people, too. Somewhere it's complimentary. ...
"I never saw Jud respond negatively or positively. I've responded negatively a few times. I try not to. I'm not proud of that. But more often than not it's been positive."
It's easy to run the gamut of emotions when the history of the rivalry is considered.
As a coach, Izzo has seen just about everything in 17 games in Ann Arbor — blowouts both ways and plenty of tight battles. He is 22-14 against Michigan, 7-10 at Crisler Center.
And while he remembers every game in Ann Arbor — he highlighted big wins in 2000 and 2001 as some of the most memorable — the losses were especially tough.
"I try and forget those even though I remember them," he said. "There has been a couple of one or two-point loss games. I thought the one last year was tough because I thought we played so well early."
Izzo then asked if there was one the reporters remembered. That is when the loss in 2013 was brought up, when Trey Burke swiped the ball from Keith Appling in the final minute of Michigan's 58-57 victory.
"That was a tough one," Izzo said, shaking his head and laughing. "You just won the jackpot. That would probably rank up there because of the way that it happened. ...
"Every game is a memory. I don't know if one is worse or not, but if you win, it's good. I don't know if anyone is better than winning one than winning the other. If you lose, it's always bad."
Izzo likely will stick with freshman guard Lourawls Nairn in the starting lineup over senior Travis Trice.
That has been the approach the last two games, both victories. Nairn played 36 minutes and Trice came up big down the stretch in last weekend's victory over Ohio State.
But that doesn't mean the changes are done for the Spartans.
"I don't think we're done tinkering yet, unfortunately," Izzo said.
That could mean changes at center where Gavin Schilling has started the last 19 games and Matt Costello has come off the bench. But Costello has benefited by not getting in early foul trouble and has played well late in several victories.
And, Izzo said, the lingering injuries to Javon Bess and the continued struggles of Alvin Ellis III have been an issue, leading to what he believes has been the biggest problem.
"There's no question in my mind that one of the worst things we did is we played Trice to death," he said. "We didn't have a choice, we just didn't even have those guys able to play, much less are they ready to play. … I think it wore him down a little bit."
Michigan State at Michigan
Tipoff: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: Michigan State 17-8, 8-4 Big Ten; Michigan 13-12, 6-7
Outlook: Michigan State hasn't won at Crisler Center since 2010 and is looking for the season sweep. The Spartans look to be comfortably in the NCAA Tournament, but a loss could drop them back to the bubble.