Izzo counting on big play from juniors, seniors

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Syracuse, N.Y. — As Michigan State has gone through its share of ups and downs, Tom Izzo often has referred something football coach Mark Dantonio routinely said.

If you are to have a good season, your seniors must be at their best.

It's been the case more often than not for a football team that has won four consecutive bowls and finished in the top five in the nation the past two seasons. So Izzo has held on to that theory with so much of the Spartans' success riding on seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice.

"The one thing he told me this year that I've stuck to ... is your juniors and seniors in basketball have to play well to have special seasons," Izzo said. "The better our juniors and seniors have played, the better our season has gone. I think that was the best advice he gave me. 'Stay the course,' he said. 'Just don't waver when you've had a few of those games where you've struggled. Just stay the course.'

"The course has been pretty good to me over the past 20 years, and we've stayed the course."

Both programs have done that, and when the basketball team beat Virginia last week to reach the Sweet 16, Michigan State became the first team to win four straight bowls and reach four straight Sweet 16s during the same span.

"Somebody gave me that stat the other day of our Sweet 16s and their bowl games and that's kind of a dream come true for me," Izzo said. "I've always said I wanted to be somewhere where basketball and football were really good together.

"I think we've helped each other, I think we help each other recruit. That's what's fun about being at a school for a long time. You're a part of every other program, too. I still love when women's golf brings her team recruits over, or hockey or all the different sports. Football and basketball have similar problems and similar positives."

Izzo on Boeheim

Playing on the Syracuse campus, it's no surprise Izzo was asked about Orangeman coach Jim Boeheim.

After an NCAA investigation, the Syracuse coach was suspended for nine conference games next season while Syracuse was forced to vacate more than 100 victories and lost 12 scholarships the next four years.

"I don't know all the circumstances," Izzo said. "I just know this, that I've never seen a guy give more to the game than he's given. … He has such an appreciation for the game and the players. I've learned a lot from Jim in that respect.

"I'm not sure Syracuse basketball is going to be the same and the game's not going to be the same."

Extra sweet

When you reach the Sweet 16 seven of the past eight seasons, it can sometimes be easy to get them confused, or just plain forget how man you've been to.

When Dawson was asked about it, he needed a little help from Trice.

"You have to enjoy just the experience of making it into a Sweet 16," Dawson said. "But as far as myself and Travis, we're seniors. This is our, what, third one?"

"Fourth," Trice said.

"Yeah, this is our fourth one," Dawson said. "Like I said before, we just have to remain focused."