Peaking too soon? Izzo on top of MSU’s mentality

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo

East Lansing – Second-ranked Michigan State heads into the final week of the regular season with a schedule that is far from daunting, and that has Tom Izzo focusing on one thing – his team.

It’s all part of the push to the postseason, which begins with next week’s Big Ten tournament, followed by the NCAA Tournament.

“We are just trying to sell this to our team,” Izzo said Monday. “If we are going to keep trying to get better every day, we shouldn’t worry about any other thing but us. We need to realize we can’t just turn the switch on in tournament time.”

And that means not taking lightly Wednesday’s matchup with 6-23 Rutgers (0-16 Big Ten), or the regular-season finale Saturday against Ohio State. The Spartans beat the Buckeyes by 19 last week on the road.

The Spartans (24-5, 11-5 Big Ten) enter the week having won eight of their last nine games and might be playing as well as any team in the country and arguably better than when they started the season with 13 straight victories.

It’s the time of year teams want to be playing their best, and Izzo is glad his team has seemed to find its rhythm, and he doesn’t worry about peaking too soon.

MSU jumps to No. 2 in AP poll

“We are (peaking too soon) if our players don’t handle it,” Izzo said. “We are if our coaches don’t handle it, but then again, what’s the alternative? Instead of losing Denzel (Valentine), I’d just lose games. That would help.”

Izzo was, of course, joking. However, he believes his team has the proper makeup to continue playing right into tournament time.

“I think that it all depends on the maturity of a couple different people,” Izzo said. “One is the staff. How will they handle it? Two is the seniors. How will they handle it? … That's what I love about this team right now. Everybody's focused on what they need to be focused on. But that can change. That can change with an article. That can change with the social media. It can change with people. It's our job to keep them grounded and that's why sometimes if a coach is going off or panicking or whatever, there's probably a reason.

“As we say, ‘Are you trending up or trending down?’ If I see a little trend down, somebody is going to be held accountable for that, and if I see a trending up, I'm going to make sure somebody isn't getting full of that. So it's a fun time. … I just try to figure out how to keep everybody focused.”

Niyo: Rout shows MSU primed for March Madness