Valentine’s title guarantee doesn’t rattle Izzo

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo and Denzel Valentine

East Lansing — Tom Izzo doesn’t have a problem with Denzel Valentine guaranteeing Michigan State would win this season’s national title.

He knows, however, there’s plenty the Spartans need to do if they expect to back up their star guard.

After Michigan State’s 91-76 victory over Ohio State to close the regular season last weekend, Valentine was asked if he planned to make any guarantees, much like Mateen Cleaves did before Michigan State won the national title in 2000.

“Maybe I can say that now,” Valentine said. “National championship guarantee, right now. We have the team to do it. The only thing that is gonna stop us is us.”

To be clear, Izzo believes Valentine was baited into the statement by reporters, but at the same time, he’s not running from it.

“I don’t mind it; I’m not hiding behind it,” Izzo said Monday. “Do I think we’re good enough to be one of the teams considered? One-hundred percent. Do I feel comfortable? Zero percent. I just don’t. I don’t like the fact that, down the stretch here, we haven’t stuck to our attention to detail.

“We had a film session this morning and got after it a little bit. And we’re gonna get after it today in practice, and tomorrow, because we’ve got to improve in those areas if we’re gonna be a real contender. Because one and done time is a little different than the rest of the year.”

MSU�s Valentine is AP Big Ten player of the year

What Izzo wants his team to get after has little to do with offense as the Spartans are the No. 1 3-point shooting team in the nation at 43.9 percent while also leading the country in assists with 21.

It’s everything else — namely the defense — that has Izzo concerned heading into the Big Ten tournament, with Michigan State facing the Ohio State-Penn State winner at 6:30 p.m. Friday.

“The only thing I know is that we are playing good basketball, but we have not — have not — been playing as well defensively the last four games,” Izzo said. “I think it started with the first half at Ohio State. The first half we were poor and Penn State we were OK if you don’t look at the score, but at the film and what we had to do. We were very poor the first half at Rutgers, very poor and average the first half (at home against) Ohio State, and even the second half.

“As far as doing the things that we need to do — what is going to win a tournament for you — is your defense and the little things. Are we making our free throws, how are our out of bounds plays? Our press break looked like a fire drill the other day.”

What has covered those shortcomings the last couple weeks is the way Michigan State is shooting. It’s been so good, it rarely has played a close game, the last one being a one-point overtime loss at Purdue on Feb. 9.

“Is that a plus to us or is it a minus for our future?” Izzo wondered. “I mean, you have to know how to play in those kind of games.”

With the way the Spartans have been shooting, however, it hasn’t mattered.

But, as Izzo emphasized, hitting shots only takes teams so far.

“Making shots cures a lot of evils,” he said. “Making shots makes you look good, but making shots usually doesn’t win you championships.”

Slam dunks

The Spartans will be without forward redshirt freshman Kenny Goins, who hurt his knee Feb. 14. Izzo said there’s a chance he’ll play again this season, but not this weekend.

“I had almost written him off (this year),” Izzo said. “I think there’s a chance. It won’t be the Big Ten tournament, and then it will only be if there is no further injury, which I think will be fine.”

... Michigan State senior guard Bryn Forbes was named the Big Ten player of the week after scoring 47 in two victories. He had a Big Ten game record 11 3-pointers against Rutgers. He leads the nation in 3-point shooting (50.5 percent, 104-for-206).