MSU faces Ohio State with we-can-play-better mantra

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Senior forward Matt Costello has seen all the stats and he understands: Michigan State is playing as well as any team in the country.

He also sees the margin of victory as the Spartans closed the regular season winning 10 of 11 with one victory by less than 10 points. But it doesn’t matter.

“The analytics and stats are cool,” Costello said. “But we know if we’re playing well or not and we know we’re making mistakes. We see that we’re still making a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t and we’re trying to correct that.”

It’s probably the proper mindset as the postseason has arrived. One night of relaxed effort and teams head home, even those like Michigan State that are ranked No. 2 in the nation and trying to lock up a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But being satisfied never has been how Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has operated, and he got after his team in practice before it headed for Indianapolis.

It started with a late-night film session the day after Michigan State closed the regular season.

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“We had a day off and, to me, it was the first one since December in my mind,” Izzo said. “We didn’t watch film, didn’t do this didn’t do that and so about 10 o’clock, my family went to bed, so I went in my office to watch the film and that was a stupid thing to do because then I was just ticked off.

“I didn’t think we did a good job. And you know, I went over with the team. They agreed. We just made some mistakes that we can’t make if we’re going forward.”

The Spartans understood their coach’s mentality.

“He got pretty fired up and he got us fired up, too,” senior guard Denzel Valentine said. “It’s good to come out here and compete because the game is not just gonna be, ‘Let you do this, let you go around me, score.’ It’s gonna be competitive, and it’s gonna be intense.”

Michigan State (26-5) gets its first chance to see what the film work and last few days of practice has done when it takes on Ohio State at 6:30 tonight in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.

And with so much at stake, the Spartans are expecting closer games.

It’s something Michigan State hasn’t fared well in, losing by one to Purdue, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

“It’s been awesome to win by 20 each game,” Costello said. “But it’s a concern.

“That’s why coach is going as hard as he’s going and going at you."

It’s not that the Spartans are looking for close games, they just understand through film work and days in the practice gym that they need to play better defensively after allowing 76 points in their last game.

“We just have to keep playing good basketball,” Costello said. “We still haven’t played very good basketball and we’re winning by what we are. We’ve been shooting well so people can’t keep up with us scoring.”

If Michigan State sees the improvement it’s looking for, the next three days could end with a tournament championship, the only consolation prize left after coming up short in the regular season.

But Izzo doesn’t think it will be easy, beginning with tonight’s opponent.

“Ohio State, they finished 11-7 in our league, 21 wins and that is in our first round,” Izzo said. “They’ve beaten Kentucky and he (coach Thad Matta) has done a helluva a job with a young team there. … I just have never seen a year like this. We are going in hoping to advance in the Big Ten tournament not even thinking about the other one. We’ve got our hands full.”

The Spartans aren’t shying away from the challenge, however.

“I think it would be good for us to go out there see if we can go back to back days, so a short prep and see if we can win those games,” Valentine said. “That’s what happens in the NCAA Tournament. It’s not back to back, but those are short turnarounds.”

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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Michigan State vs. Ohio State

Tip-off: 6:30 Friday, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV/radio: BTN/WJR

Records: 2 Michigan State 26-5, Ohio State 20-12

Outlook: Michigan State has won the last two Big Ten tournaments played in Indianapolis. ... This is the fourth time Michigan State has been the No. 2 seed and first since 2005.