Spartans coach coping with loss in first round of NCAA tournament
East Lansing — Tom Izzo has heard it all in the days since Michigan State was upset by Middle Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
He should have played zone.
He should have called a timeout early to stop Middle Tennessee’s opening run.
He should have played Deyonta Davis more.
His players weren’t ready and overlooked the opponent.
The game has passed him by.
“Respect had nothing to do with it,” Izzo said Tuesday. “Problems in the locker room, my father’s death, I am trying to think of all the things I have read. … None of them are true. We got beat by a team that played better than us.
“I would not have done anything different. With the slew of injuries we were working on some things at the end (of the season) that we would have dealt with earlier. That part nobody had any control of. The parts that I did have control of, and there was some, could I have done that or could I have changed that? I wouldn’t have done anything much different than I did. That is what I should be criticized for.”
The 90-81 victory by Middle Tennessee was the eighth time a 15-seed has beaten a 2-seed in the opening round of the Tournament, and considering Michigan State was favored by many to win the national title, it was among the more stunning.
At least, that’s the way Izzo looks at it.
“I have to admit, I think it’s the biggest upset, and the reason I think it’s the biggest upset is we were picked as a potential national championship team,” Izzo said. “I don’t think (any of the other 2-seeds were) picked by more people to be in the Final Four than we were. And so that would make it the biggest upset.
“You know what? I just have to make sure that’s not my legacy.”
There’s a better chance Izzo’s national championship and seven Final Fours will dominate his legacy. But he admitted he’ll never forget the loss to Middle Tennessee, and it will drive him.
What it won’t drive him to do is second-guess himself.
The Spartans have been known during Izzo’s 21 seasons as a strong man-to-man defensive team, and that defense entered last week’s game as one of the best in the nation. The Blue Raiders, however, hit plenty of 3-pointers early — 8-for-12 in the first half — then spent the second half driving around the Spartans.
That doesn’t mean Izzo’s switching to a zone, even with rule changes that make it tougher to play physical defense.
“I’m standing strong,” Izzo said. “I’m not stubborn about it. I think it’s worked for me, and it’s worked for me over a period of time. And when you do something over a period of time, that doesn’t mean there’s not changes that you can make. But I wouldn’t do anything different.”
That means things shouldn’t look a whole lot different next season, even though the roster will change significantly.
Izzo is bringing in a recruiting class that ranks No. 3 in the country, and it could be the best if Josh Jackson picks Michigan State. Some of the freshmen could start right away, Izzo said, and all likely will play some role.
But that is down the road. For now, one of the primary concerns is whether Davis returns for his sophomore season. He is listed high on most NBA mock drafts, and Izzo isn’t swaying him one way or another.
“I am going to assist him, I am going to talk to GMs, talk to his high school coach, his grandmother, and I’m going to talk to DD, I’m probably going to give him my personal opinion,” Izzo said. “And I’m going to remind everybody that you have to be able to physically. You have to be ready to go skill-wise, and you have to be ready to go mentally.
“I would like to do whatever I can do to give Deyonta Davis the best chance to be successful, to be the most equipped to handle the real world. And if that means he comes out tomorrow, I’m 200 percent for it. If that means he stays three years, I’m 200 percent for that.”
There’s also the possibility of transfers, and Izzo said there are some who will have to make some tough decisions.
“I want everybody to be happy,” Izzo said. “That’ll be in the conversation. There will be a couple kids that will be on the bubble whether they think they should leave because they think they should play more minutes or want to do more things and that will be up front and that will be talked about, and it already has been some.”
Spartans were upset in first round by Middle Tennessee