It hasn’t been your typical Michigan State basketball season. The Spartans started 4-4, 12-9 and ultimately finished 19-14, securing an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. MSU’s struggles can be attributed to three things: injuries, a hellacious schedule, and the fact that the team’s top four scorers are freshmen.
Tom Izzo hasn’t been happy every second of every minute this season, but he’s grateful that this season happened.
“It was an interesting year for me,” a reflective Izzo said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I learned more than I gave this year. That doesn’t always happen, and I kind of learned a lot of things and adjusted, had to make a lot of changes in how we handled things. All in all, to survive it, get in, play decent basketball at the end of the year, I feel good about this team. (I’m) proud of them. It’s not the best team we’ve had, but it’s the best young team we’ve ever had, I’ll tell you that. We beat some pretty good people, we played some pretty good ball, and I got great guys. You know what that’s worth. Great locker room, great teammates. That has saved the year for me.”
Michigan State played four ranked teams – Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke – in the first 18 days of the season and went 0-4 in the process. All four of those teams finished the year ranked in the top 12. Three finished in the top seven. Two finished in the top five.
And did we mention that Michigan State’s top four scorers are freshmen?
“I had to coach different in a lot of ways because we’re still doing fundamental work in the middle of March,” Izzo said. “I had to make some adjustments. Usually I have a very good rotation, like an NBA rotation where certain guys go in and all that. I had to change that. We had to change a lot of our ball-screen coverages and things like that because we were either too young or I was worried about the foul trouble. It was kind of good. I had to go back to the beginning and kind of reinvent some things. I think that’ll help me, and that’ll help these players down the stretch.”
No. 9 Michigan State plays No. 8 Miami (21-11) on Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET.
Whatever happens, the future for Michigan State is bright, especially if Miles Bridges (16.7 points per game), Nick Ward (13.7) Cassius Winston (6.7) and Joshua Langford (6.6) all stick around.
Izzo, by the way, has no plans on slowing down anytime soon.
“Well, thank God I feel healthy as ever,” the 62-year-old said. “I might not look it, but I feel it. I keep watching that Krzyzewski guy down at that school down south and he’s 70 and is still doing well. I’m not sure I want to coach forever, but I definitely want to coach now. I got some goals I still want to accomplish here. We just renovated our building. It’s going to be done in the summer. We put $50 million in. There’s a lot of great things. I think we’ve had a great recruiting class for next year, we’ve got some phenomenal young kids, a lot of things to be excited about here, and who knows? I’ll guarantee you this: A little smarter scheduling on when we played, a couple of injuries, and this team would have been a very, very good team. It turned out to be a good team. We’re complaining about getting into our 20th straight NCAA Tournament. A lot of people would die to do one of these. I’m still going to embrace it and not be satisfied but understand some of the things we’ve been through.”