Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was asked this week about his No. 8-ranked Spartans trying for a “marquee win” against the defending national champs.
“I don’t know if there are any ‘marquee wins’ anymore, because our program is to the point where every game is a big game,” said the 14th-year MSU coach.
“There is no doubt Kansas is one of the storied programs in the nation. There are four or five of them out there. They are the defending national champions, and that means they are the defending national champions until someone takes that spot over.
“I think there is a lot of significance to the game for our team this year, for our program in the big picture. Yet, it is just one more big game, and we have definitely played enough of those. I am excited because Bill (Self) is a good coach and great guy. We have had some great games against each other and some great games against Kansas over the years. I don’t know if my players are excited, but I know I am.”
MSU tradition-rich, too
Izzo says he loves bringing top programs to Breslin Center, site of today’s game.
“Our whole program should be where Kansas, Duke, (North) Carolina and UCLA are. At least we should be in that same breath, but we haven’t earned the 50 years of it, and that is why teams like them coming in are big-program games,” Izzo said. “I don’t think they determine our season, but they help to build our program into what I am looking to building it into before I am done. We have a long way to go in that area, so hopefully we have a lot more Kansases coming in. If you win those games, it speeds the process up for the program.”
Home and home
Today’s game actually completes a home-and-home series between KU and MSU. The Jayhawks beat the Spartans, 81-74, on Nov. 25, 2003. It was the second game of the Self era.
“The building was juiced (with both teams ranked in the top 10). It was a great atmosphere, a fabulous game,” Self recalled.
He admitted it was a key game in getting the attention of his players, many of whom played for his predecessor, Roy Williams.
“Any time you play Michigan State it has to be a big game,” he said. “I didn’t look at it as, ‘Well I need to do this so I can win over fans.’ It was a game more so than anything helps validate (to players) what you are doing as a new coach coming in that just replaced a coach that just went to back-to-back Final Fours. It was a big game in that respect.”
Aldrich a force
Izzo knows all about KU center Cole Aldrich, who enters with a 15.4 scoring, 9.9 rebound average.
“He has improved a lot, and everyone knew it. He was a high school player we recruited and was a very good player then,” Izzo said of Aldrich, who prepped at Bloomington, Minn.’s Jefferson High. “They brought him along slowly last year, because of the big men they had, but going from averaging three or four points to what he is doing now. He has gotten a lot more physical, he sets a lot more screens, posts and moves people around down there.”
Aldrich did consider MSU for a time. “I like coach Izzo a lot,” Aldrich said. “But it seems like I was coming to Kansas forever.”
Point guard matchup
Guard Kalin Lucas, who has 84 assists against 17 turnovers, realizes KU’s Sherron Collins will be a formidable foe today.
“He likes to push it in transition. We’ve got to have six eyes on him,” Lucas said. “I think he’s a lot like Lawson (Ty, North Carolina who led the Heels to a 98-63 rout of MSU on Dec. 3 in Detroit). One thing we definitely have to do is try to contain Sherron Collins.”
MSU center Goran Suton on playing the defending national champs at home: “It’s an honor,” he said. “Kansas is a young team that is getting better and better every day. We’ll have to do a couple things well to beat those guys. I compare them to Texas in that they have athletes.”
MSU beat Texas, 67-63, on Dec. 20 in Houston.
“They’ve got good spot-up shooters and will be a good matchup for us,” Suton said.
Izzo on KU being a young team: “They are looking a lot better, if you have been watching them lately. Right before Christmas they didn’t look as good against Arizona, but since then I think they have been playing a lot more consistent basketball. They have played a lot of home games so it is hard to gauge everything, and yet they played awfully well against Tennessee the other night, and I am sure they will be ready to play.”
MSU has won eight in a row since the Carolina loss, including road conference clashes against Minnesota and Northwestern and a home victory over Ohio State on Tuesday.
“We have been on a roll since Texas. We come out every night playing hard 40 minutes with passion and energy,” Lucas said.