November 13, 2012

MSU Ready For This?

EAST LANSING - Tom Izzo did not expect to be 0-1 entering Tuesday's State Farm Champions Classic match-up with Kansas, but the Michigan State coach believes that playing two games on two continents in the span of four days against college basketball powerhouses like UConn and Kansas will be of greater benefit to his team than a cupcake-loaded schedule favored by some major conference programs.

"After these two games, I will get to do what I get to do every year after three or four games," said Izzo. "Usually, we always play against a couple of really good teams in our first five. You can look at what your strengths are and your weaknesses are.

"It is easier to play less talented teams and it is safer, but it doesn't necessarily give you the right perspective. I think I can always have a decent perspective, but who I really worry about is my players. If they are beating up on somebody, what is their perspective?"

Before Izzo took his team to Germany he used the narrow defeats the Michigan State football team has suffered during the 2012 season to illustrate the fine line between winning and losing and a season that is characterized a success or deemed a failure. If that message did not resonate with Izzo's players, their own 64-60 setback to UConn certainly has.

"You don't look as good when you play good teams, especially when you have a lot of changes in your own team and we have a lot of changes," Izzo said. "But you either grow up quicker or you get your nose bloodied. I just think that it is going to help us grow up quicker. We won't have false impressions about who we are. If we had won that game we would have had some of the same problems."

Michigan State's substandard performance in the first 12 minutes of the season-opener was the primary reason why UConn celebrated a victory over a ranked opponent in Kevin Ollie's first game as head coach. Many of the turnovers that Michigan State gave up during the first 12 minutes of the game led to easy transition scoring opportunities.

"Watching the film with them, every turnover that led to a lay-up I said to them that was a game-coster," said Izzo. "I look at that as a game we lost by two. We fouled them late so they could make two free throws, otherwise it is a two point game. One lay-up makes the difference in the game. Guys have to learn that early. They've got to realize that early, and I don't think you can do that by winning by 25."

No. 7 ranked Kansas (1-0) presents a bigger challenge for Michigan State than UConn. But Izzo expects his team to perform better against the Jayhawks than they did four days earlier against UConn in Germany.

"I think we will play better, I really do," Izzo said. "I think we will be a lot more efficient offensively. We have had a chance to look at that. I am looking forward to it, I really am. Would I like it to be a day or two later, sure. But I think this is a perfect game to play coming off that game because we are going to play an even better team, not only better than the team we played, but a different team, a completely different team."

Michigan State, Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky are in the second-year of the Champions Classic. Izzo believes Michigan State's involvement in the three-year event is point of pride for the Spartan program.

"Playing in this event is a sign of respect for our program," said Izzo. "It's a three-year deal as you know. Playing down there in that dome is going to be incredible. We've played in that dome one other time against Gonzaga and Temple. We've had some success. I don't think that will have anything to do with it. It will be how we play."

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