Coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State players Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown met with the media via Zoom on Wednesday afternoon and were able to reflect on both the loss last Sunday in Evanston as well as the upcoming Christmas Day clash with the Wisconsin Badgers. The players and coaches discussed the response to the upset loss, the preparation for a game on Christmas, as well as some new things to expect to see in the Breslin Center on Friday afternoon.
The Aftermath of the Loss
The needed corrections following the Spartans’ first lost of the season started as soon as the players got on to the bus. Gabe Brown explained how the team captains (Foster Loyer, Josh Langford, and Aaron Henry) immediately started dissecting the film. “Everybody was doing their part on the way home,” said Brown.
The players commented that the practices this week have been good and that the loss helped the team to understand the level of focus, intensity, and attention in order to compete for a Big Ten title in a year where the conference is as strong as ever. “Everyone just has to take it up a notch and that is what we tried to bring over the last couple of days of practice,” said Henry.
As for coach Izzo, he seemed to agree with his players. He commented that the loss was a learning experience for the team and that “You have to play with energy every single day.” After watching a lot of film and working hard with the team in practice this week, Izzo felt like, “We got some things worked out.” Moreover, Coach Izzo explained, “We have got to make sure that everyone understands that there is still a standard that we play by. We don’t care what everybody else does.” The level of the competition should not impact the energy and Michigan State plays with.
Who’s the “go-to” guy?
Both Coach Izzo and the players were asked if part of the challenge with this year’s team is the adjustment to not having a player like Cassius Winston on the floor who could put the team on his back and bail them out in tough situations. On some level, Coach Izzo seemed to agree: “We are trying to take it one step at a time. That is not totally solved. (But) it is not something I panic over.”
At the same time, however, both players and coaches expressed that the 2020-21 version of the MSU basketball team does have a lot of weapons and maybe doesn’t need a single “go-to guy.” Gabe Brown said, “I would say that everybody on our team is a go-to guy.”
On some level, Coach Izzo actually agreed, as he went on to elaborate, “With Joey (Hauser), we think have a guy who can pick and pop...with Josh (Langford) we think we have a guy who can get a shot for himself. With Aaron (Henry) we think we have somebody who can post up or be on the perimeter and get to the foul line and were going to look at a few things with Rocket (Watts) that we think he can do.”
So, how does that work then? In the huddle in a close game, what is the plan? Aaron Henry described it as follows: “Coaches are going to draw up a play. Guys can create their shot on this team and get whenever they want at any time. Whatever coach feels like is the right play, he’ll put guy in the right spot. I have faith it that for sure.”
On To Wisconsin
The next challenge for the Spartans is a Christmas Day clash with Wisconsin. Henry and Brown both seemed excited and blessed to be playing on the 25th. The fact that the day is usually reserved for the NBA makes it a special treat for the players, even though it will be hard on the coaches and staff, as Izzo admitted.
That said, Coach Izzo was one of the major forces in the decision for the Big Ten to play on Christmas Day. The way that he explained it, the decision was made previously that the players would need to be isolated from their families over the holidays. To Izzo, for the mental wellbeing of his players it made more sense to have them doing the thing that they love on Christmas: playing basketball. “We tried to do the best that we could do with the cards that we were dealt. I wasn’t going to leave my players in their apartments, not able to do anything.”
As for Friday’s opponent, the Wisconsin Badgers, Coach Izzo went on at length about the talent and experience on the Wisconsin roster and about his respect for Badger Coach Greg Gard. Izzo also was very complimentary of Badger guard D’Mitrik Trice, the younger brother of former Spartan Travis Trice. Coach Izzo said, “We around here, we love the Trices.” He went on to describe the younger Trice brother as “the straw that stirs the drink” in Madison and “he is the guy that we have to control.”
A New Look for Breslin
Be on the look out for a few changes in the “crowd” at Breslin on Friday. First of all, there might actually be a few real live fans there. The details are vague, but both players and Coach Izzo mentioned that at least some of the players’ parents will be in town for the game. Izzo mentioned the testing protocols are under discussion with the university, which suggests that the parents will be able to watch the game in person.
But actual fans won’t be the only change at Breslin. As mentioned in a previous press conference, several new cardboard cut-out “fans” will be making their debut. In this case, some of those faces belong to some friends of Spartan Nation who have passed on. Coach Izzo mentioned that one of the faces is that of sophomore forwards Julius Marble’s father, who passed away this summer. Another face belongs to the late father of associate head Coach Dwayne Stevens.
Coach Izzo also mentioned that every one of his former players will have a cardboard cut-out in the audience. We can only assume and hope that this will be visible at some point during the broadcast on Friday. Even Izzo seemed to be in awe. He said, “I started looking at those cut-outs today and I said, wow, no wonder why we won some championships. No wonder why we got to the Final Four.“
Other Odds and Ends
Finally, the press conference provide several other interesting tidbits including:
- Joey Hauser suffered what appeared to be a minor knee injury at Northwestern. Coach mentioned that he was still a little slow, and had seen only limited practice time this week, but that test results showed no serious damage. It sounds like Hauser will be able to play on Friday, but may not be at 100 percent.
- When Coach Izzo was asked about the decision to continue to start Thomas Kithier, Izzo mentioned that Thomas “does all the little things right,” like understanding the defense, stepping out on ball screens, and making his teammates better. Izzo and the staff are working with Thomas to try to increase his output on the offense as well.
- On a lighter note, Izzo disclosed that his favorite Christmas present as a kid was the football jersey of former Green Bay Packer safety Willie Wood. He mentioned that he used to pretend that he was playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field when it would snow in his U.P. childhood home of Iron Mountain, Michigan.
- In keeping with the spirit of the season, Gabe Brown and Aaron Henry opened the Zoom call wearing a festive set of Holiday themed glasses (see below). It was a fun reminder that despite the fact the these players are household names in Spartan Nation, at the end of the day they are college kids who are playing a game that they love.
See the links below for the full comments from Gabe Brown, Aaron Henry, and Coach Izzo.
Coach Izzo’s Full Remarks
Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown’s Full Remarks