Tom Izzo, Spartans know expectations are high for Michigan State basketball team
Tom Izzo stood at the podium and waffled. In one statement, the Michigan State basketball coach warned about the trap of expectations being too high.
In the next, he couldn’t hide his exuberance for how good Michigan State might be this season - a team that returned many major cogs from one that made the national championship game a season ago and is a consensus top three team in preseason polls.So coming off the Final Four and bringing back the Big Ten Player of the Year in junior guard Kalin Lucas, Izzo couldn’t shake the idea that this might be the most pressure on a Michigan State team in his tenure.
“I wish I could say no, but I’d probably have to say yes,” Izzo said Wednesday at a media day. “I think there is.
“ The pressure is trying to keep the expectations human. If you leave here thinking I’m trying to portray how a once very good football coach downplayed it every year, every year, every year. I’m sure as hell not doing that. I’m not downplaying one thing.”
He has no reason to. His 1999-2000 team began the season ranked No. 3 in the country. It ended it as national champions.
His 2005-06 team, which came off a Final Four loss to North Carolina the year before, began the year as No. 4 nationally. That Spartans team became the first team to lose to George Mason in the Patriots’ improbable Final Four run.
So he’s seen it both ways. Izzo is focused on whether his two unanimous captains - Lucas and senior forward Raymar Morgan - will be able to adjust to their leadership roles and if the chemistry between his players will change with the departure of Goran Suton and Travis Walton, among others. Both Suton and Walton were key factors in Michigan State’s run last year.
But while Michigan State is ranked high after finishing 31-7 last year and Izzo isn’t doing too much to squash expectations, his players don’t seem sure they deserve to be ranked that high.
“We don’t feel like that. We feel like we are one of the lowest teams still and still have much to prove,” junior guard Chris Allen said. “Even though we made it to the national championship game last year, it don’t even feel like it. It feels like the same thing all last year all over again.
“I mean, we’re not a bottom team, but, we’re not to the level of where it’s like ‘Oh, man, we’ve got to play Michigan State.’ It’s like ‘Oh, yeah, we get to play Michigan State’ because they are ranked so high and we think we can beat them.”
When pressed, Allen said he felt Michigan State should be a highly ranked team - Top 10, maybe Top 25 - so it isn’t like he’s saying the Spartans are going to be struggling to reach .500 or anything. His point is more that he feels Michigan State hasn’t proven much.
Michigan State will have opportunities to prove itself. The Spartans have an ambitious non-conference schedule, going to Texas and defending national champion North Carolina along with bringing Gonzaga to East Lansing and playing Florida in the Legends Classic in Atlantic City, N.J.
“We had a tough schedule last year, too,” Lucas said. “But we’re the type of program that wants to play the best teams. So we’ll start off with this schedule and then go from there.”.