Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo always seems to be a man who enjoys the lead up to March Madness, but this year, it’s been something special for the longtime coach of the newly-ranked No. 2 Spartans (24-5). As the team blew out a Penn State team 88-57 on Sunday night, helping to vault them back into the second-from-top spot today, coach Izzo had only one thing to say about his players.
“Those guys today, they played like men,” Izzo said.
And when it comes to Izzo, that’s about as high a compliment as one can get. Maturity comes from more than just a physical strength according to the respected coach, and after a hard-fought win earlier the previous week, his players were looking to give their coach a boost in confidence before the all-important push into March. Last Tuesday, down in Columbus, Izzo voiced his disappointment with many of his players in their 81-62 win over Ohio State, including a scornful eye sent in regular MSU star Matt Costello’s direction. Izzo went as far as to say that his boys played “as bad as they can play,” despite still winning.
Sunday was a different story according to Izzo – it was as if his players had grown up in less than a week.
Of course, you’re going to have good and bad weeks no matter who your team is and which coach is at the helm, but Izzo is certainly enjoying this time of year as he always does. As for his top players like Costello, how do they feel about the pressure to play their best from the coach? They’re, well, conflicted.
“I don’t always like it,” Costello said of coach Izzo’s tough demands and high expectations, “but he knows how to push my buttons.”
The second-ranked Spartans will finish up the year with a battle against Rutgers on Wednesday and a final match up at home against the Buckeyes this Saturday. Then, as always, it’s time for the Big Dance. And we all know how much Izzo loves March Madness. The regular season is just the warm up, the small bites – soon comes the main course.