If you look at the AP Top 25 poll, you’ll see eight different conferences represented among the top 10. They are, in order, the Pac-12 (Arizona), ACC (Syracuse), Big Ten (Wisconsin and Michigan State), Missouri Valley (Wichita State), Big East (Villanova), SEC (Florida), Big-12 (Iowa State and Oklahoma State) and Mountain West (San Diego State).
Is it just Brandon Tierney, or do things seem a little more jumbled this year?
“Well, I think everybody’s shocked that right now there’s no Carolina, Duke and Kentucky – even Kansas, although they’re playing better; they just beat Iowa State last night,” Spartans head coach Tim Izzo said on The Morning Show. “But I think our league has deserved the last couple years the high rankings we’ve got. I think Wisconsin is awfully good this year. Ohio State is really good. I think you’re going to see a team like Iowa – they are for real. I picked them as my preseason sleeper – not my sleeper, because I knew they’d be good, but I think Fran (McCaffery) has done an incredible job there. And the league is really good top to bottom. That’s what’s so great about it.”
While some traditional powers are outside the top 10 – and, in Duke’s case, outside the top 20 – Michigan State (15-1) has been its usual, dominant self. The Spartans, whose only loss came at home to North Carolina, have won eight straight games, including a wild 72-68 overtime thriller over then-No. 3 Ohio State on Jan. 7.
Amazingly, the Spartans have performed at a high level despite injuries, at one time or another, to four starters, including Adreian Payne, who has plantar fasciitis.
“I’ve never dealt with this many, and it’s been different things – mono and strep throat,” Izzo said. “I wish they were practice-related or game-related because then I could somewhat control it, but none of them have been that way. It’s been strange.
“I think it makes you stronger in the long run, but it sure does make you kind of not very smooth right now,” Izzo continued. “But it’s the way it is, and you’ve got to live with it and try to deal with it.”
As Izzo observed, it’s much harder to deal with injuries in basketball – as opposed to, say, football – because there are only five guys on the floor at one time. Nevertheless, the Spartans are winning with a team-first philosophy, as they rank second in the country with 18.5 assists per game. They’re also just outside the top 20 in scoring and rebounding.
“Well, I really think (we’re) a lot tougher (since the loss to Carolina),” Izzo said. “We’re back to knocking people down and having fun again and our defense has been better, our rebounding has been better.
“If we could get everybody healthy, I just love the team I got – not only talent-wise, but (they’re) really good guys who get along. It’s just, you need everybody there.”
Izzo was asked about recruiting and how he lets a player know that he wants him.
“I just go there, get on my knees and beg,” Izzo joked, waiting for the laughs to quiet.
“The world has changed so much,” he continued. “There’s a lot more texting going on now. I’m not a big tweeter. I’m not a fan of it, personally, but there is more texting going on. I still try.
“(But) I got to read body language. I got to read their voice. It’s so hard. I think it’s so generic when you go the other route (with texting, even though) I know that’s what kids want.”
Even in today’s social-media world, Izzo tries to remain as traditional as possible in his recruiting endeavors.
“There’s nothing like bringing a player into an office and seeing how he feels – look into his eyes, look at his body language, (see) whether he’s squirming, whether he’s confident,” Izzo said. “Certain things transcend time, and I think that’s one of them that really does.”