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February 27, 2012
EAST LANSING - The pundits didn't know, the magazines didn't think twice, and some guy in Vegas is about to win a ton of money. Nobody was predicting banners in Breslin.
Of course, there was one guy in East Lansing who knew something we didn't know, something Izzo didn't even know. And knew it in November. Ironically, it wasn't the Spartans' 15-game win streak, but their 0-2 start, that Draymond Green believing a Big Ten Championship was more than just a goal, it could be a reality.
"Even after the first couple games," Draymond said when asked when he knew this team had a realistic shot. "I knew this team had a lot of potential when we lost to North Carolina and Duke, the way we stacked up with those two teams, two of the best teams in the country."
Green acknowledged that there have been some "speed bumps" along the way - having their 15-game win streak broken with a loss at Northwestern, following that with a loss in Ann Arbor, going through the offensive woes of nights like the Illinois loss - but walking out of Madison Square Garden on November 15, Green was more confident than ever.
Six Pack of Izzo's Best from Monday:
1. On passing the ball inside to post players more this season, and the fact that Nix might need to finish more of those rather than kick them out:
"I watch Nix and it's like Earvin. He thinks he's Magic, and I think he's tragic. He is more excited about that pass than he is his own shot. That speaks volumes about Derrick that I didn't even know.
"Hopefully it is a new dimension now that we really learned that with even a decent shooting team it can be a pretty good shooting team if the ball is coming from inside-out, getting squared. As we look at film of other opposition, sometimes you see the ball go in there and you don't know if it is ever coming back out. Now even Payne is starting to kick it out. That was not a strength of his, but it shows how infections giving can be."
2. "This team has made me appreciate a lot of things. One of them is that with a lot of good people around you, you can change a lot of people. We have guys becoming better leaders, maybe just because of what DayDay does. We have guys becoming better passers, maybe just because of what Nix has done.
3. On the rapport between Green and Keith Appling:
"I think Keith and Draymond have developed a hell of a two-man game, coordination on the break. Keith is looking for him like an Eric Snow and a Respert. He and Keith have a really good relationship, which has really helped."
4. "We have the smallest margin for error of any championship type team that we have had. Some of that is good but some of that is nerve-racking because you can't be average very often and win. If we are average on offense, we had better be great on defense. To be just good at both, we aren't beating good teams. We just aren't that talented to do that.
"Now when you look at Indiana on the road, Ohio State, the Big Ten Tournament, the NCAA Tournament, they are going to be all good teams. That's my next challenge to our guys."
5. Minnesota had success in the first half with a zone defense. Nebraska tried for a little while, but MSU was hot from 3-point range that day. Is Izzo surprised that more teams haven't played zone against MSU?
"We don't have a lot of zone teams in our league," Izzo said. "I think (some teams) are worried about the rebounding, usually. We have been an okay shooting team. It hasn't been great. But it hasn't been poor.
"We didn't do a very good job at Minnesota. We settled for threes. And on that night, we weren't shooting very well. We settled for 16 3-pointers. That's not who we are. They were quick threes. We quit going inside. That was a bad job on my part, to be honest with you.
"If teams want to zone us, press us, man us, I don't give a damn what they do, we are going to figure out a way to get our stuff."
6. "Tom Crean has done an incredible job. They have are a plus-10 over last year, with 10 more wins than last year, which is more than any team in the league.
"Cody Zeller is a much better player (than the first time we played Indiana), just like in my mind Branden Dawson is a much better player. And Victor Oladipo has really upped his game."
"It will be crazier than any place we played all year. It is going to be a great environment."