Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo is the dean of Big Ten head coaches. As the longest tenured and most accomplished leader in the league he can get away with saying very interesting things during his press conferences. Most players and coaches cannot. They play it vanilla and stay safe most of the time. Tom Izzo has done so much for MSU that even if he decides to rock the boat a little, he'll be fine.
Last night, Izzo's Spartans won 54-40 at Northwestern and after the game Tom Izzo praised NU's rookie head coach Chris Collins; who's very media savvy in his own way.
This team tonight (Northwestern) is tough. They played tough. They were a joy to watch, I wish I could have watched them play Michigan or something, and played like that, then I would have felt even better. Sorry. But it never changes, tougher teams are going to win when talent gets to be equal. “
Hearing the “sorry” in Izzo’s Upper Peninsula of Michigan (almost Canadian sounding) accent, heightened the effect of his speech.
Then came the money quote:
“It is a little harder to motivate kids I guess because they’ve been pampered so much. We’re in the trophy generation, give ‘em a trophy for 23rd place, make ‘em feel good. Make mom and dad feel good, you know.” (full quote in which Tom Izzo remarked that we live in a "soft society" here. It was the press conference of the year. Tom Izzo was soundbite gold; as he usually is, last night.
In the video below, shot last night at the postgame press conference, Tom Izzo gives further praise to Collins and his staff, about how they're doing things the right way. Collins' Wildcats have really struggled on offense this year, but it's more a function of transitioning from the Princeton offense to a motion base. As Tom Izzo put it, it's like transitioning from the wishbone to a Pro Set.
And in this next video from the same presser, Chris Collins talks about his offense and his team. NU hoops is playing some great defense right now, they've moved into the top half of the league. They held MSU, the league's number one team in assists and three-point shooting percentage to 54 points and 12% 3 point percentage, well well below their averages. By the count of Tom Izzo, the Spartans put up six airballs.
Said Collins last night about his defense:
"We've turned the corner. Guys have embraced that's what we need to do to be competitive. Since the Iowa game, we had good meetings. We talked about what we needed to do. Have to be hard-nosed, scrappy, defensive team. Held MSU to 54. That's defending your tail off. We just have to score. Our half-court defense was tremendous. Next step: more efficient on offense. Margin for error is small. Have to make open shots, free throws, etc.
In addition to "hard-nosed" and "scrappy," a couple Northwestern players used the word "blue collar" a couple times last night. So they hit a few of the Caucasian code words that announcers use all the time. Just watch any broadcast of Ohio State, and listen to how star point guard Aaron Craft is described: "lunch pail," "hustling" "plays the game the right way," "a gamer." "Blue collar" is the most overused of the "Aaron Craft words."
Nevertheless, Chris Collins is living up to what NU leadership was reportedly looking for in a replacement for Bill Carmody, a supposed "Basketball Fitz." He's a very young, up and comer with excellent PR skills, endless energy, great recruiting ability and a tendency to emphasize defense. MSU came in averaging 82.2 points per game. Illinois came in averaging 72, and scored just 43. Under Chris Collins, Northwestern will "get after it" on the defensive end, every night. Like Tom Izzo said, the offense and the wins will come. In time, they will come.
You can catch both Tom Izzo and Chris Collins being featured in replays of BTN's "The Journey" this weekend.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. He’s also an analyst for multiple news talk radio stations across the country; with regular weekly segments discussing: Illinois, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Bears and Bulls on NBC and Fox Sports Radio. President Barack Obama follows him on Twitter (@paulmbanks)
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