EAST LANSING, Mich. — Whenever speculation surrounds a Big Ten basketball coach’s job status, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo comes to the rescue.
This time, he defended Nebraska coach Tim Miles after his Spartans beat the Huskers 88-72 on Thursday. Miles himself addressed questions about his longevity earlier in the week.
Izzo had this to say about Miles, who took Nebraska to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 but hasn’t been to the postseason since:
“Tim has done a great job there,” Izzo said. “I know exactly what he’s going through. He’s been good enough. He’s won some big games. And yet he, too, like us, is having trouble being consistent. I don’t know how that game got so out of hand. It was a close game. They were playing well. And then I think three 3s in a row, and all of a sudden, it was out of hand.
“I felt fortunate to win it. I thought we played good enough at times. And yet I like what he’s done with his team. He’s got some good young players, and that’s going to be a very, very good team in the — hopefully this future, but in the near future.”
Then Izzo went on to address the outcome of a game in which his four freshmen — Miles Bridges, Josh Langford, Nick Ward and Cassius Winston — combined to score 64 points.
Initial thoughts: “You know, it was a strange game. I give our guys some credit, but I thought it was a sloppy game. When there’s this many free throws, both teams shoot a lot of them, I don’t know if it ever looked pretty. I thought we did some good things. I thought we made some poor decisions.
“We didn’t turn it over as much (nine times, Michigan State’s fewest this season), which is a plus for us, but we still have our moments when it’s a bad shot. I should feel better about it than I do, but then again, maybe I shouldn’t, because we had a big game Saturday with a lot on the line (and lost 80-63 at No. 14 Purdue).”
On Langford’s 17-point performance: “Josh definitely took a giant step the last couple days. He had been early in the week, missed some of practice throwing up. He actually was pretty sick, and then he bounced back and had a really good practice yesterday. I thought he had a pretty good day today, but the problem is still when we have those freshmen in there, especially those guards (Langford and Winston), we sometimes really struggle defensively, and that’s where they’ve both got to improve if we’re going to become a real good team.
“A team like Wisconsin’s gonna run their stuff, run their stuff. They’re gonna have bigger guards, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us in that respect. We’re just going to need those freshmen to become sophomores defensively more than offensively. Offensively, I’d agree with everything you said. Defensively, I think we still have some work to do.”
On the offensive activity of his freshmen: “I told them that I’d like to see them flying around like that on the other end, because on the other end, they’re kind of standing around. But you know what, Cassius can pass the ball as good as anybody. I told you that at the beginning, middle and end. You know what I think of Miles and Nick, and Josh is coming. He’s coming. It’s taking longer. He’s a unique kid, but he’s getting more comfortable and more confident, and he’s going to have to keep doing that, because he can really guard, too.”
On Alvin Ellis III getting the start: “I didn’t like the way he responded at the beginning. He turned it over, I think, three times in the first couple minutes (three overall, two in first four minutes). I told him before the game, I said the first shot might go into the tube. I said don’t be cool and casual, because I know you’re excited. You’d better be excited. You waited a long time to start.
“I still think he was solid. He didn’t shoot it as well (1-for-6 from the field), shot pretty well from the line (5-for-6), did rebound the wall pretty well (six rebounds), defended pretty decent, but I think the turnovers of trying to feed Nick the way he was doing, it wasn’t good. I thought after the first three turnovers that he played pretty well.”