It seemed like such a harmless question. Do you consider it a compliment or an insult when people call your style ugly?
At Tom Izzo's news conference Tuesday, that question inspired quite a string of thoughts from Izzo. It's probably best to just let 'er rip. No space restrictions in blogs.
"Insult. I guess I'll use this forum one time to tell you this. At the beginning of the year I said I did not want to be known as a one-dimensional or two-dimensional coach. I'd like to think I am what my teams are, and why we've been successful, multi-dimensional, meaning you can do well in a lot of things.
"We led the league in scoring again. We've led it many times. We've led it in field goal shooting. I said it on some talk show yesterday, and the guy laughed, agreed with me. I'm blaming Bo and Woody. That's whose fault it is, Bo and Woody's, God bless you. It's three yards and a cloud of dust, spilled over to basketball. The Big Ten does stay a style of basketball a little bit different. We averaged two less points a game than Louisville. I mean, put it into perspective. Don't listen to some of the people that don't have a clue.
"I mean, yes, there's been some ugly games. Louisville scored 53 points against Notre Dame, got beat 90-53 or whatever it was. I'm not picking on Louisville. I think they're great, I really do.
"I'm just saying, as I go through all these schedules, we went and looked yesterday. Of the three teams-- three of the teams that are in this Final Four, North Carolina is a different animal, okay? But I think UConn has scored in the 70s nine times in conference play. Us and Villanova eight times. You know, what's the big deal? I'll tell you what the big deal is. You're damn right we check. We check because of Vince Lombardi. We check because of Pat Riley. We check-- why am I forgetting my favorite coach of the Pistons, Chuck Daly. I've watched Chuck Daly's teams. They were tough. Joe Dumars - tough defender.
"Why does everybody write about and why does everybody preach that defense wins championships? Pick the sport. Go ahead, pick it. Any one of you in here, pick it...But it doesn't matter what sport you're in. I do it every single year. I take hockey, baseball, football and basketball. I always put it up on a board or I reiterate it from a piece of paper. Who won the championship? When Baltimore was in it, best defensive team. It's 90% of the time it happens.
"So I guess I just learned that that's the way you have to win championships. But at the same time I want to run every time. I want to run every time. So I do get annoyed, sick of, frustrated with Digger saying, `They're trying to slow it down.' Well, if we tried to slow it down and scored 64, what did the other team do?
"I mean, you've got to realize that in this tournament is a perfect example of Big Ten basketball. How many games are lower scoring? Because possessions matter. Because defense is being played at an optimal level. You know, I'm speaking more for the conference now...I think we have so many great coaches in this conference. I think we've added some great ones. I think we added a great one right down the road. We've got some great coaches. You know what, I'm not saying other people don't have great coaches, they do. But great coaches are going to make you earn your way.
"If you're a great defensive team, you aren't going to score as many points just because you don't have as many possessions, because it's going to take-- if you're a great defensive team and a great offensive team, you still only get so many shots, you're only going to score so many points. It's going to take people 30 seconds, because you're not going to give up the layup on the fast break, we're going to make them earn it. If it takes them 30 seconds to score instead of 10, that's 20 less seconds we get the ball back.
"So you can't get deceived on what great offense and great defense is. At times have we've been - favorite word - dysfunctional, whatever words you guys want to use. Yeah, I'm the one that said it. I said our offense isn't as smooth because guys aren't maybe together on it. We're not practicing with the same guys. We're playing 100%. But this little bit of national perspective and everything on the Big Ten, let me see now, it's been 11 years. We've been to five. There's been four or five other teams. In 11 years, there's been pretty good representation in the greatest game of all, the greatest weekend of all, that's the Final Four.
"And so I'm not gonna condemn anybody else, but I'm sure not going to sit here and let not you but other people throw rocks at our nice glass house because it's pretty good. It is what it is. It's a little harder to score in our league. But maybe that's why we're still surviving.
"So where did I learn it? When I say Vince Lombardi, you can laugh. I idolized him. I watched his teams. They were simple. Ran three plays. Up the middle, off tackle, around the end, come and stop it. That was it. I love Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. I mean, it was smash mouth. In the end, men are men. You got to be able to go through somebody.
"The day is going to come before I'm done when they're going to say, `You know what, they're good at all aspects.' They're going to say their program is great because they play good offense, defense, they rebound well, graduate their guys, their fan base is incredible. I've got so much work to do, I don't even know where to start. But we are making strides and I'm going to keep making them."
There you go. Stuff like this probably shouldn't bother a coach this much, especially one who is about to coach in the Final Four. For me, it's bothersome because so many people in my profession seem so incapable of following a basketball game.
At halftime of Sunday's game, I told a few people: "Everyone is going to frame this game as a case of MSU slowing the pace, but it's actually Louisville that is slowing the pace." Pitino was smart enough to not throw the fullblown zone press on MSU. It was basically man pressure on the point guard, with some trapping here and there.
Pitino watches game film. He said it before the game and he saw it: MSU can really run. So Louisville played it relatively safe, and then they couldn't get anything going on offense, and you have a game in the 50s and 60s.
Yet in most analyses of the game that I read or watched, it was, in a nutshell: "Michigan State slowed things to a crawl, the only way the Spartans could win."
I'm already seeing some people saying that a key for MSU on Saturday will be a slow pace. Let's see, a huge UConn team with a center who is much better in a halfcourt game, anchored to the rim. A team with seven players in its rotation, six who play major minutes.
And you think MSU wants this game to be slow? I have a hard time seeing the Spartans winning if it's slow. They're better when fast, and they absolutely must get Thabeet in motion and try to wear UConn down for the final few minutes of the game.
Maybe Saturday will be a perception changer for MSU. Or maybe, both teams will defend the guts out of each other and the Big Ten will get blamed for uglying up the Final Four.