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February 14, 2012

The greatest reconsidered practices in MSU history

The Draymond Green-Mateen Cleaves comparisons continue. After his team's meaningful win at Ohio State on Saturday, Tom Izzo pointed to Green's request to scale back Friday's practice as a key. It's significant because it's like asking Bill Belichick to smile and giggle through a press conference, and because Green backed it up and had the Spartans ready. On Monday, Izzo reminisced about a similar interaction -- before a slightly bigger game.

    OK, much bigger. The 2000 national title game. After that eye-spraining semifinals win over Wisconsin (still think MSU press corps from that season should get trophies or something for covering four MSU-Wisconsin games), Cleaves came to Izzo and asked to knock the planned Sunday two-a-days for Florida down to a single practice.

    "We played on that Saturday against Wisconsin and I think it was the day before we had our little war drill and Andre Hutson hurt his knee," Izzo said. "And I didn’t even think about it. I cared but I didn’t care. I wasn’t worried about the practice.
    "But that Sunday we usually have two-a-days because we go to a high school and practice. We practice and then we have the event (at the arena). Even though it’s not open to the public, the practice at the arena is surrounded by media stuff on both sides.”
    Cleaves got it chopped in half.
    “Of all players, he liked to practice more than I did," Izzo said. "And he said, ‘The guys are a little tired. I think if we can go once tomorrow, I’ll make sure they’re ready.’ Well, I didn’t even blink then, I knew he’d have them ready.”

    As you may recall, he did.

    Green's words to Izzo after Thursday's practice:  “We’re a little tired, coach.”

    So Izzo adjusted and was wowed on Saturday morning by the focus during walk-through. It may sound trivial, but the fact that the players were zeroed in, not tight but not joking around, gave Izzo a good feeling. They knew their assignments, and they even shot well while running their sets.

    “The game might have been won the day before and the day of as much as it was won during," Izzo said. "And that might be hard for some people to understand but it’s really easy for me to understand.”

    This reminds me of last season, before MSU took on Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. Kevin Pauga, director of basketball operations, proclaimed before the game that the Spartans were going to win because of what he saw during walk-through. They blew out the Boilermakers, you may recall, to cement an NCAA bid.

    Izzo said he's probably had the same feeling and been wrong about it before, but it reminded him of the 2009 Louisville win -- and another practice suggestion from another of his best leaders. This time, Izzo actually didn' t want to do a walk-through that day because the game was early. Travis Walton said: "Coach, we should just walk through one more time." They did in the ballroom of the team hotel, and after five minutes Izzo cut it off. He had seen what he wanted to see. A few minutes later, he proclaimed to Joel Ferguson that the Spartans were going to win.

    “Those are moments that mean nothing and mean everything," Izzo said, "if that makes any sense.”

    It does and it doesn't. One thing's for sure -- Izzo would like to have more such moments with Green, his third great leader, as late in March as he did with his first two. Interesting common thread between this team and the two Izzo teams that have advanced the deepest.

    Two more quick things, one funny -- Iowa's Fran McCaffery turned his Breslin chair incident into money for charity. One sad -- RIP, Zeke II.


    Today's stories. The day-off rule as it applies to the current schedule irritates Izzo -- who has a long-held distaste for the way the NCAA restricts coaches access to players.

    Adreian Payne goes well with with light-bulb word play.

    Ohio State plays at Minnesota tonight at 9 (ESPN), and Thad Matta and Tubby Smith both think poor OSU offense was a bigger factor than good MSU defense -- while Jared Sullinger said the Buckeyes "chalked it up (to a bad day) and said we'll get 'em back on March 4 at their place."



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Joe Rexrode
MSU Sports Reporter

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