College Hoops

Exclusive: Tom Izzo on seeding, guard play, and keys to a Final Four run

Exclusive: Tom Izzo on seeding, guard play, and keys to a Final Four run

Seven years ago, Michigan State suffered one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

The Spartans, led by All-American guard Denzel Valentine, ran into a red-hot-shooting Middle Tennessee State team and ended up on the wrong end of a 90-81 defeat. It was just the eighth time in tournament history that a No. 15 seed had knocked off a 2-seed.

Fast-forward to the present, and MSU head coach Tom Izzo has his team back in the Big Dance for a 25th consecutive season, the longest such streak among Division I menโ€™s basketball coaches.ย 

Izzoโ€™s team earned an impressive 72-62 opening-round win over USC on Friday and will take on No. 2 seed Marquette in the Round of 32 on Sunday. The Spartans, who have won six of their last nine games, are a popular upset choice heading into Sundayโ€™s matchup and have even been mentioned as a sneaky Final Four pick by several national media members.ย 

But Izzo knows what itโ€™s like to be on both ends of the spectrum โ€” he’s been knocked off as a high seed, and he’s made a Final Four as a 7-seed (2015).

“Iโ€™ve been to the Final Four as a 1-seed, and Iโ€™ve been beaten in the first weekend [as a 2-seed],” Izzo said in an exclusive interview with FOX Sports college basketball reporter John Fanta. “I really donโ€™t think the seeding is as important right now. It’s how youโ€™re playing and what your team is like.”

The Spartans passed their first test against USC by frustrating the Trojans from start to finish with suffocating defense and timely shot-making. Izzoโ€™s team held a USC group that was averaging 72.5 points per contest to just 62 points on 41% shooting from the floor.

“They played well, and I give them credit,” USC senior Drew Peterson said after being held to just 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting. “They played a very solid defense.”

While defense is and always has been a calling card for Izzoโ€™s teams, there was another aspect of Fridayโ€™s game that left him feeling hopeful about his teamโ€™s chances moving forward.

“Not turning the ball over,” Izzo said. “If we can take care of the ball against Marquette, that will have a lot to do with the outcome of that game.”

The numbers certainly back up Izzoโ€™s claim: The Spartans ranked 12th out of 14 teams in the Big Ten in turnover margin (-0.97) this season and went 5-5 when committing at least 12 turnovers.

Itโ€™s a telling stat for a team that relies heavily on the play of its guards. The trio of A.J. Hoggard, Tyson Walker and Jaden Akins

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