Big Ten

After early Big Ten Tournament exit, Tom Izzo laments Michigan State freshmen's lack of March understanding

After early Big Ten Tournament exit, Tom Izzo laments Michigan State freshmen's lack of March understanding

WASHINGTON — Coming into the season, Tom Izzo's quartet of highly touted freshmen seemed to be the reason to be excited about Michigan State's chances.

Now that the time of tournaments has finally arrived, the youth of this Spartans team might be the reason its March stay is unusually brief.

The Hall of Fame coach was upset following Michigan State's loss to Minnesota in Thursday's quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Tournament. The Spartans didn't play well, struggling mightily to shoot the ball. Izzo was so unhappy with his team's performance he said he was shocked that Michigan State was still in the game down to the very end of what ended up a mere five-point decision.

But it was how his team played that got the man whose name could be a solid replacement candidate for the third month on the calendar real, as he put it, disappointed.

"I was disappointed," Izzo said. "There haven't been many times that I've been disappointed in this team this year. Today was one of them."

Which brings us to the freshmen. Michigan State teams of the past have relied on veterans of the program to build upon the years of postseason success. But Izzo is short on those this time around. It's not that the statistics were exceptionally awful Thursday. It's that the young players didn't seem to understand how to play in March.

"Maybe it's my fault, because I talked to them about it last night. I guarded against this," Izzo said. "I know what happens. You win a game. You get back to the hotel. You got an hour, then you're going to a gym to practice on the next team. But that's what one-and-done time is all about. But they don't know that. AAU ball, if you lose this game, you probably play another one in a couple hours, right? ... I just think too much, winning is never valued. It's not like they on purpose said, 'We're not going to play hard.' They just don't understand the rise of the level that it takes.

"One thing we've been really good at over the years, why we've been a good turnaround team, is taking one game, by the next day being prepared for the next team. It is a little more difficult when you have so many young guys. So I'll learn a lesson, too. Maybe we got to change how we did it."

Michigan State isn't used to being out of this event so early. The Spartans played in the last three Big Ten Tournament title games and won two of them. You have to go all the way back to 2010 to find the last time Michigan State didn't reach the semifinals — coincidentally, that run also ended with a loss to Minnesota.

But as good as Izzo's been in the conference tournament, and there's been no one better, he's made his name in the Big Dance, which comes next week. Michigan State's first-round exit a season ago seemed the fluke of flukes. But what if, in what has been a relatively down year for this perennial power of a program, the Spartans' NCAA tournament stay reflects the challenges of this season? Exiting the conference tournament on Day 3 might be a rarity, but so too were the five non-conference losses and 14 losses on the season.

Again, the statistics weren't all bad from the four fab freshmen. Miles Bridges scored a lot of points, leading the team with 20, and Nick Ward had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. But that duo combined to go just 11-for-29 from the field. Bridges was 2-for-11 shooting the 3. Joshua Langford had six points. Cassius Winston was scoreless. And surely Izzo would have some critiques to make that involve stuff that didn't show up in the box score.

But the numbers were secondary to the effort. It takes a special kind of mentality to win as many games this time of year as Izzo's teams have. This team didn't have that mentality Thursday.

"It's a learning lesson. It seems like the whole damn year has been a learning lesson," Izzo said. "We learned again today, if you don't come at this level — it's not an AAU tournament, and play 40 minutes, you can play better the second half, you can play better in different parts. It's not going to be good enough. I think we'll learn from it, grow from it, hopefully do a better job if we get a chance to play again."

The good news is the Spartans will get another chance. Despite this down year they're considered a shoo-in for the NCAA tournament field, and maybe Izzo can work some March magic again.

But in this season that hasn't quite lived up to Michigan State's standards, maybe there's no way he can.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?