Relaxed MSU gets New Mexico State

Michael Caples
Special to FOX Sports Detroit

East Lansing — The Spartan family gathered as they always do on Selection Sunday, in the Frances Cleaves Family Center. The players hung out in the comfy leather chairs in front of a giant TV. Coach Tom Izzo stood beside his family. Even with cameras and media watching their every move, they all seemed calm and relaxed. Raymar Morgan so much so that he was walking around in socks, as if we were in his living room.

The Spartans (24-8, 14-4) maintained that same relaxed manner when it was announced that they are the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region for this year’s NCAA Tournament. The Spartans will face New Mexico State on Friday in Spokane, Wash.

It was not quiet because of disappointment. After all, the Spartans were a favorite for a No. 1 seed this preseason. Nor was it silence for excitement, because everyone in the room knew they could have seeded higher with just one more win.

The players gathered around the room know what they need to do, and it doesn’t involve yelling and screaming in front of television cameras. Izzo knows, as well.

“We need everybody pulling for each other,” the coach of five Final Four MSU teams said. “From my secretaries, to my managers, to the coaches, to the players, if we get that, we’ll win some games in this tournament. We win some games, and all of a sudden it takes on a life of its own, and that’s what’s happened to us, thank god, more often than not.”

Izzo said that the preparation required for another run for a national title begins right away. First off, Izzo has a lot of game film to catch up on. The Spartans have never played the New Mexico State Aggies in school history.

“I must admit I have not seen New Mexico State yet, but I will a lot tonight,” Izzo said. “I have a lot of tape on them. I know they beat Nevada in the semis on Nevada’s home court. I watched Nevada play Duke right down to the wire.”

The game against the Aggies represents a fresh start for MSU, just like any other season. Izzo talked about the different methods he has used to motivate his team for the Big Dance, and said that this year, the answer is in the location of the Spartans’ first game. Izzo’s mentor and former MSU head coach Jud Heathcote lives in Spokane.

“This made it easy on me,” Izzo said. “I just told our team, instead of a sledgehammer or all the other things that we’ve done, now they have to fear going out and playing in front of Judd.

“He probably willed us there, knowing him. So now they’re going to feel the wrath of him being around, and hopefully that will make them play a little better.”

Izzo expects that the leaders on his team — Kalin Lucas, Morgan and Draymond Green — will step up in the next week.

“I think Kalin is going to be out to prove something,” Izzo said. “I think that’s a good out to prove something, not a bad one. I think Raymar is about as focused as I’ve seen him since I met him, and that was his sophomore year of high school. And Draymond is Draymond, he’s ready to fight the world every single day, and that’s cool with me.”

Lucas, however, said the whole team is carrying his mentality.

“We just want to make a run again,” the Spartans’ leading scorer said. “We didn’t do too good in the Big Ten tournament, but we’re just going to try to make a run in the tournament like we did last year.”

Green said that the Spartans are still dealing with the tough loss against Minnesota.

“I think we had a good practice today,” he said. “It wasn’t that long, but we got some stuff done and I think it went pretty well. I think we got our focus back, ready to make a strong run to send our seniors out the right way.

“Everyone’s still feeling like we not only let ourselves down, we let a lot of people down. That was a game that we needed to win, but at the same time, there’s always more games