Izzo Laments Delayed Matchups With Beilein, Michigan

The two rivals dont square off until Feb. 24.

Will Burchfield
January 10, 2019 - 6:43 pm

© Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

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If Tom Izzo had his way, his team would play John Beilein's team tomorrow. Instead, No. 6 Michigan State and No. 2 Michigan won't square off until Feb. 24, after which they'll play again March 9. 

That two conference rivals -- and a pair of national championship contenders -- have to wait until the final few weekends of the season to play each other doesn't make sense to a large contingent of college basketball fans, Izzo included. 

"Just like it made no sense that some years we only played once," Izzo told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. "But rivalries aren’t rivalries if both teams aren’t good. Sure, it’s harder on the coaches, sure, it’s better for the fans, but I think it’s better for the college game. Everybody waited for the Michigan-Ohio State football game over those years when Bo was here, everybody waits for Duke-Tobacco Road.

"There’s not a lot of times that there’s two teams in the same state, much less two teams in the same state that are both good in any sport." 

In Izzo's 24-year tenure as head coach, Michigan and Michigan State have never played each other for the first time this late in the season. With a second clash just 13 days later in the season finale and the possibility for a third directly thereafter in the Big Ten tournament, some drama could be in store. But Izzo would rather space the games out. 

Of course, he doesn't have the power to make the schedule -- even as the longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten. 

"I think John has done a great job there, they have a very, very good team. It is kind of sad that we have to wait that long and it’s no fun to play them almost back to back -- but, hey, the power you think I have, you better recalculate because I don’t have nearly as much as you think I have," Izzo laughed. 

Michigan State's 14-2 start has been fueled by the play of Cassius Winston and Nick Ward, the former of whom was named to the midseason top 25 watch list for the Wooden Award. Ward, meanwhile, is averaging 16.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, proving he made the right decision to return for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. 

In the era of one-and-done players, it can be easy to forget that college basketball is a developmental process. 

"I say this some jealous, some real, some I don’t what it is, but Duke and Kentucky have kind of hurt the process when every freshman goes there. You gotta remember, they’re starting the top four, five freshmen in the whole country. Nick Ward was barely a top-100 kid, so there is a process, and I think most kids do conform to some kind of discipline in whatever way. To be successful, that’s the way of the world," Izzo said. "You guys had to sacrifice to get to where you got, it’s just that now we’re in an instant gratification society. 

"I’m pleased -- in fact, there’s nothing better than to watch, whether it’s your own kids or your players, develop and mature, do better in school, do better off the court, do better on the court, do better taking care of their bodies. All those things are part of the process that society doesn’t want to let them have, and sometimes it’s more unfair to them."

In an effort to help Ward realize his potential, Izzo has been hard on him at times over the past three seasons, particularly 2017-18. To some, this makes Izzo a demanding coach. But Izzo bristles at that term. 

"Being a demanding coach is really a myth. Anybody’s gotta be demanding," Izzo said. "If you’re trying to win championships, if you’re trying to get to the NBA, if you’re trying to do things that less than a half percent of the country get to do, it’s gonna be demanding. So I sometimes take offense to that, meaning, I listen to what people say and I look at some of the guys that have done it year in, year out and there’s a demanding part of that, sacrificing part of that.

"Nick Ward has done an unbelievable job of growing each year, but I think he’s taken the biggest jump from last year to this year."