Friday, April 3, 2009

Izzo's insight: Toughness the key

DETROIT — While casino visits and Connecticut's recruiting habits were hot topics on Final Four Eve, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo ventured outside the mainstream long enough to make an indirect but still interesting prediction — one that runs counter to popular thinking.

"I think the toughest players win," he said. "Everybody has all their great players, and somebody is going to make a few more shots than somebody else. But what it really comes down to is who is going to get the most loose balls and do the things that if you're the average fan, you probably never realize.

"You hear coaches talk all the time about the little things. The big reason for that is because everybody does the big things. The big things are the stuff you do everyday. But the deeper you go in this tournament, the more the little things matter. It adds up making a huge difference in the end."

So which team is the toughest here? Izzo didn't dare go that far, but he's got a couple of certified warriors in guard Jerry Smith and reserve Preston Knowles. The Spartans' foe, Connecticut, has a combination warrior-star in A.J. Price.

Villanova has forwards Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson.

North Carolina's best "little things" player is probably Marcus Ginyard, who has been sidelined by a knee injury since Jan. 4 and will not play against the Wildcats on Saturday. But that doesn't mean the Tar Heels are void of toughness.

Tyler Hansbrough qualifies. So does Ty Lawson, who is still playing in foot pain. -- Caulton Tudor