Tom Izzo was not a happy guy on Wednesday night, and he said it was as much with himself as it was his players.
He had said he was determined to shorten his rotation and play only the players who had proven they deserved minutes. Well, during a 76-44 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Izzo played 13. Eleven saw action in the heart of the game while the final two – walk-ons – came in during the final minutes.
“I did something I said I wasn’t going to do,” Izzo said. “I let my heart get where my head is and played some guys that maybe just weren’t ready to play.”
The final score was not the indicator. The 19 turnovers were a more likely culprit.
And Izzo said it wasn’t every player he was upset with. In fact, he had good things to say about plenty of those on the roster, including Keith Appling, Travis Trice and Adreian Payne.
But as he continued, it was hard to determine how many guys he was truly unhappy with. Nobody was perfect, but there was some praise for Derrick Nix, Gary Harris, Denzel Valentine and Brandan Kearney. Izzo wasn’t happy with how hard Branden Dawson played at times, but much of that is being chalked up to a position switch and fighting back from a torn ACL.
One player not mentioned in the post-game was Russell Byrd.
The sophomore captain has had a tough road since committing to Michigan State. He’s had three surgeries on his left foot and this is the first time he’s been truly healthy. But nothing has come easy for the 6-foot-7 guard. He’s a shooter who is not shooting well – he’s just 5-for-25 from 3-point range – and there doesn’t seem to be a good fit for him on the floor.
His minutes have been sporadic – he played three minutes against Kansas and two against Miami– and it seems those minutes might be drying up completely.
On Wednesday, he drew the ire of Izzo on several occasions, and near the end of his press conference, Izzo declared he wants more emotion.
“I’m looking for guys like me,” he said. “I need somebody to show some emotion. If that’s not what they wanna do this is a bad place for them. But I need some people that have some passion in what they do. If it’s not their personality, I don’t really care. I’m looking for somebody I want to know it’s important to them.”
Could it have been directed at Byrd?
Only Izzo truly knows.
Maybe he was simply frustrated with his team, maybe he will watch the film and feel differently.
But if the rotation truly does shrink over the next few games, it will certainly be interesting to see what Byrd’s role ultimately becomes.