Izzo welcoming high expectations for Spartans

EAST LANSING (AP) — Tom Izzo has one of his most talented and deepest teams in two-plus decades at Michigan State.

That will lead the Spartans to being projected as a national championship contender.

“I love the pressure because it means you’re in the right place,” Izzo said Wednesday at the team’s media day, entering his 23rd season in charge of the program. “It’s not so good not to be cared about.”

The Hall of Fame coach helped his young team earn a spot in the NCAA tournament last season, barely extended his Big Ten record to 20 straight appearances. The Spartans beat Miami before being overmatched in a loss to Kansas.

Last season, Izzo didn’t have a lot of talent, depth or size. This season, he has plenty of each.

Miles Bridges had one-and-done talent, but turned down a chance to be an NBA first-round pick to stay in his comfort zone on campus for his sophomore season. The 6-foot-7 pound forward was forced to play in the post as a freshman, but he’ll move to small forward this season because he’s no longer one of the biggest players on the team.

“I knew I was going to have to slim down,” he said. “I went on a no-sugar diet for a month. I went from 242 to 225.”

What food was most difficult to give up during the diet?

“Hot Cheetos,” Bridges said.

After averaging 16 points, eight rebounds and two assists last season, Bridges will be a national player of the year candidate.

“I don’t feel pressure because I don’t pay attention to the preseason stuff,” he insisted.

Michigan State will likely be ranked among the top teams on Nov. 1 when The Associated Press college basketball poll is released because unlike last season, Bridges has plenty of help. The Spartans have four of their top five scorers and eight of their top 10 back and several of them started at least 10 games last season.

Highly touted freshman Jaren Jackson, a 6-11 forward, is listed as a top pick in 2018 NBA mock drafts.

“I embrace whatever so-called pressure comes by way,” he said.

Less-heralded freshman Xavier Tillman, who is 6-8 and 260 pounds, has been impressive so far this fall.

“He’s probably been the biggest surprise at camp,” Izzo said. “I thought he’d be a good player. I think before he’s done he’s going to be a great player.”

Bridges and Jackson may start alongside sophomores Nick Ward, Joshua Langford and Cassius Winston.

Seniors Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter, juniors Tum Tum Nairn, Matt McQuaid and Kyle Ahrens along with Tillman will allow Izzo to have a rotation of at least 10 players.

“There should be expectations. There better be expectations,” Izzo said. “There should be pressure. There better be pressure. … I think they know why they came here. I know why I’m here, why I haven’t left. I love it.”