By Jeff Goodman
It's difficult for Tom Izzo to hide his emotions and thoughts, which is why it was easy to digest that Michigan State's coach wasn't having much fun with his group last season.
"I slept with both eyes open," Izzo joked following the Spartans win at Wisconsin last night. "Now I only sleep with one open."
Izzo likes this team. Really likes these guys.
On paper, it's not an intimidating bunch. If it was, let's face it: One-year Valpo transfer Brandon Wood -- no matter what he did in the Horizon - wouldn't be able to come to East Lansing and immediately move into the starting lineup.
But these guys -- led by Draymond Green and Keith Appling - have displayed the one trait that's become an Izzo-ism: Toughness.
They have gone into The Kennel in Spokane and The Kohl Center and come away with victories. Sure, the 14-game winning streak that followed a pair of historic losses to start the season is impressive.
But wins at Gonzaga and on the road against Wisconsin? The 'Zags are 96-8 at The Kennel and Wisconsin had only lost eight Big Ten home games in the last 11 years.
That's mental toughness.
"Damn right," Izzo said.
"This was a big win for us," Izzo added after the controversial ending in which Ryan Evans' apparent 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have sent the game into a second overtime was disallowed after the refs determined time had expired. "We weren't great, but we're getting better every game in some aspect."
Unbelievably, this was Izzo's first career victory against Bo Ryan in Madison. He was 0-for-8 prior to the win.
"They've had our number," Izzo said. "We lost one in overtime, we were up 12 in another. Our football team lost and we even tried to use that this time. It was our turn. It wasn't pretty, but it was a big one for us."
Michigan State has Iowa and Northwestern next and that means, barring an upset, the Spartans should have 16 wins by mid-January - which is yet another indication to never, ever discount an Izzo-coached team from the equation.
"We've won 14 straight and I'm telling you, I don't even feel like we've been great," Izzo said. "I really think this team has a big upside."
Izzo told me not to give up on this team after the loss to Duke way back on Nov. 15.
Fifty days have passed -- and Michigan State hasn't lost since.