- College Basketball - If it's a 'War' under the boards, the Spartans usually win

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 Monday, November 6
Spartans will go to 'War' for Izzo under boards
 By Jay Bilas
Special to

Tom Izzo has created a trademark for Michigan State basketball: relentless rebounding.

Izzo is from the school of thought that great rebounders are made, not born, and Izzo has made Michigan State into the most feared rebounding team in the nation.

"We put an emphasis on it," Izzo said of his team's unyielding pursuit of the ball. "We chart it. Everything about it, like number of rebounds, number of opportunities, number of times a guy could go to the glass. You name it."

Zach Randolph
Freshman Zach Randolph is expected to give the Spartans even more rebounding this season.

Izzo's accent on rebounding was born out of necessity.

"How it started," Izzo said with a laugh, "is that we were such a poor shooting team. We decided to let our missed shots be our best offense."

Michigan State has led the Big Ten in rebounding four out of Izzo's five seasons, and it keeps rebounding a top priority with a daily drill called, simply, "War."

"There are no rules. We just see who comes out with (the ball)," Izzo said.

"I'm not a big believer of cut outs," said Izzo, using a "cut outs" as a synonym for block outs. "Because if one guy doesn't do it, you don't get the ball. If the ball hits the floor, I'm usually mad." "(War) is competitive. There are no fouls and no holds barred. Coach doesn't want us to wait for the ball to come to us," said 6-foot-3 Charlie Bell, who's proven to be an excellent rebounding guard, averaging 5.6 rebounds last season. "He wants us to go through the ball, and to grab it."

Izzo wants all Spartan rebounds grabbed at the rim, and often sends four players to the offensive glass.

"I like to go with four, which can open us up for layups on the other end. I know it puts pressure on us," Izzo said of his transition defense, "but there aren't that many clean rebounds in a game. And if it's a footrace to the other end, we're pretty athletic, and we're willing to risk it for what we get."

Midway through last season, Izzo felt his team was becoming relatively complacent in its rebounding efforts. So, in an effort to drive home the importance of tough rebounding, when the players arrived at practice one day, they found football helmets and shoulder pads waiting for them.

"I thought the football team was coming in," Mike Chappell said. "But we went through a full contact rebounding drill in the pads and helmets. It was kind of fun, but he got his point across."

"He said since my freshman year, after a bad game, that he'd get out the pads. But I guess I didn't really believe it," said Andre Hutson. "It opened my eyes. We really hit the boards after that."

Izzo's emphasis on hitting the boards so hard is a major reason that Michigan State has been to the past two Final Fours, and it will be a major reason for the Spartans getting there again.

Michigan State can relate to Izzo's winning ways

Bilas Breakdown: Michigan State Preseason Top 25