East Lansing – Tom Izzo really wants Miles Bridges to be a jerk.
Yes, that’s right. The Michigan State coach wants his star player to stop being so darned nice.
“He needs to be a little more …” Izzo said, trailing off in thought. “I’ve got to figure the right word that says the same word that I’m thinking. He’s just got to be a little more aggressive.”
That was Izzo after practice Thursday. The night before, after No. 4 Michigan State had to go to overtime to beat Rutgers at home, he was a little more to the point.
“I’m going to teach him how to be a little more of a jerk,” Izzo said. “I’m good at that. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to give him something and I’m going to make sure he gives me something. He’s got it. He’s got to do that. … It’s just a matter of getting him – I wouldn’t say lose his focus – he’s just got to be a little more selfish.”
As Michigan State gets set to host Michigan at noon Saturday at the Breslin Center, Izzo is convinced Bridges will take a step in becoming that player.
It’s a bit of an odd position for Bridges and the Spartans to be in. The sophomore is leading the team in scoring at 16.5 points a game, a number that puts him at No. 6 in the Big Ten. He’s also a top-10 rebounder at 7.5 a game and continues to be one of the most dynamic players in the country.
But everyone agrees, Bridges needs to bring a little extra. Namely, when a game is on the line, Bridges needs to take over by not worrying about setting up teammates and taking control.
That’s where being a jerk comes into play.
“I told him that being a good teammate means you help the team win,” Izzo said. “And if you’re gonna be the best player you need to help this team win by being more aggressive.”
It nearly came too late against Rutgers on Wednesday. Bridges was held scoreless in the first half and didn’t record a point until there was 7:43 left in the game. He finished with 11 points, but the idea of taking over needs to come earlier. Both Bridges and his coach are on the same page with that idea.
“I’ve been trying to be more aggressive every single game,” Bridges said. “I feel like if I’m aggressive I can help my team win. So, I’m definitely trying to be more aggressive these upcoming games.”
There might not be a better time to do so than now.
The Spartans (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten) have been in a two-game funk with the loss at Ohio State last Sunday followed by the overtime win over Rutgers. And now, with the Wolverines (14-4, 3-2) coming to town, the intensity will be sure to follow.
That goes for Bridges, too.
“This game has been on my calendar since I came back,” the Flint native said. “I want to try to get this win for sure.”
He wanted that when he decided to come back, but he wanted much more, as well. As Bridges said last April when he announced he was returning for his sophomore season and putting the NBA off for at least another year, he did so with the goal to win a national championship.
Many believed Michigan State became one of the favorites that day simply because of what Bridges would bring. And while he’s been solid most of the season, the Spartans are still expecting more.
He’s expecting more, too, and Saturday could be the best time for more against a team that beat the Spartans by nearly 30 points the last time they played.
“A few guys have talked about it sometimes,” Bridges said of last year’s loss. “It’s motivation for us and we can’t let that happen again because we know the feeling.”
Avoiding that feeling again will be easier if Bridges is everything the Spartans need him to be. Izzo has said often what a great teammate Bridges is and has lauded his ability to pass the ball and get everyone involved.
For now, however, it’s time for Bridges to become great.
“He has gotten better with his passing and that’s cool and I’m appreciative of that,” Izzo said. “But he can take that to the church league 50 years from now. Right now, I need him to score a little bit. I think Miles understands what he’s got to do. Selfishness is not in his nature but at the same time aggressiveness needs to be in his nature if he’s gonna be the best he can be.”
Michigan at Michigan State
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: Fox/760, 950
Records: No. 4 Michigan State 16-2, 4-1 Big Ten; Michigan 14-4, 3-2
Outlook: Michigan State has won five of the past six meetings and three of the past five games in East Lansing by at least 10 points.