Georgia will get perhaps the ultimate litmus test when it comes to basketball toughness and rebounding against Big Ten powerhouse Michigan State.
The Bulldogs (4-1) look to rebound from their opening round loss to Dayton (4-0) at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The game is in the consolation bracket of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational at the Lahaina Civic Center.
The No. 3-ranked Spartans (3-2) will tip off with a chip on their shoulder after suffering a 71-66 first-round upset at the hands of 13-point underdog Virginia Tech on Monday.
That game followed the Bulldogs’ 80-61 loss to Dayton on Monday.
It will be teacher versus pupil when Crean faces Michigan State Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo.
Izzo, who gave Crean two of the biggest breaks of his coaching career, credits the UGA head coach with helping him build his basketball empire in East Lansing.
“Tom Crean helped me build this thing, he was phenomenal,” Izzo told DawgNation in an exclusive interview last year. “I had gotten Tom hired as a graduate assistant (1989, when Judd Heathcote was still the head coach), and as soon as I got this job, he was the first guy I went after.
“I knew he was a relentless worker, good recruiter, a very good Xs and Os guy, and he was driven.”
Crean left Izzo’s staff to become head coach at Marquette in 1999 and led the Warriors to the 2003 Final Four.
Next, Crean took over at Indiana in 2009, rebuilding the Hoosiers’ program by winning two outright Big Ten titles en route to being named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2016.
Now at Georgia, Crean has another rebuild on his hands, with 10 new players on his second UGA team.
The irony of his meeting with Izzo in Hawaii is not lost on him. Crean reflected on the possibility before the tournament even started.
“I was with Tom Izzo, at our first games together as a staff, his first three games coaching,” Crean said after last week’s win over Georgia Tech. “The timeline was different then, and now we’re in Maui and here he is, he’s bringing a team, I’m bringing a team.”
It’s a young Georgia team featuring nine freshmen, including projected NBA lottery pick Anthony Edwards.
Crean said after the decisive loss to Dayton on Monday his team will need to grow up in a hurry to be competitive.
“I said to the team after the (Dayton) game, that’s what a real strong, physically and mentally tough, aggressive, move-the-ball, play-defense team looks like,” Crean said.
“The lack of maturity is astounding, but it’s to be expected, there were times we had five freshmen out there.”
Crean said the beauty of playing in a loaded field like the Maui Invitational is players get to see where the bar is set.
“We’ve got to continue to build our awareness for playing basketball,” Crean. “We’ve also got to build our toughness.
“This is what this tournament does, this tournament tells you what really, really good to great looks like, and the bottom line is if we aspire to it, we have to learn from it, and learn from it in a hurry.”
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