Izzo in March means Michigan State has more after first-round victory
COLUMBUS, Ohio – It was March 1998. There was a new Broadway musical called The Lion King and a new book with a character named Harry Potter. In the NBA, Michael Jordan was on his last dance with the Chicago Bulls. College football spring training continued, including in Michigan with a quarterback named Tom Brady.
And in college basketball, a coach from Michigan State made his first appearance in the NCAA tournament. Went to the Sweet 16 before losing to North Carolina.
Twenty-five years later, Tom Izzo still knows how to do it, fractured whiteboards and all.
It’s March and the Spartans are on the move again, at least for two more days. The 72-62 win over USC on Friday recalled the remarkable durability of the Izzo era. There have been 25 NCAA tournaments since 1998. Michigan State has participated in all of them. No coach has ever had such a streak, from Mike Krzyzewski to John Wooden.
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There have been times recently when Izzo wondered if the Spartans world – players, fans, media – took this for granted. He supposed that maybe he had even started to take it for granted. “I don’t take too much for granted anymore,” he said on Friday. “It’s too crazy a world.”
It comes from the coach at the school where three students were killed in a campus shooting in February.
No, as he recalled on Friday, “I’m not on the 18th hole.”
There is still success in his program. Another feat. Always fire. Vexed Friday by something on the ground, he broke a whiteboard in half as if it were a dead tree branch. “I felt pretty damn good,” he later said. He can always get players to buy what he’s selling; kids who weren’t even born the last time Michigan State wasn’t in the tournament.
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A coach in 25 consecutive versions of March Madness? “He’s a super, super wild man,” Spartan rookie Tre Holloman said. “I just try to honor him and be better and try to do whatever the team needs me to do to win.”
This was Izzo’s 77th NCAA Tournament game. He won 54, enough to qualify for eight Final Fours. His 2000 national championship remains the last for the Big Ten. It would be asking a lot to believe that this team could get him back. The Spartans are unranked with a 20-12 record and are ranked No. 7 in the region. But one of the data from March is that the State of Michigan is often up to something.
This first leg was so Izzoish, settled by the honest work of the defense. The Spartans’ plan was to keep a firm grip on the famous backcourt of USC’s Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson, and the two ended up shooting a combined 7 for 22. Even the Trojans liked what had them. chained. “Just team defense, jumping to the ball, being pretty much on every gap,” Ellis said.
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Then Izzo mentioned, “We all have to look in the mirror and say, do the things that we need to do to really compete at this level and compete at this time of year? And it was gratifying to hear the guys at half time talking about we need to get back to our defence.
Izzo turned 68 in January and it hasn’t been the easiest season. The Spartans could be at it again, heading back to a ruthless Big Ten. And then there was the horror of the shooting that struck a green-blooded Michigan State man like Izzo in the heart. He was in tears on the bench as the Spartans won their first home game after the tragedy.
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We are now in March, the month he and his show live for. Marquette will be next Sunday, and if the Spartans find a way to make it happen, Izzo would be in his 15th Sweet 16. But for now, let this week’s Izzoims roll — born of wisdom and experience and of his own humor. . .
“I don’t think it’s the most talented team I’ve had. But I think for the most part it’s a pretty connected team and that’s what we’ve been trying to salvage, it’s a bit more of that connectivity that gets you through.
“My son is a senior. He does not play. I sleep on the couch when I come home because my wife is mad at me.
“I love my team. And I’m a half-empty guy, as we all know. There’s no cuddly bear.
“Every team, you have to constantly talk about the sense of urgency, the one-and-done, until you get through it. A lot of times it doesn’t hit home.
“In 2009, we played North Carolina at the start of the year. We were beaten by 25. We faced them in the championship game. We were beaten by 22. I would have preferred to play against the Pistons in Detroit rather than in North Carolina.
“When I say I feel confident, if you think I sleep at night, you’re crazy. I’m not that confident.
“I’m a little worried. I think we’ve beaten the hell out of our league this year, against each other. It can make you stronger or wear you down. But I like the position you’re in. find some of these Big Ten teams. Purdue is awfully good and a day’s prep to figure out how to keep Edey will take more than John Wooden to come back.
“At the end of the day, I think we make it so complex. That’s why I’m a huge football fan. It doesn’t matter what you do in football – they talk about new overs and RPOs and this and that — and you know what? You have to be able to block and tackle. Ultimately, you have to be able to defend and rebound in ours and that leads to running. And that’s our mantra.
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Incidentally, Michigan State edged USC 8-0 in quick break points, but the Spartans also had a 32-20 point advantage in the paint. The only thing to regret is the six consecutive missed free throws at the end of the game which left the door ajar for the Trojans.
On the annual discussion that the Big Ten haven’t won a national championship since Michigan State 23 years ago, Izzo gave several possible reasons. Then came to the bottom line. ” We did not do it. So we have to take our actions on this and try to do something about it.
Direct and straight to the point, as he loves his teams. Yet after all these years, with more than the 18th hole to play.