Six Final Fours in 12 years. One National Championship. Six Big 10 titles. Four national Coach of the Year awards.
"Dickie V! It’s Tom Izzo’s world – you’re just living in it, baby!!!"
I guess we all are.
Think about it: How would you feel if your team reached the Final Four at least every other year? Duke’s last trip was when they lost in the semis to UCONN in 2004. DUKE. As required by some legal statute with the NCAA, UCLA made three trips from 2006-2008 and haven't sniffed relevance since.
Ask recent NIT invites Roy Williams or Jim Calhoun if this is an easy task. Or Bill Self. Billy Donovan. Rick Barnes’ lone trip in 2003 doesn’t even seem replicable.
Yet for Izzo, it’s nearly automatic.
And that’s the difference between Tom Izzo and every other coach in basketball. He extracts max effort and execution out of his guys when it matters -- not in December or even February -- regardless of roster flux from graduation, early defections, and injuries.
It always comes together in March.
I get the feeling we've been here before ...
So does every person born in Iron Mountain, Michigan exceed life expectations like this? Apparently not. Steve Mariucci also lived there. Izzo is truly one of a kind.
Coaching is hard. So how does he do it?
We have a home-cooked theory that is light on research and heavy on Protestant instinct and Midwestern values:
1. Recruit tough inner city kids from Flint, Detroit, and Chicago. You know they'll play defense. Scoring, offensive sets, free throws, etc? All that can be taught later. And they WILL learn it.
2. Go after the elite kids whose parents attempted to combine their two first names to form a special new one: Draymond, Raymar, Durrell, Delvon, Kalin. Complement with glue guys to round out roster like Mike, Austin, Jon, Chris, Tom, Mike, and Anthony. But know who butters your bread.
3. If available for delivery via trans-ocean courier, complement these junkyard dogs with a large Balkan post. Or human. Either works as long as it takes up space and cleans glass. The latest model was Sutan, G. and could not be replaced in time for this season. If #3 is not available -- a heady, undersized, overachieving guard with Aryan roots must be on the roster. Neitzel, D. or Kebler, M.
4. Use mid-season slump to lull future opponents into false sense of confidence when scouting in March for potential weaknesses. Izzo plans these losses and then chastises his players for to the media for not buying into the system. Again, perfectly scripted. All on the same page.
5. Round into form towards end of conference play, make reasonably strong showing in conference tourney to earn competitive seed in 2-5 range.
6. Win every game that matters in March by 1-4 points. As if you weren't entirely in control of your opponent's fate!
7. Cut down regional nets and fly to city that hosts Final Four every other year.
8. When they ask, "How do you do it, Tom!?" Smile. And give the kids all the credit.
Or maybe the guy is just really freakin lucky?
Izzo’s latest accomplishment might be his most impressive. After losing do-it-all PG Kalin Lucas to yet another injury, Izzo plugs in off guard Korie Lucious, who nailed the buzzerbeater to oust a hot Maryland squad in the second round. Lucious had never played PG in his career until spelling an injured Lucas earlier in the season and the results were dismal. Of course they were. It wasn't March. This is when Izzo’s team’s shine. Hey Lucious -- you’re the guy now. Play like it.
Forget about the five turnovers. Tennessee’s tenacious press D gets that out of most point guards. Lucious also had four assists, five steals, and eight points. He struggled controlling tempo but always kept Morgan, Summers, and Green in the game – the guys that had to be if Michigan State had any chance to win against Tennessee’s imposing headband lineup. Morgan only scored 13 but went 5/6 from the line, nailing them when they counted. Summers has exploded in the tournament, going off for 21 points against the Vols after posting 26 against the Terps.
This is the same Michigan State team that lost to Texas (TEXAS!) by double digits back in December and then dropped three in a row in Big 10 play to Wisconsin, Illinois, and Purdue. Then the loss to an upstart Minnesota team – IN MARCH, TOM, COME ON! – had everybody wondering if the magic would happen yet again. Like you wouldn't want an Izzo. Ha! Four tournament wins later, with an average margin of victory of only four points, look who is back in the Final Four.
Assuming Mateen Cleaves is released from his latest DUI charge by Saturday, he’ll be watching.
Get more Sparty Flava Flav with our Lead Izzo-ite Adam Biggers at Sparty On!