It has occurred to me over the last few years just how important a good coach can be in the NCAA Tournament. A coach has the daunting responsibility to prepare his guys for each game throughout a potentially 6 game tournament.
This preparation includes practicing, working on little things (rebounding, for instance), teaching guys how to handle tight situations, studying the next opponent thoroughly, getting the team ready for their next opponent, drawing up plays that will work against the opponent's defense, motivating, inspiring, encouraging...and that barely scratches the surface of what a coach faces come tournament time.
Two outstanding coaches who can definitely say "been there, done that" about the tournament have the privilege of facing one another this Saturday.
What does each coach bring to the table? What will each coach be working on most these next few days? What are the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies for both of them? Hopefully, you will know all of that by the end of this article.
Coach Izzo, Michigan State:
Tom Izzo has been coaching at Michigan State for 13 seasons. 12 seasons he has led his team to the NCAA tournament. This is the fifth time he has taken a team to the Final Four. He has one National Championship under his belt (2000), and this year his team won the regular season Big Ten title.
Uconn has a 7-3' center (Thabeet) who will be wanting to swat away anything that comes near him. My guess is that Izzo will have some plays drawn up that will draw him away from under the basket, which will open up more for his athletic guards to slash and make back-door cuts.
Obviously Izzo has the strength of a pretty much home court advantage with plenty of Spartan fans making their way there. He also has the advantage of already playing, and pretty much dominating another well-coached Big East team, Louisville.
Believe it or not, but Izzo actually has a worse record this year playing at home, and the one game Michigan State played at Ford Field turned out to be an utter disaster - North Carolina 98 - Michigan St. 63.
Izzo tends to get his team to keep the pace of games slow. He would rather make an athletic team beat him with designed plays than with an explosive, fast pace transition offense. He stumped Pitino with this pace. I wouldn't expect him to do anything else against UConn.
Coach Calhoun, Connecticut:
Jim Calhoun has coached at UConn for 22 seasons. He has recently been put into the Hall of Fame. He has led his team to 2 National Championships (1999, 2004) as well as 4 Final Four's. This year Calhoun also tallied his 800th win, making him one of the most winningest coaches of all time.
No doubt Calhoun has seen the film of Michigan State's victory over Lousville. He knows that defense and rebounding are key to their success. He will probably try to have plays ready that will cause the Spartans to try to run the court and get out of their "slow the game down" rhythm.
Calhoun has success on his side. He has never lost a Final Four game in his coaching career. When he gets his team there, they do not lose.
Overconfidence may be Calhoun's only weakness coming into this game. The team also may be thinking that Michigan State is simply a speed bump on their way to the championship game.
Calhoun tends to rely upon the athleticism of his team. He does not want to just beat a team; he wants to crush a team. He wants his team to dominate and not leave the opponent a chance to stay in the game.
Two brilliant coaches, two excellent basketball programs: too bad this isn't the championship game instead of a semifinal. Too bad only one team will make it there.