Michigan State Basketball: Why Is Tom Izzo So Successful in NCAA Tournament?
Michigan State solidified its spot in yet another Sweet 16 Saturday afternoon. The Spartans surged past Memphis, 70-48, comfortably dispatching the Tigers in Auburn Hills in round of 32 action.
The thrill of a Sweet 16 berth never gets old, but it's almost become commonplace in East Lansing, where head coach Tom Izzo has reigned since 1995. Michigan State, rarely a mighty regular-season squad, has become a fixture in the final rounds of the NCAA tournament during the past decade-and-a-half.
The Spartans have advanced this far 11 times under Izzo's watch and own a 7-3 record in the round. Regardless of where Michigan State is seeded, it seems this squad finds a way to make do and push on through postseason rigors.
Izzo, who has reached six Final Fours and claimed the 2000 national championship, isn't in the basketball Hall of Fame, but his eventual induction has become a formality at this point.
The 58-year-old Michigan native undoubtedly ranks among the nation's elite coaching minds, and most importantly, he provokes tremendous effort from his team on a perennial basis.
As Izzo prepares Michigan State for the final stretch toward a national title, it's an appropriate time to examine the factors that have made his tenure so consistently successful.
He Recruits and Develops Leaders
There isn't a coach in the country who can claim a national championship without a true floor general. Izzo does an excellent job of putting his players in position to succeed.
The Spartans' standout performers act as an extension of the sideline, carrying out a well-conceived game plan in crunch time. During his tenure, Izzo's attack has featured some of the most fundamentally sound athletes in college hoops.
Mateen Cleaves, a three-time All-American, spearheaded the Spartans to the 2000 national title. Teammate Morris Peterson earned a Big Ten Player of the Year award and played a vital role during a portion of the team's string of three straight Final Four appearances (1999-2001).
Stars like Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green and Keith Appling provided Izzo with exceptional court leaders in recent years.
He Avoids Early Upsets
Michigan State makes its NCAA tournament visits last.
The Spartans stumbled in the opening round of the 2011 tournament, but the early exit was an exception to the standard Izzo has established during his time with the program.
Aside from that opening-round elimination, Michigan State has suffered just one first-round knockout since 2004. UCLA and Notre Dame are among teams that struggle to survive early-tourney tests, and it's impacted the reputation of those teams' respective coaches.
Avoiding first-round upsets has helped build Izzo's foundation at Michigan State.
His Teams Go to 'War'
Izzo's "war drill" (per The Coach's Clipboard) is a heralded element of his coaching approach. The drill stresses tenacity above all, forcing participants to tenaciously chase down rebounds and floor boards after every shot—even those that go in the net.
Michigan State is a stalwart rebounding squad on an annual basis. This latest version of the Spartans continues to live up to its reputation of excellence on the glass.
The team out-rebounded Memphis 41-25 in Saturday's matchup. Two days earlier, Michigan State manhandled Valparaiso down low. The Spartans secured 44 rebounds, compared to just 20 boards for the Crusaders.
The team's relentless approach on the offensive glass gives Michigan State second-chance opportunities and high-percentage interior shot attempts.
He Doesn't Let a Low Seed Hold the Team Back
Michigan State doesn't pay any mind to the number that appears to the left of its name during the tournament. The Spartans, a No. 3 seed this March, have made memorable runs recently despite the disadvantage of a lower ranking.
The team reached the Final Four in 2010 as a No. 5—the same seed assigned to the Spartans during a 2008 run to the Sweet 16.
In 2003, No. 7 Michigan State reached the Elite Eight.
He Assembles Excellent Coaching Staffs
Izzo isn't a one-man show on the sidelines. A myriad of great coaching minds have spent time on the Michigan State bench.
Several former Spartans assistants have used their time working under Izzo as career springboards. Indiana's Tom Crean is currently the most notable member of the coaching tree, but he's hardly alone.
Stan Heath took South Florida to its first NCAA tournament appearance in 20 years in 2012. Doug Wojcik won the 2008 CBI championship with Tulsa and enjoyed an excellent 2012-13 season during his first year as head coach at College of Charleston.
Other Izzo assistants who've gone on to accept head coaching roles include Brian Gregory (Georgia Tech), Mark Montgomery (Northern Illinois), Jim Boylen (Utah) and Stan Joplin (Toledo).
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