Michigan State Basketball: Why 2014 Title Would Be Tom Izzo's Greatest Victory

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIMarch 27, 2014

Tom Izzo is "fine." However, securing title No. 2 would be his greatest achievement.
Tom Izzo is "fine." However, securing title No. 2 would be his greatest achievement.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Questing for a second national title wouldn’t be complete without more drama.

However, that’s not to say that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo hasn’t already endured enough this year. Between injuries/illness/other to each of his starters and a couple of role players, one could say that the Spartans’ wily, 19-year veteran head coach has found himself on the good side of luck.

In the Sweet 16 for an astonishing 12th time since 1995, Izzo stands a weekend away from his seventh Final Four, mended team and all. 

Considering the recent rumors of possible interest from the Detroit Pistons, it seems all but fitting that he faces yet another hurdle just as he’s put the last round in the rearview mirror.

According to MLive.com's Gillian Van Stratt, Izzo said the following about the "made up" rumors to Matt Shepard during an interview with WDFN

First of all, I'm upset with the media. Somebody is sitting in a basement making up stuff. It's embarrassing to me and it's embarrassing for the Detroit Pistons.

The problem is, nobody's even talked to me. I get all these things, 'I know you've talked to this person, I know you've talked to that person.' That makes it look like the Pistons have called me and said something and I've said I had no interest. 

Nobody has contacted me in any way, shape or form.

Quotes like these are open to interpretation.

It's March Madness, so the vast majority of Spartans followers don't want to entertain the idea of Izzo leaping to the Association. Conversely, the other sect never wants to hear Izzo-to-NBA chatter. 

Oftentimes, it's just that, as Izzo stated to Shepard.

However, the self-proclaimed green-and-white lifer's lack of a definitive "no" leaves something to be desired. The "nobody has contacted me in any way, shape or form" line isn't exactly reassuring. It's time to dance, and the Spartans don't need to be distracted by that type of noise pollution. 

If he emerges through all of this, grin on face and net clipping in hand, the upcoming road to Cowboys Stadium will crown his greatest victory of all—a 2014 national championship.

That's a heavy claim, sure. But looking back at past routes will show that 2014 has been full of more potholes than the lovely roads of Michigan.

Conquering this bumpy ride will add another yarn to the Legend of Izzo, which was started with a title sandwiched by national semis. 


Road Often Traveled

Kalin Lucas' ruptured Achilles put a cramp in 2011's plans.
Kalin Lucas' ruptured Achilles put a cramp in 2011's plans.Gerry Broome/Associated Press/Associated Press

Doing it the easy way isn't Izzo's style.

For some reason, he appears to enjoy proving people wrong, which is an oddity in itself—he commands a national powerhouse and, other than winning multiple titles, doesn't really have anything left to prove. 

He's in the hunt for No. 2, that much is clear. And he's been close, real close. But not since 2010, the year of his most recent Final Four. 

In 2013, Michigan State's Sweet 16 turned bitter following its bouncing courtesy of Duke. 

After an up-and-down 2011, seniors Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, who headlined a sure thing, couldn't complete the mission. The Spartans and Izzo were ousted after just one tourney game, giving way to UCLA instead of advancing with an athletically superior collection of talent. 

In 2009, the Spartans faced North Carolina, a team of destiny. They were a force, but nothing when compared to the Tar Heels, who, behind 21 points from Ty Lawson, steamrolled the Spartans, 89-72, at Ford Field in Detroit. 

Then, with perhaps one of his best teams, Izzo came up on the short end in 2006, falling victim to a hot-shot George Mason group that strung together an improbable, giant-slaying bender to the Final Four before bowing to Florida, which won it all. 

Izzo is no stranger to adversity. They're neighbors. 


Breaking Down (in) 2014

Quick math: Gary Harris' cold streak and ankle/shoulder injury plus Keith Appling's wrist/hand ailment multiplied by Adreian Payne's sprained heel/foot, Branden Dawson's broken right hand and lack of trademark toughness equals what? 

Disaster. And home losses to Nebraska and Illinois. 

That's what. 

Wildly inconsistent, the preseason favorite opened itself to wise cracks as it stumbled, battered and torn, toward the blurry Big Ten finish line. Failing to win back-to-back games cast serious doubt on the Spartans' ability to win the conference tournament, but they did it anyway. 

Winning six games through March and April is more difficult, yet the newly healthy Izzos have knocked off two straight and face Virginia on Friday for a ticket to the Elite Eight. 

Note: Don't forget being snubbed by Jabari Parker (2013) and Cliff Alexander (2014). Izzo remains in the chase for 5-stars...

Road to Jerry's Place?
Round of 64No. 13 DelawareChallenged in impressive manner
Round of 32No. 12 HarvardWanted it more than MSU
Sweet 16No. 1 Virginiad. Duke for ACC title
Elite 8No. 3 Iowa State/No. 7 UConnUConn won 2011 title
Final FourS No. 1 Florida (?)Florida has the experience to win it all. Coach Billy Donovan has two titles.
ChampionshipW. No. 1 Arizona (?) No. 2 Wisconsin (?) MW No. 4 Louisville (?) No. 2 Michigan (?) No. 8 Kentucky (?)Arizona was among preseason favorites; Louisville won 2013 title over UM, which is 2-1 vs. MSU this year; MSU d. Kentucky in pre-conference.
My busted Yahoo! bracket; CBS Sports


Stroke of Luck?

Talent-wise, Izzo easily has enough to win the title. But it's not always that simple.
Talent-wise, Izzo easily has enough to win the title. But it's not always that simple.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Thanks to Iowa State, Izzo won't have to face North Carolina this year. He's 0-4 vs. the Tar Heels in tournament games. He owes the Cyclones a thank-you. Should they meet in the Elite Eight, he can repay them by beating them. 

Position for position, Iowa State matches up well with the Spartans, who have similarly talented guards and other specialists.

Facing adversity of his own, coach Fred Hoiberg will be without shooting big Georges Niang, who recently suffered a broken foot that ended his season. 

Hardly respected by the media at large, the East Region was a distant second or third when compared to the Big Bad Wolf of the Midwest, which hosts Michigan and Kentucky—which is waiting for its opportunity to knock off Louisville, the defending national champion and favorite to survive that section of the bracket. 

President Obama likes the Spartans' chances of being the last ones standing. So does ESPN and everyone else. That's either a charm or omen, depending on the outlook. 

Considering the up-and-down nature of 2014, the fact that so many pro's pros and high-ranking government officials like Michigan State is a testament to the tactful ways of Izzo, who resurrected the program in the wake of Jud Heathcote's retirement. 

And if history wants to come out and play, it could help the cause: Michigan State sped to a 75-64 win over the Jamaal Tinsley-led Cyclones during the 2000 Elite Eight. 

What happened next is what propped Izzo to Izzo status. 



In a historical tournament moment, Mateen Cleaves conquers an ankle injury to push the Spartans past Florida. 

Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell and Antonio Smith were the heart and soul of the program.

One could argue that Cleaves was the most important recruit of the Izzo era, if not ever for Michigan State. As a young up-and-comer in 2000, Izzo, with Cleaves leading the charge, coached his way past Syracuse, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Florida before climbing the ladder in Indy. 

The Spartans were easily one of the better teams in the land, but they weren't the best. Cincinnati happened to be quite solid, and if not for Kenyon Martin's injury, the Bearcats, who lost in the second round to Tulsa, could have won the championship. 


It's Called Madness...

Tournament time is all about draws, breaks and one-day advantages.

Entering the festivities, Izzo barely knew who'd do what on any given day, let alone games into the future. He said the following about having a go-to guy during CBS' The Morning Show

"I have the confidence that we’re going to figure it out. I’m hoping we don’t run out of time as we get all these guys back. But it’s no magic wand. It’s not what Tom Izzo does. It’s what the players do."

To an extent, Izzo's wrong.

It is what he does.

Sure, the players do the playing, but the coach calls the shots. Not having a clear No. 1 is an obvious concern, but Izzo knew enough to feed Payne, who surged for a school-tournament-best 41 points against Delaware.

Dawson, a roller coaster who rattled off a career-three-gamer during the B1G postseason, rang up 26 (20 in the first half) versus Harvard, which nearly ended the party way too early. 

Izzo knew what he had in 2009. He knew what he had in 2000. 

And in all likelihood, he knows what he has this year: A team that, on paper, stacks up to classic, early to mid-2000s troops of Spartans

He just has to get it to play as one. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.


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