As the majority of the nation put their faith in a bunch of virtual no-names from Northern Iowa, to Las Vegas growing less and less confident about the Michigan State Spartans’ chances, a rather funny thing happened.
Tom Izzo doubted the naysayers—again.
Picking against Izzo’s bunch is a trend almost as old as not wearing white after Labor Day. Michigan State fans expect it, ESPN persuades it, and commentators love to talk about it. It’s a tired act, though.
If Izzo and company somehow get past Tennessee—which is completely and utterly realistic—it would lead to his sixth NCAA Final Four appearance. The statistic in itself is mind-numbing if you really think about how the college game has transformed and how coaches have had to deal with big personalities and early NBA Draft entry. It is almost so surreal to be true.
But it is a testament to Izzo’s greatness.
He dealt with hard-nosed criticism all season long. Reporters, writers and, probably most of all, his players, have been ridiculed and pushed to the limit. People said Izzo was losing luster and underachieving; others simply said, “Just wait ‘til March.”
And here we are. Another NCAA tournament is nearing its thrilling end and there are some familiar foes and some upstart programs. And, of course, there are the Spartans. At least there is something normal about this year’s tourney.
Izzo is the elder statesman of all of the coaches remaining; not in terms of age, but of experience. He is so good at what he does that if he walked into any athletic director’s office he would be offered a position right on the spot based on his credentials.
Just look at last night for example.
Facing a Cinderella team which had just defeated the consensus best team in the country, Izzo had to devise a game plan to steal Northern Iowa’s confidence and instill some in his own team—all without injured guard Kalin Lucas. Down at half, his boys came out strong and took over the game. Tough defense and tenacious rebounding are the qualities of an Izzo team.
Whether the Spartans can continue to come out victorious without their starting point guard is as clear as the road on a foggy day. One thing we do know is that Izzo will have his team ready to play. No excuses, laying it all out on the floor.
Can someone start building a statue for the man right now?