With Latest Final Four, No Doubt Tom Izzo Is the Best Active NCAA Coach

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistMarch 30, 2010

DETROIT - APRIL 06:  Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans uses his clip board against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball National Championship game at Ford Field on April 6, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan.The Tar Heels defeated the Spartans 89-72.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Six Final Fours in the past 12 seasons.  

That's all you need to say.

Before this March, I would have fielded arguments about the best active NCAA tournament coach, and wouldn't have argued with anyone who said that Duke's coach Mike Krzyzewski—he of the (then) 10 Final Fours and three national championships—was most deserving.

But now? There's not a doubt in my mind. 

With his latest masterful performance in the NCAA tournament, Tom Izzo has established himself as the preeminent NCAA tournament coach in all of Division I basketball.  

Yes, even better than Coach K, one of his Final Four counterparts this year.

Don't believe me?  Ask Magic Johnson:

"Tom Izzo does his best job every year during the NCAA tournament," Johnson said after the Elite 8 . "This team is representative of him."

Okay, true...Johnson may be slightly biased towards MSU coaches, seeing as he spent his college years at Michigan State back in the late 1970s.  

But Johnson's endorsement of Izzo doesn't ring hollow, and isn't a form of blatant homerism for his alma mater. 

Magic's just speaking the truth.

Let's face facts: Since 1998, the Spartans haven't missed a Big Dance. That's impressive in and of itself.

Want something even more impressive? If you're a college player, and you've exhausted all four years of your college eligibility under Izzo at MSU...you've gone to at least one Final Four.

No other coach can boast a record like that in the past decade.  Roy Williams is the only one who's even close (with two championships at UNC in 2005 and 2009 and two Final Fours at Kansas in 2002 and 2003).

With an overall NCAA tournament record of 35-11, Izzo trails only Coach K in all-time NCAA tournament winning percentage.  (Izzo's currently at 76.1%, Coach K is at 78.1%.)

And even before this year's run to the Final Four, Izzo boasted the best PASE (Performance Against Seeding Expectation) of any Division I coach in the country. (It was 0.864 before this year's NCAA tournament—the next closest is San Diego State's Steve Fisher's PASE, at 0.844.)

All three times that Izzo's Spartans earned a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance, they made it to the Final Four. They earned a No. 2 seed last year, and turned that into another Final Four appearance.  

It's not even a surprise to see an Izzo-led No. 5 seed in the Final Four...before this year's run, they did the exact same thing in 2005.  (They lost to eventual champion UNC in the 2005 Final Four.)

But Michigan State's performance in the NCAA tournament this year has been a result of Izzo's finest coaching job yet.

Remember, this was a Michigan State team that got blown out in the first round of the Big 10 tournament by Minnesota, a team that wasn't even sniffing the NCAAs until a surprising run to the Big 10 tournament finals. In that game, Izzo benched Durrell Summers for the entire second half, refusing to play a senior who wouldn't remain committed on defense.

Two weeks later, after MSU's star point guard Kalin Lucas went down with a torn ACL against Maryland in the second round of the Big Dance, Summers was holding up the Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional award, after averaging 20 points per game for the first four games of March Madness.

"Things happen throughout the season," said Summers . "Once we got to tournament time, we said we’ll have a fresh start. We refocused and got everybody on the same page.”

As ESPN's Pat Forde noted, "IzzoBall" in March has a few defining characteristics: "The hunches all come up roses. The injuries are overcome. The puzzling performances from the regular season don’t matter anymore.  And somebody always steps up."

To say that Izzo-led teams are disciplined in high-pressure situations would be as much of an understatement as saying "Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a little crazy" or "Bar Rafaeli is somewhat attractive."  

No, Izzo teams aren't just disciplined. They know exactly what to do to win any game in the clutch. And that's a reflection of the coach as much as anything.

That leads us to the most impressive part about Izzo's coaching resume: Unlike Coach K, Roy Williams, or John Calipari, Izzo doesn't have the cadre of McDonald's All-Americans or future NBA draft picks on his team like those coaches do.

Since Izzo took over at MSU in 1996, Michigan State has had seven total Burger Boys (Mateen Cleaves, Marcus Taylor, Kelvin Torbert, Zach Randolph, Jason Richardson, Shannon Brown, and Paul Davis).  Check out the all-time roster of the Mickey D's All-Americans, and you'll see that Duke had six Burger Boys...on the first page. (It's a 10-page roster.)

Let's put it another way: Izzo's also only had seven NBA draft picks come out of MSU since taking over (Cleaves, Randolph, Richardson, Davis, Brown, Morris Peterson, and Maurice Ager).  In the same amount of time, Duke has produced 16 NBA draft picks, including one No. 1 overall pick (Elton Brand).

So let's see...Izzo doesn't get nearly as many heralded recruits coming out of high school as his top-tier coaching counterparts, he doesn't recruit one-and-done's, and he rarely gets players who go on to succeed at a high level in the NBA...yet he dramatically outperforms those coaches in the NCAA tournament anyway ?


There goes any argument against Tom Izzo currently being the best NCAA tournament coach in all of Division I basketball.