A Love Story: Tom Izzo And March

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 14th, 2015

After Michigan State won yet another postseason basketball game – this one a come-from-behind, emotionally charged Big Ten semifinal victory over Maryland, a well-known secret was made public: The love affair between Tom Izzo and March is real. “I love March for two reasons: it’s tournament basketball and a chance to win a championship and the weather is getting nicer,” Izzo said. “It’s just a phenomenal time of year.”

Tom Izzo's Team Is Getting Hot In March Once Again. Michigan State Takes On Wisconsin For The Big Ten Title On Sunday. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Tom Izzo’s Team Is Getting Hot In March Once Again. Michigan State Takes On Wisconsin For the Big Ten Title on Sunday. (Photo: USA Today Sports)

Izzo’s fondness for the calendar’s third month leads us into a familiar story: Michigan State works its way through an inconsistent regular season to find stability and success in March. These Spartans ably fulfilled the opening act of the narrative, putting together a season as uneven as any Izzo has overseen. Michigan State lost 10 regular season games. The Spartans never put together a winning streak longer than four games. And the coup de grace: a startlingly low nadir, a home loss to Texas Southern back in December. But for Michigan State fans, now comes the fun piece of that two-part story. It’s March, and after a gut-check of a win over Maryland, Michigan State has won four in a row entering Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament title game. There’s an especially massive challenge awaiting the Spartans tomorrow, but win or lose against Wisconsin, Tom Izzo has this team approaching the NCAA Tournament at its speediest velocity yet.

The Spartans trailed 12-1 and 23-7 in the first half as a result of both their own spotty shooting and Melo Trimble’s decidedly un-spotty shooting (the Maryland freshman started 5-of-5 from the field). Travis Trice (13 first half points) helped stem that early tide, enabling his team to enter the halftime intermission down just eight points. Michigan State completed the comeback in the second half with a series of emotional surges. No mini-run elicited more sentiment than a 13-0 burst capped by Denzel Valentine’s first points of the afternoon, a three-point field goal with 12:38 to play. They would also wind up being Valentine’s final points, but the burst of Michigan State momentum forced Maryland to take timeout as the Spartan faithful rejoiced in their team’s first lead of the game.

After juggling lineups for much of the season, Izzo seems to have finally zeroed in on a rotation. Branden Dawson (17 points and eight rebounds) is finally healthy; he showed as much this afternoon, teaming with Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling in setting a physical tone on both ends. Valentine and Trice were always going to be a part of any Spartans’ success this season; today they played 37 and 36 minutes, respectively, each figuring prominently in the victory. Schilling and freshman Lourawls Nairn are the more recent, less-expected contributors in Izzo’s current starting lineup. Schilling grabbed five rebounds in 17 minutes today; Nairn contributed next to nothing on the stat sheet, but was a major factor in disrupting Trimble’s early rhythm, as the Maryland star missed nine of his last 11 shots. With the veteran trio of Valentine, Trice and Dawson playing beside them, neither player is expected to contribute much on the offensive end. The on-court chemistry is as good now as it’s ever been, which makes the enhanced presence of Schilling and Nairn unlikely to be a coincidence. The current setup is working.

In many ways, tomorrow’s Big Ten final with Wisconsin doesn’t matter for Michigan State. Sparty has come to Chicago and proven its point; win or lose, they will enter the NCAA Tournament a scary team with ample momentum. Wisconsin is a clear favorite that didn’t have to scrap through a close, emotionally charged semifinal, so why invest too much concern in what happens on Sunday? It’s a valid line of thinking, until you remember exactly what we are talking about: one particular coach, one particular month. Tom Izzo and March. It’s a combination that, at a bare minimum, should strike fear into the heart of one of college basketball’s best teams tomorrow afternoon. Watch out Badgers – you have been warned.

BHayes (244 Posts)

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One response to “A Love Story: Tom Izzo And March”

  1. Michael Brown says:

    Go White!

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