There’s not much that can be said about Tom Izzo as a basketball coach that hasn’t already been said. After Michigan State’s upset of #2 Virginia in the Round of 32, there was overwhelming media praise for the 60-year old icon and his ever-growing reputation in March. It’s an accolade that’s well-deserved — in 20 years as the Spartans’ head coach, Izzo has taken Michigan State to six Final Fours, eight Elite Eights and 13 Sweet Sixteens (including this season). He also won a National Championship in 2000 – representing the last Big Ten coach to successfully reach the mountain top. While he was certainly a celebrated figure well before this weekend’s upset victory, this season’s run is earning him even more praise because of the flawed roster he’s taken there. Because of Villanova and Virginia’s losses in the East Region, the Spartans find themselves with a realistic path from the Sweet Sixteen to the Final Four. Even more remarkable is that Izzo’s latest run comes merely a year after he seriously considered a jump to the NBA because of frustrations with the current environment of college basketball.
Last May, Izzo faced quite a professional choice. He could either take an offer to finally move on to the NBA – where the Detroit Pistons were set to pay him a hefty salary and give him general management responsibilities over the franchise – or he could return for his 20th season to a Michigan State club where three crucial players had moved on. Add that to the fact that he had experienced some high-profile misses on the recruiting trail and was apparently growing increasingly frustrated with the entire process — it just seemed as if all the stars had finally aligned for him to make the jump to the pros, a move he had flirted with as recent as 2010. He obviously chose East Lansing, which meant that he would be returning to what appeared to be on paper a flawed team. From a talent perspective, the Spartans looked barely capable of making the NCAA Tournament with only one blue-chipper, Branden Dawson, on the roster. That result still seemed possible in early February when Michigan State lost to Illinois in the Breslin Center, sinking them to 6-4 in the Big Ten standings. Since then, however, Izzo has done what he does best — push his team with a late surge so that it was playing well enough to finish among the top four of the Big Ten and make a run in March. Is anyone surprised that Michigan State nearly upset Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament championship game a couple of Sunday ago, or that his group is among the last 16 schools standing? Read the rest of this entry »