MSU coach Tom Izzo reflects on his 25th NCAA tournament bid
Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo speaks to the media on Sunday, March 12, 2023, in East Lansing.
Michigan State athletics, Detroit Free Press
EAST LANSING — Tom Izzo made history Sunday.
Michigan State basketball received its 25th straight NCAA tournament invitation, giving Izzo, its Hall of Fame coach, the all-time Division I record for the most consecutive appearances by one coach at a single school.
The Spartans (19-12) earned a 7 seed in the East Region, and will open first-round play against No. 10 seed Southern Cal on Friday in Columbus, Ohio. Tipoff will be 12:15 p.m. at Nationwide Arena, and the game will be televised on CBS.
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With a victory, MSU would play the winner of 2-seed Marquette vs. 15-seed Vermont on Sunday. Purdue is the No. 1 seed in the region. The other No. 1 seeds are Alabama, Houston and Kansas.
“It’s always exciting,” said senior forward Joey Hauser, who transferred to MSU from Marquette before the 2019-20 season. “This year was just a great achievement for coach Izzo. I mean, 25 (straight) and setting the record, it’s unbelievable for him. But he wouldn’t want us to do anything more than just put that aside now and just focus on our opponent and get geared up and excited for this opportunity.
“We don’t know much about USC, so it’s gonna be to be fun and interesting.”
Izzo last year moved into a tie with Mike Krzyzewski, whose streak of 24 straight berths with Duke ended in 2021. The Blue Devils eliminated the Spartans in last year’s second round of the NCAA tournament in Greenville, South Carolina, en route to Krzyzewski’s record 13th Final Four before his retirement after the season.
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Izzo’s eight Final Four appearances are the most by an active Division I coach, and rank fifth all-time behind Krzyzewski, John Wooden (12), Dean Smith (11) and Roy Williams (nine). Iona coach Rick Pitino’s five are second among active coaches, with the retirement of Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim last week.
Kentucky’s John Calipari and Kansas’ Bill Self, with four apiece, are the only other active coaches with more than two Final Four appearances. Izzo’s 53 NCAA tournament wins is third among active coaches, behind Calipari (56, before vacated victories) and Self (55), and rank seventh all-time behind Krzyzewski’s 101.
“What does it mean to me? Probably everything, probably more than any other thing, because it means you got a group of people that have bought into a system,” Izzo said. “And you as the head coach have maintained some sense of consistency over a long time.”
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In Izzo’s quarter-century streak, he has built the Spartans into bluebloods by building them into a model of consistency — one of his biggest dreams when he took over for his mentor Jud Heathcote in 1995-96. The 28th-year coach won the 2000 national championship and has led MSU to the most Final Four appearances of any program since his first in 1999, and ranks third among active coaches behind Self and Calipari with a .697 NCAA tournament winning percentage (53-23).
“I still remember winning the national championship and everybody wanted to canonize (me), which they do. When you when you win something big, everybody thinks you did it in five years,” Izzo said. “And I remember saying to some of you in this room that are old … ‘Come back in 10 years.’ And now it’s been 20 years.
“I think what anybody looks for in anything in life is can you sustain success, can you be consistent? And if you’re consistent, there’s gonna be a little bit of ebbs and flows and ups and downs. But consistency, where you never really fall off — are you in contention to do something, and do you have a chance? And that’s kind of what I’ve built it on.”
However, the Spartans haven’t made it out of the first weekend in five of the past six NCAA tournaments, with the outlier their 2019 Final Four run. In eight prior seasons between 2008-15, MSU made three Final Fours (including a runner-up finish in 2009), one additional Elite Eight and three other Sweet 16s.
To win the weekend and advance to New York, first the Spartans must beat a future Big Ten foe in USC (22-10), which will join the conference starting in 2024-25.
The Trojans finished third in the Pac-12 with a 14-6 conference record and ended the postseason 50th in the NCAA NET Rankings. MSU finished 33rd in the NET Rankings, one of the selection committee’s primary measures for selecting at-large teams.
USC lost to Wisconsin on Nov. 25, 64-59, in the Battle4Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. That is the only common regular-season opponent the Trojans shared with the Spartans, though USC also lost 73-66 in that same tournament to Tennessee, a team which MSU held a preseason scrimmage against in Knoxville.Coach Andy Enfield, who rose to prominence at Florida Gulf Coast in the early 2010s, is in his 10th season with the Trojans.
USC got upset Thursday in the second round of the Pac-12 tournament, 77-72, by Arizona State, which got into the NCAA field as one of the final four teams in the field. The Trojans average 72.8 points a game and are led by senior Boogie Ellis, a 6-foot-3 guard who averages 18 points a game with 3.7 rebounds and 3 assists. Drew Peterson, a 6-9 senior guard, averages 14 points a game with team highs of 6.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists. Three others score 9-9.8 points a game for USC.
If MSU reaches the Sweet 16 this year, those games will be at Madison Square Garden in New York. The regional semifinals will be March 23 and the regional final will be March 25. This year’s Final Four and national title game will be in Houston on April 1 and 3.
Izzo said he planned to have a meeting with his veteran players Monday morning to deliver more of the message of what’s needed to make a deep run. None of his current players have played beyond last year’s second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think we’re really hungry, to be honest,” said senior forward Malik Hall, whose freshman year in 2020 was ended before the NCAA tournament by the pandemic cancelation after MSU won the Big Ten regular-season title. “Nobody’s made it made it past the first weekend. So I think everybody’s just kind of kind of ready to to make a name for not only ourselves, but for our team here as a whole.”
Contact Chris Solari: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @chrissolari.
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