COLUMN: What Michigan State’s win over Duke means for Tom Izzo


Michigan State Spartans Coach Tom Izzo yells March 17 in the first half of the game against Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament championship game at the United Center in Chicago. Tribune News Service

The Michigan State Spartans might not be seeded as high as the No. 1 overall seed Duke University, but they sure have been playing like it.

The No. 2 seeded Michigan State defeated the giant that was freshman Zion Williamson and Duke. With a 68-67 win Sunday, Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo got his revenge on a familiar foe — Michigan State lost to Mike Krzyzewski and Duke in the 2015 Final Four in Indianapolis.

Izzo is going back to the Final Four for the first time since that showdown in 2015, marking his eighth career appearance. While Izzo has only won the NCAA title once, his eight appearances in the Final Four rank him fifth all-time for a coach and third among active coaches.

Having secured a spot in the 2019 Final Four in Minneapolis, Izzo and the Spartans have the opportunity to win a much deserved second NCAA title, but the path will not be easy.

To even reach the championship game, Michigan State must face off against a red-hot Texas Tech University team that is fresh off two straight impressive wins. In the Sweet 16, the third seeded Texas Tech team defeated two seed Michigan before knocking off one seed Gonzaga University in the Elite Eight.

If Michigan State can get past the defensive powerhouse of Texas Tech, it will most likely face the University of Virginia in the championship game, unless the also red-hot No. 5 seeded Auburn University can keep the upset streak going.

If Izzo has to face Texas Tech and Virginia in the next two games, he will be facing the two best defenses in the entire NCAA. During the regular season, the Cavaliers had the top scoring defense in the country and the Red Raiders were not far behind, ranked third. The Wolverines were ranked second.

Izzo has spent his entire head coaching career at Michigan State, winning four national coach of the year awards, nine Big Ten championships and six Big Ten Tournament championships in 24 years. Not only is he the winningest coach in school history, his six Big Ten Tournament titles are the most in the history of the Big Ten Conference. He is also second in conference wins behind former IU Coach Bob Knight.

While Izzo has not won a NCAA Championship since 2000, he has made the Spartans into a premiere collegiate basketball program. In that time, he has become one of the most accomplished coaches in the NCAA and, if he wins a second championship, should enter the conversation as one of the greatest Big Ten coaches of all time.

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