By Mark Wilson
March 8, 2015

It was after the victory over Purdue on Wednesday that the Michigan State basketball haters came out in full force.

Yep… after a VICTORY.

Can’t imagine what they might have done if MSU had LOST to the Boilermakers.

They might have picketed at David Brandon’s house.

Sorry Dave; had to go with it. No one is picketing at Mark Hollis’ place.

The gist of the convo was; we’ve gotten used to the Spartans amongst the elite in college hoops. A win over a non-ranked Purdue squad wasn’t exactly blowing their skirts up.

Of course I was throwing gasoline on that fire.

I contended that it was a TERRIFIC triumph for the green and white due to Purdue’s recent ledger. They had come into the Breslin Center on a high; winning eight of the last ten and the two losses were by a combined eight points.

Matt Painter actually seemed to have something going in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Not only that but… MSU had lost Branden Dawson to injury and for a quick moment, had Denzel Valentine out of the lineup as well.

The Spartans ratcheted up the defense, rode Travis Trice’s triple-try arm and went on a 20-5 run to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

I wrote on facebook that it was, “good stuff at Breslin.”

Best defense of the year in the B-1-G.

BOOOOOO! (on me)

What was I thinking trying to lavish a little praise on a team that has been highly average for most of the 2014-15 basketball season?


One thing I’ve learned since the Spartans won the national championship in 2000 is… don’t crown the supposed East Lansing King.

Tom Izzo.

Yes, I like Tom. I like him heaps. I have known the dude since he arrived on campus about 32 years ago.

I like his wife, Lupe. I like his family. I like his close friendship with longtime school buddy and former 49ers/Lions coach Steve Mariucci.

There! I said it.

Sue me.

Does it mean that I give Izzo a pass on bad seasons? No, but he does get the benefit of the doubt more often than not.

Hell, there hasn’t been that many bad seasons.

And there’s the rub.

What constitutes BAD in this man/woman’s 2015 NCAA hoops world?

For my broadcast partner Rob Parker, BAD means having won no additional national titles since the one in Indianapolis over Florida 15 years ago.

He “predicted” in 2001 that as long as Izzo remained King of East Lansing, there would be no more crowns.

So far, so good for R. Parker.

Rob, along with many others, doesn’t believe Izzo should be spoken of in “elite” status since he hasn’t won multiple national titles.

Ditto guys like Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, Bill Self at Kansas, Tubby Smith, Lute Olson, Gary Williams, Nolan Richardson and anyone else who only grabbed ONE brass ring.

Throw Izzo’s mentor, Jud Heathcote, into that category as well.

John Calipari is a conference and NCAA tournament away from the first perfect campaign in college hoops since Bobby Knight did it at Indiana in 1976.

Knight is one of only FOUR coaches to do it. John Wooden did it four times by himself.

Calipari is curious since he has just the one national championship and led U-Mass and Memphis down the wrong path upon leaving those schools.

Ask if “Coach Cal” is elite and you get mixed reactions.

Under the “Parker Doctrine” Calipari is a solid NO.

If Kentucky wins it all this April 6th, he would join the supposed elite with a second title.

Wooden, Knight, Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Dean Smith and Denny Crum are among those with multiples. In most circles, they are considered “elite coaches.”

Crum was iffy to me, but I am good with the moniker.

Is that to say that Izzo, Self, Boeheim and the “one title” group ARE NOT elite?

Billy Donovan won back-to-back at Florida and yet Parker isn’t sold because he wants Donovan to do it with two different SETS of players.

Is Donovan elite?

Split decision on the guy; yet he won TWO.

Personally, I think the “elite” debate is weird.

The word is defined as, “the best or most skilled members of a group.”

Ok, best… skilled… I’m in on that.

Izzo is pretty skilled. He’s among the best at what he does. By definition it sounds like Tom Izzo is… elite.

He is superior in a group that includes about 330 division one members.

Therefore, elite or not, Izzo’s expectation ceiling is pretty damn high.

Being unranked and barely getting to 21 victories is not supposed to be the benchmark at Michigan State.

Winning conference titles, being in the Top 10 and getting to the Final Four is the Spartans’ mantra.

It is EXPECTED that Izzo get his unit to the NCAA Tournament.

He is like second or third on the list for most consecutive appearances going all the way back to 1998 now.

After missing out his first two seasons replacing Heathcote (NIT appearances those two) Izzo has taken MSU to 17 straight “Big Dances.”

Six of those times he has reached the Final Four.

With the win over Purdue, Izzo also reached the 20-win plateau for the 15th time in his 20 seasons as head coach.

I know it has been TWO DECADES that T.I. has ruled the bench for the Spartans and yes, we’re all getting older.

Izzo himself turned 60 in January.

As mentioned in a previous blog/column I wrote, Izzo has lived outside the state of Michigan for exactly three MONTHS of his 60 years.

It happened in 1986 when he wanted to make more than a few thousand bucks a year and took an assistant job at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma.

He drove his beater down to Tulsa, began work and then…got terribly homesick.

Jud called Tom when Mike Deane left that summer to become head man at Siena. He told Izzo to pack up the beater and motor back to “the mitten.”

Izzo was a happy man leaving J.D. Barnett’s employ.

Outside of a few (hundred it seems) NBA job opportunities, Izzo hasn’t given much thought to leaving his home state in the 30 years he’s been out of Oklahoma.

I never did ask Tom if he rented an apartment down there or just lived in a hotel those three measly months.

Don’t really care, I guess since it was like a flash.

One thing we DO know.

Nobody bleeds MSU green and white like the fiery coach from Iron Mountain.

Atlanta, Cleveland, Golden State, Denver and other cities on the NBA standings sheet have all either come calling him or rumored to have called him to abdicate the crown in E.L.

For whatever myriad of reasons, Izzo said no thanks.

He, Lupe and the two kids, Steven Mateen (named for Mariucci and Cleaves) and Raquel are quite happy in their suburban Lansing dream home.

Spartan fans have had a love affair with Izzo since the 2000 championship year.

He recharges their batteries with each passing Final Four. Last year’s senior class was the FIRST in Izzo’s tenure to NOT experience a trip to the Mecca of college basketball.

They did make it to the “Elite Eight” last season but in Izzo’s world, that isn’t good enough.

When Keith Appling graduated and the duo of Gary Harris/Adriean Payne left early, there was some nervousness that 2014-15 would be a rebuilding or… reloading season.

MSU also lost Alex Gauna, Russ Byrd, Brandon Kearney and Kenny Kaminski.

Not huge names but certainly pieces to the Izzo puzzle.

Incoming frosh Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn, Javon Bess and Marvin Clark were going to pick up some of the slack.

Gavin Schilling and Alvin Ellis were sophomores who would improve.

Matt Costello would replace some of the rebounding lost by Payne’s departure.

Bryn Forbes was a transfer from Cleveland State that could shoot the lights out. He was also a Lansing native.

Dawson, Trice and Valentine would be the leaders.

It sounded… serviceable.

Serviceable doesn’t get it done in a major conference like the Big Ten with two new members in Maryland and Rutgers.

Maryland is better than advertised and is the class of the B1G along with Wisconsin.

What this season has shown is how much MSU misses the trio of Payne, Appling and Harris.

Harris and Payne especially.

There is another Harris on campus right now.

Eron Harris is the transfer from West Virginia who averaged 17 points per game playing for the gritty, gruff Bob Huggins in Morgantown.

He had to sit out this year thanks to that antiquated NCAA transfer rule.

I mean, c’mon!

Enough of that crap already. It worked in the 1970’s but those days are long gone. Why student athletes still have to wait a year is ridiculous.

Coaches can come and go at the drop of a hat, but the student has to be more loyal?


So, you have Eron Harris to look forward too NEXT season.

A loss to Duke in the first six games was no big shock and even the subsequent loss to Kansas wasn’t exactly an earth-shaker.

Then came the “L” in overtime to Mike Bray and Notre Dame in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.

Bit of an eye-opener.

Three more easy wins left MSU at 8-and-3. Not terrible.

But, oh man… along came Texas Southern.

Five days before Christmas, 1-and-8 squad, rolled into Breslin and rolled out with win number two.

TSU had lost to Eastern Washington and Norfolk State, not to mention the heavyweights like Indiana, Gonzaga and Baylor who had obliterated them.

And yet, there they were.

Texas Southern Tigers 71, MSU Spartans 64 in OT.

Worst loss in Izzo’s two decades of decadence.

All about expectations?

You don’t EXPECT to lose to Texas ‘freakin Southern… AT HOME.

Just ask Michigan’s John Beilein about expectations.

Who expected the Wolverines to lose to Eastern Michigan AND the New Jersey Institute of Technology??

Still can’t get past that dumping by NJIT.


Michigan never recovered from that and is going to be lucky to land in the NIT, if not one of the two other minor tournaments.

The upset by TSU didn’t kill the Spartans’ season but it sure put a damper on things.

Side note— Texas Southern goes into the SWAC Tournament with a good chance to join MSU in the NCAA’s.

The good news is that the Spartans will most likely get a rough seeding so they probably won’t meet TSU again.

Well, after that, MSU plodded along into the conference slate. Their longest win streak has been FOUR.

Beating Michigan twice was nice but no big hairy deal since those two previously mentioned stinkers.

All things considered, this might be one of Izzo’s better coaching jobs.

Dawson has a good shot at being a first round NBA Draft pick but he’s been injured at times.

There is no one else with a resume the NBA is dying for.

Izzo has done another 20 win campaign on the backs of lesser quality players.

Sure, part of that is Tom’s fault.

He didn’t recruit well enough.

But, I have a theory and it involves Jabari Parker.

I really believe Izzo thought he had Parker in his back pocket last year.

Jabari was from Chicago, his dad Sonny played in the NBA with the Warriors and he wanted to be within driving distance to see his kid perform.

Last I looked, not too many figured Duke was a nice leisurely Sunday drive from Chi-town.

Not to call it a complete devastation, but it was NOT a happy day in the Izzo household when he was told that Parker was going to play for Krzyzewski in Durham, North Carolina.

Jabari Parker would have been Izzo’s biggest 5-star recruit.

Coach “K” watched Parker become the second overall selection in the 2014 NBA Draft.

J.P. was ALWAYS going to be… one and done.

Yeah, Izzo would not have had Jabari this season but that’s not the point.

It would have had a domino effect and I believe one or two other kids would have flocked to East Lansing to play for Izzo.

Without the Parker influence, there was no way this season was going to be special.

20 wins again?

Masterful job in a vastly improved conference.

The only reason more Big Ten teams aren’t ranked is that they’re all beating each other up. The B-1-G is at its best and most fun to watch, when the teams are THIS evenly matched.

Hell, even Northwestern has gotten into the act.

Chris Collins may be Coach of the Year for what he’s done in Evanston.

Collins did something no Wildcats’ coach has done since the late 60’s. That’s SEVEN different coaches including his predecessor Bill Carmody who did have a couple of 20-win campaigns along Lake Michigan.

Collins directed Northwestern to a FOUR game conference win streak.

1966-67 was the last time the Cats put four in a row together in the Big Ten.


A fantastic double overtime win over the Wolverines allowed Northwestern to make it five of six in the win column. They’re actually a pretty good little group.

It just shows the strength of the conference and how much tougher it would be for MSU to rule the roost.

Still, to the Spartan bashers, it has been a fun skewer.

“Izzo couldn’t get an NBA D-LEAGUE gig right now,” said one hater.

Another put together this fine joke.

“When Izzo looks in the sky it’s cloudy and he only sees two stars. Same thing happens when he looks on his bench.”

Get it?

Two-star athletes?

I kind of laughed at that.

Is it deserving?

Of course.

As written in the headline, Izzo is a victim of his OWN success.

Consider that Heathcote is put on a pedestal in E.L. for coaching that Magic Johnson / Gregory Kelser team of 1979.

In HIS long tenure, Jud only got to the NCAA Tournament a total of nine times.

Izzo has those 17 in a row.

Tough to have it both ways.

Can’t be the crypt keeper on a juggernaut like Spartan basketball and not take some flame when your prized possession limps into post-season play.

The prevailing thought is, MSU will not fare well in the conference tourney this coming week and will get jaked on Selection Sunday.

Then… they’ll go to some far off land for the first full round of the dance and get beat in either the first game they play or surely the second game.

MSU will not have a second weekend in its bag of tricks.

Not this time.

Wanna guess what Izzo is thinking?

The man once told me, “You can’t do it until you dream it.”

Begin wavy dream sequence thingie.

He’s dreaming of a long run way past Chicago this week.

He’s dreaming that Dawson starts rebounding like a demon and adds some scoring to that mix. He’s dreaming Trice starts hitting all his free throws.

Seriously Travis? 69% shooting down from 82% last year?

Continue that wavy dream sequence thingie.

He’s dreaming that Schilling becomes a force on the boards all of a sudden. He’s dreaming that Forbes and Valentine hit triples like they’re going out of style. He’s dreaming that “Tum Tum” learns how to create his own chances for a “change change.”

Izzo is dreaming of trip number SEVEN to the Final Four.

He wants Dawson, Trice and Keenan Wetzel (the other senior) to experience that magic.

It seems highly improbable and unlikely.

You want people to REALLY think you’re elite, Tom?

DO… the improbable and unlikely.

Izzo won’t just be King of East Lansing. He’ll be flat out Emperor and Chief Grand Poobah.