By Mark Wilson
March 23, 2015

Gotta give it up to the Michigan State athletic community. It’s a tight group for sure.

MSU senior basketball guard Travis Trice said he got a text from former Spartans’ forward (and now Golden State Warriors’ stud) Draymond Green.

It read, “Make sure today isn’t your last game.”

Trice replied, “It won’t.”

That happened before State hit the floor in Charlotte, North Carolina for the round of 32 game versus ACC regular season champ Virginia.

A couple of hours later, Green was all smiles.

Trice lives to play another day after the Spartans swarmed the Cavaliers defensively and left Charlotte with a 60-54 victory.

Yet another trip to the NCAA Sweet 16.

Here comes your cliché.

How SWEET 16… it is.

The ACC was unbeaten in the tournament (8-and-0) when the game started.

8-and-1 now.

For the second year in a row, Tom Izzo figured out a way to beat a better Virginia squad. Cavs coach Tony Bennett has to be reeling that he can’t knock off Izzo.

Bennett is a coaches’ son. His dad, Dick Bennett, was a head man at FOUR different locations.

Following 19 years between the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and Green Bay, Dick Bennett took the job at the primary hub in the UW system at Madison.

Ironically, it was the same year that Izzo began at MSU in 1995.

Tony played for his dad at UW Green Bay.

It was only a matter of time before Tony would join his father in the coaching ranks.

Izzo enjoyed beating up Dick at Wisconsin and now he is finding fun in rolling the son at Virginia.

I admit, I didn’t think much of this tournament for the green and white.

Georgia was first on the schedule once MSU got the seventh seed in the East Regional.

Seven seemed a bit unfair even for a unit that under-performed in 2014-15.

I thought they would be on the five-line when they made it to the Big Ten Conference Tournament finale.

But, nope.

Selection Sunday’s reveal raised some eyebrows with a seventh seed position.

Spartans’ blood was boiling when the committee chairman indicated that Wisconsin, who ended up winning the B1G, would have been a one-seed regardless of the finale outcome.

He inadvertently then conceded that MSU’s spot wouldn’t have changed EITHER.

The foolishness in THAT was, if the Spartans had won the conference tourney, they STILL would have been a seven?


You mean to tell me that the WINNER of the Big Ten Conference Tournament would have been a seventh seed in the NCAA’s??

I hereby call for the END to conference tournaments!

I’m kidding of course.

Or am I?

The seven got MSU that date with the Bulldogs.

Georgia was dispatched in due time setting up the rematch with Virginia.

Izzo dumped Bennett last March when UVA was a ONE seed. Now, they had to face them as a TWO seed.

One, two… three, four… whatever.

This is March and this is… Izzo time.

Say whatever you want about Izzo’s LONE national championship and how he hasn’t won one since 2000 and needs a second title to join the elite.

Blah, blah blahdy blue.

I wrote about it recently. No need to rinse and repeat.

Izzo knows how to make it fun and interesting in March unlike most other coaches in these United States of America.

After missing out on the NCAA dance his first two seasons in the big chair, Izzo hasn’t missed out since.

In 1998, he won his first Big Ten regular season crown and hasn’t looked back.

Every year, the Spartans have gone dancing.

I can name you about 320 other schools that have NOT gone to the tournament 18 straight seasons.

18 years in a row and there is basketball in Mid-to-late March for the good peeps of East Lansing.

So, when Georgia went back to Athens it was no real shocker that MSU was suiting up in the round of 32.

And I didn’t think that would happen.

Yep, I picked AGAINST my alma mater.

With good reason.

Two of last year’s stars are playing in the NBA right now. Adreian Payne and Gary Harris were first round draft picks last June and wear uniforms of the Atlanta Hawks and Denver Nuggets respectively.

Keith Appling started 132 games in his Spartans’ career and is playing NBA Development League ball in Erie.

Kenny Kaminski transferred out.

That’s a lot of talent to go bye-bye and expect you’re going to re-load with no consequences.

When MSU lost to Texas Southern AT HOME five days before Christmas, a BIG red flag went up around college hoops.

The Spartans simply weren’t very good.

Even with Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine back, things did not look good in Spartyland.

It wasn’t until Valentine’s Day, when Valentine hit that big shot, that MSU beat a Top 25 ranked club; Ohio State.

A victory over Maryland in the conference clambake was only the second win all season vs. a ranked opponent.

But, State won six of its last seven.

They were heating up at the right time.



I love the calendar that someone created replacing one of the months of the year with this reference.

January, February, IZZO, April, May, June… etc.


Also true; at least when it comes to basketball at the collegiate level.

Izzo entered the 2015 version with a 37-and-14 NCAA Tournament record; a .725 win percentage.

Only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams of North Carolina have done better in that stretch.

Pretty heavy hitters right there.

You know what those 37 triumphs mean?

It means that Izzo AVERAGES… the Sweet 16 every year.

To make it once again, Tom had to beat Tony.

With Trice hitting shots like crazy in the first six minutes of the game and a defensive plan as good as any I’ve seen from an Izzo team, MSU was well on its way by holding Virginia to just 18 first half points.

MSU came out in the second half and wouldn’t allow Bennett to adjust enough to the defensive protocol.

Matt Costello added some much needed rebounding punch and Gavin Schilling got into the act as well.

The Spartans even started to hit their free throws.


Amazing MSU made it this far based on how lousy a free throw shooting team they are. Just that alone should have them sitting on a couch somewhere WATCHING these games.

Trice hit another big shot in the second half and Bryn Forbes came up big too. Dawson hounded the Cavaliers all over the court.

Bennett could do nothing with the clock and just like that it was done.

60-54 Spartans. Magic Johnson led the cheers from the stands.

The number two seed was shoed away like they were as a one-seed in 2014.

Back to Charlottesville they go.

On to Syracuse for the East Regional semi-final for Michigan State.

Izzo was a master at substitutions in that Virginia game.

I tweeted as soon as the game ended.

If ever a COACH made a difference in a basketball game; it was Izzo on Sunday.

He made all the right subbing at exactly the right times.

It’s an art form as much as a hockey coach will tell you it’s an art form to make line changes.

The Red Wings’ Mike Babcock is one of the better “line change” coaches in all the NHL.

Same can be said for Izzo in college hoops.

When someone needed a blow, he got it. When it was evident that a player was lagging; out he came. The guy coming in as a replacement seemed to add something immediately.

Subbing is one of the things we don’t necessarily talk about much in the college game.

Obviously it can be the difference in getting to a Sweet 16 or losing your job.

The latter won’t be happening to Tom Izzo any time soon.

The former… happens next week.

13 times, lucky 13, for Izzo.

13 different times in his 20 seasons, Izzo has gone on to play a second week in the tournament.

13 times he has had a squad move on where only 15 others dare to tread.

Only ONCE has he failed to make the Sweet 16 when getting to the round of 32.

It also means that this week, when MSU faces highly average Oklahoma, Izzo has a chance to win his 40th NCAA Tournament game.

You know how many guys in the HISTORY of the sport which dates back about a hundred years have won 40 tournament games?

Try 10.

It was only NINE but Rick Pitino had to beat Izzo to the 40 punch on Sunday when Louisville snapped off Northern Iowa.

Pitino made it 10. All-time.

Maybe you’ve heard of the other dudes.

Coach K, Dean Smith, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun, John Wooden, Lute Olson, Bobby Knight, Denny Crum and now Pitino.

Stop me if a name appears that is foreign to you.

Izzo will join that group with ONE more “W.”

Dare I say that Tom has done it faster than most as well?

Those guys ALL began their head coaching careers before Izzo took the reigns from Jud Heathcote back in 1995.

40 will be a pretty neat accomplishment for the pride of Iron Mountain.

To get the big 4-Oh, Izzo will have to out-duel Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger.

Boomer Sooner took care of Dayton 72-66 in Columbus, Ohio making it the first loss for the Flyers in their home state all season.

Dayton, under Coach Archie Miller, had gone 19-and-0.

The defeat means we’ll get no camera shots of Archie’s wife Morgan who was the talk of the 2014 tournament. She has a penchant for showing off her attractive assets.

It also means BOTH Miller brothers will not be part of the Sweet 16. Archie’s bro Sean coaches Arizona.

Izzo will like the Oklahoma match up better.

The Sooners are over-rated as a third seed. In fact, I used THEM as an example why MSU was UNDER-rated on that seven line.

FOUR seeds better for Oklahoma?

C’mon, that’s crazy.

Kruger had OU almost similar to MSU. 22-and-10 pre-tournament with a 12-and-6 conference mark. Nothing flashy and certainly nothing to condone a third seed to the Spartans’ seven.

Technically, Oklahoma should be the favorite but Las Vegas may not see it that way.

Vegas may favor Izzo even though Kruger once coached UNLV.

He left Nevada for the Norman back in 2011.

OU is the FIFTH school that Kruger has taken to the NCAA’s. He is the first coach in history to win a tourney game at five universities (Kansas St, Illinois, Florida, UNLV and now Oklahoma).

I was doing radio in Vegas when Kruger was coaching the Runnin Rebels. I even stopped by Brendan’s Irish Pub at the Orleans Casino Hotel when Lon did his coaches’ radio show.

He had nothing but high praise for Izzo and Heathcote.

Of course, he ran into Izzo ten times as coach in Champaign. Two of those came in the Big Ten Conference Tournament final.

In 1999, the Spartans rolled the Illini 67-50 and then in 2000, it was a 76-61 MSU victory.

Kruger was ready to leave the orange and blue by the time Izzo was done with him.

Actually, Kruger should THANK Izzo.

It was Izzo who turned down a 5-year, $15 million deal to coach the Atlanta Hawks fresh off the Spartans 2000 national title.

Kruger was the guy who got the gig once Tom said no.

He remained in Atlanta until getting bagged midway through the 2003 NBA slate.

One year on the bench with the New York Knicks coaching under ex-Pistons’ Coach Don Chaney convinced Kruger to head back to college.

After seven years at UNLV, Kruger bolted Vegas for Oklahoma.

Next year will be his 30th as a college head coach.

Kruger has improved the Sooners each of his four campaigns.

Friday’s Sweet 16 contest will be Oklahoma’s first appearance on the second weekend since 2009 when Jeff Capel was head man.

The ONLY history between Sooners and Spartans in the NCAA’s happened in ’99.

Former Heathcote assistant Kelvin Sampson faced Izzo in the Sweet 16.

The swarming defense led by Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson was too much for Sampson to overcome. MSU held Oklahoma to under 50 and won it 54-46.

In 107 years of college hoops in Norman, the Sooners have played for the national championship twice.

They lost to Holy Cross in 1947 and to Larry Brown’s Kansas group in 1988.

Right now, Kruger is three wins away from making it thrice.

Izzo is there to prevent that.

Buddy Hield is Oklahoma’s leading scorer. He had 15 in the win over Dayton. Jordan Woodard led Oklahoma with 16.

However, this team can get hot and light it up from triple try land.

They hit nine of them on Sunday.

Problem is they don’t defend the perimeter that well allowing the Flyers to pop for 11 triples.

Oklahoma is not a big assist team.

Ranking 182nd in the nation is a far cry from MSU’s 4th spot nationally when it comes to dishing the rock.

The Sooners rebound well but overall don’t shoot well in transition and Izzo will be looking to run against them.

Kruger’s “bigs” ain’t that big and Dawson/Costello will have a clear glass advantage on Oklahoma. Ryan Spangler leads OU with eight boards per game.

Coaching will be the highlight of this thing Friday.

Izzo and Kruger together have a combined 50 years of head coaching and more than a thousand wins between them.

Back to subbing, whoever does the best job of keeping their team fresh and substituting at the right time is going to survive and advance.

Waiting in the wings on Sunday will be an Elite Eight tilt against the winner of Louisville and North Carolina State.

How about an Izzo-Rick Pitino meeting for the right to move on to Indianapolis?

THAT… would be juicy Lucy.

At this juncture Izzo would put his hands up and say, “Hold on bucko! No looking past Oklahoma!”

Tell that to the kids.

I LIKE looking forward and YOU can’t stop me!

Naturally, the MSU haters point out that the East Region was the worst to begin with.

Having lost Villanova, Providence and Virginia didn’t help anything.

Oh, balderdash!

There are THREE past champions in the field of four schools at the Carrier Dome. Plus, ALL of the final four in Syracuse have been red hot for weeks now.

Did I sell it ok?

This is March Madness and if Butler can go to TWO final games in a row, anything is possible and no region is really that much better than another.

Go tell Izzo and Kruger the East Region is “weak.”

Grab sunglasses because you’ll need ‘em from the icy glare those two will provide.

Spartan Nation knows one thing right now.

Izzo has their Spartans back in the Sweet 16 and all bets are off. A SEVENTH trip to the Final Four in the Izzo Era is on the horizon and fans will dream big.

Michigan State is halfway home to a national championship.

To the students, faculty, alumni and fans, today isn’t just the 23rd of March; it’s the 23rd of Izzo.

It’s Izzo Madness!

At age 60, it is just as sweet for the head coach as it was 18 years ago and he can’t wait to get to Upstate New York.