The Spartans lead by nearly 30 points in the second half and cruised for the majority of the game. Their speed and athleticism was too much for the Crusaders and they couldn’t keep up. More important than this win was the performance of the Spartans and a question it raises: could Tom Izzo be coaching in his seventh final four in a few weeks?
Izzo took over as coach of the Spartans in 1995. In the seventeen completed seasons Izzo has coached, his teams have reached the final four on six occasions. From 1999-2001, then in 2005, 2009, and 2010 the Spartans played on the final weekend of the college basketball season. The 1999-2000 team ended as national champions, and the 2008-09 team made it to the championship game before losing.
To make a final four every three seasons on average is a great feat for any coach. However, it does mean more that Izzo did it at a university that, while part of a major conference, was not a traditional power in college basketball before he came along.
The Spartans had a solid program that was better than that at times, but they weren’t on the same level as the Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils, Kansas Jayhawks, or UCLA Bruins as far as being an elite program. With Izzo’s arrival and his near two decades of success, the Spartans have become a perennial power in major college basketball.
The biggest thing a team can have in the NCAA tournament is great coaching. In a tournament as large as the NCAA tournament, a team needs that little extra something from the sideline to get to that final weekend. Izzo provides the Spartans with that little extra something.
This year’s tournament is the most wide-open field that I have personally witnessed, and this is my 21st season watching college basketball. This year also has a boatload of good to great coaches in the field. Where someone like Izzo differs is that he is part of that special group of active coaches that has an intimidating postseason pedigree. Izzo’s final four experience and title game appearances put him a cut above almost any coach in the field.
That cut above, accomplished through experience, knowledge, talent, and longevity, is what a team needs this year to make it to the final four. The Spartans have this through Izzo. Now it’s all a matter of winning three more games and heading to Atlanta.