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The Michigan State Spartans dropping their third straight game on Tuesday at home against Purdue became second fiddle in the morning headlines on Wednesday. Grabbing the attention of many was Spartans head coach Tom Izzo saying after the game in a presser that he “doesn’t care about the fan base.”
A visibly frustrated Tom Izzo nearly got into a sparring match with Channel 7 personality Justin Rose, when Rose questioned about the team’s direction for the remainder of the season and nearly questioned their level of effort towards the coach. But Izzo, rather than attacking the reporter, went on a mini “state of the program” address and how the outside voices of displeasure regarding the team through this point in the season doesn’t affect him.
And he has every last right to think and say that openly and honestly. Tom Izzo has earned the respect and patience of all Spartans hoops fans worldwide and MSU faithful need to give him the benefit of the doubt.
It’s not breaking news that this year’s Spartans are not as strong, nor experienced, as some of the teams in the past. Izzo is working with a team of relatively young and unproven players in big-time situations. He has little to no leadership to turn to in key moments of games. He has a lack of depth personnel-wise and probably no confidence in most of his players to hit big shots, particularly in the free throw department. That much is evident after Izzo broke his clipboard late in the game on Tuesday after a missed free throw, something he’s seen all too often this year.
Never change, Coach. https://t.co/8VrYsMRYnD
— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) January 25, 2017
Look, Spartan Nation. I get it. As a fellow Spartan myself, it’s very easy to just assume that come basketball season, that Michigan State will be there in the end, dancing in March and possibly flirting with a deep run to the Final Four. Hell, we’ve seen it for nearly 20 years, why think anything different, right?
But long-time Spartan fans, myself included, should be aware that nothing is ever guaranteed in this world, especially when it comes to sports. Coming into the year, the team was hyped up because of the outstanding freshman class Izzo was bringing in, led by superstar Miles Bridges. But this plan of just having highly-heralded freshman take over and continue the vast winning ways has not worked out. And quite frankly, it was wrong for any fan to just assume that it would. That’s why they play the games.
Here is a coach that is as respected as anyone in the sport, none more than by his own peers on the opposite bench of games. The guy is a Hall of Famer for crying out loud. Over 530 wins in 22 seasons at one school, taking said school to the NCAA Tournament in 19 straight seasons, and an unprecedented seven trips to the Final Four going back to 1999… all in different ways, too. Seven of these 19 tournament teams under Izzo accumulated double-digit losses. Granted, six of them did not make it out of the first weekend. But the most recent team however, the 2014-15 edition, made a run at the Final Four. That team was at one point 13-7 through 20 games and 4-3 in the Big Ten. This year’s team? 12-8 through 20 games and 4-3 in league play.
I can hear all of you, screaming at me through your computer screens. “Alex, where are his rings at? Alex, he should be winning more. Alex, he’s overrated as a head coach.” Do fans have any idea how unpredictable it is to play out the NCAA Tournament and what a complete crap shoot it is? Izzo is in elite company when it comes to coaches.
Sure, he doesn’t have as many titles as some of his peers but let’s compare them. Jim Calhoun, Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams have combined for eight of the 21 national titles claimed in the time Izzo has been a head coach. Calhoun is retired and the other two are pretty darn close. Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan each have a pair of rings in than span, and the latter is coaching in the NBA now. Then there’s some premier head coaches like John Calipari and Jay Wright who, for all the winning they have done in their coaching career, only picked up their first national title in recent years (Calipari – 2012/ Wright – 2016). Jim Boeheim has been at Syracuse for 40+ years and won his only title in 2003. It took Izzo just five seasons to reach the mountaintop, something only Bill Self can say in his time at Kansas, who also only has one ring to his name.
There are a ton of coaches who would love to some day be in the same conversation, the same breath as Tom Izzo and the other names we just mentioned – coaches that all they do is win and have their teams as perennial players in the tournament. There’s also a myriad of programs in Division I that would love to have the track record in hoops that Michigan State has accomplished over the last two decades.
It’s okay to get frustrated, fans. Believe me. I’ve been yelling and throwing my hands up in the air watching MSU at times this season, both in basketball and football for that matter. But we’re better than simply calling out our team, particularly our Hall of Fame coach, on the direction of a singular team for one season. It’s okay to get upset if your team that is so use to winning, hits the skids every now and then. But take it with a grain of salt, because stuff like this can happen. Runs like this mid-season have happened to MSU before, so why is this year different to so many?
Patience is a virtue, Spartan Nation. The school has done a whole lot of winning on the hardwood. It’s important to be humble and reflect, not to be spoiled and reject. The team may be in danger of missing the tournament for the first time in 20 years. There is no reason to discount everything Tom Izzo and his teams have done during that time. One iffy year doesn’t tarnish the previous 19.
And if Tom Izzo wants to back-talk to you fans on your concerns over the team’s level of success, or level of effort they are giving, then he has every damn right to do so and you should take it to heart. And let’s be honest, his comments following Tuesday’s game are going to be a bit blown out of proportion. It’s easy to see how frustrated he is that his team is not performing at the level he would like. If he truly didn’t care about what he does, or about the school, he’d be long gone by now.
Emotions are running high in East Lansing, but for the fans in particular, you need to step back and let Tom Izzo do the venting for you.