Tom Izzo is among the most highly-respected and intelligent minds in the game of college basketball. After nearly two decades and 429 victories at the helm for the MSU men’s basketball team, there’s not a lot of disputing that.
But it wasn’t until recently that I actually gained understanding for the weight of Izzo, and what he’s doing with his basketball program.
It’s not because of the No. 13 ranking or the team’s first-place standing in the Big Ten. And it’s not for his track record, which features 15 NCAA Tournaments, seven Big Ten championships and the 2000 National Championship.
It’s because he understands something most of us don’t. He has a vision.
I see a team with wins over Kansas, Ohio State and Wisconsin, one team that seems as if it could cause some damage in March. He sees a tough road ahead with a talented team that’s played to the level of the road behind them.
I see a team with potential to struggle with fatigued legs due to the loss of guard Brandan Kearney and the shortening of the bench. He didn’t enjoy losing Kearney but sees an opportunity for sophomore Travis Trice and freshman Matt Costello, among others, to step up.
I see a team that lacks leadership and likely wasted a captain nomination on sophomore guard Russell Byrd, a bench player who makes little to no impact in the lineup. He saw an opportunity to elevate junior guard Keith Appling into a captain role, while still utilizing the strengths of Byrd and senior center Derrick Nix.
Although it remains to be seen how adding a third captain to the mix will pan out, it’s all part of Izzo’s vision.
Sure, 17-3 is an impressive record. But does it matter to Indiana, Michigan or Illinois what MSU’s record is? No, not really. And since Izzo has been to the summit before, the record doesn’t matter much to him, either.
Izzo wants another national title ring. He wants to set the bar so high the program can’t ever fall back à la Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky.
It’s not far out of reach, but the homestretch of the season will be difficult, as is the case for any team in the Big Ten race. It’s that kind of year in college basketball’s fiercest conference.
There’s not much time to waste in pulling it all together, especially with a date with the No. 7 Hoosiers looming Sunday in Bloomington, Ind. The game comes in a challenging stretch of six of MSU’s final 11 games against ranked opponents.
As tough as it might be for outsiders to see, Izzo has a vision for this team and what they’ll be able to accomplish. And if goals are met the way he’d hope, the Spartans could be a dangerous team when the calendar flips to March.
Dillon Davis is a men’s basketball reporter at The State News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.