Thursday, May 23, 2024

No doubt Izzo best coach of past decade

Alex Altman

In 2007, ESPN reporter Andy Katz wrote a piece anointing MSU as the top basketball program over the past 10 seasons.

Two years later, I’m ready to take that coronation a step further. Not only has MSU been the nation’s best program in that span, head coach Tom Izzo has been the nation’s best coach.

And maybe, just maybe, Izzo has established himself as the best coach of all time.

I know that seems like a stretch, so before the tongue-lashing begins, let me first disclose the following information: I was born in 1986.

Therefore, I wasn’t around to appreciate Adolph Rupp’s magic at Kentucky or John Wooden’s wizardry at UCLA, and wasn’t old enough to watch Dean Smith’s mastery at North Carolina.

Each of those coaches were terrific mentors who belong on the Mount Rushmore of College Coaches. But let’s put their accomplishments into perspective.

Wooden, Rupp and Smith coached during eras when, comparatively speaking, the nation’s talent pool was scarce. Because of this, there was little parity and the overall level of competition was not as fierce as it is today.

For this and several other reasons, wins compiled during those eras shouldn’t be given as much value as wins accrued this decade, when the breadth and depth of the talent pool has reached uncharted heights.

That brings me to my point about Izzo. Considering what he’s accomplished during this era of parity, how can it be denied that he’s at least one of the best coaches of all time?

Since the 1998-99 season, Izzo’s accomplishments haven’t just been staggering — they’ve been unprecedented. He has won 335 games, a national championship and is the only coach in the nation who has reached five Final Fours over the past 11 seasons.

Not even North Carolina’s Roy Williams or Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski can stake that claim.

Making Izzo’s accomplishments even more extraordinary is the fact that he’s accomplished them at a school not considered to be one of the nation’s traditional powerhouses. Because MSU lacks that name recognition, recruiting hasn’t always been as easy as it has been for others.

But Izzo hasn’t needed the best players to build the best team. Instead, he has made the most of the players he does have by instilling in them a fundamental trait that has made him such a successful coach — hard work. There isn’t a coach out there who better prepares his players for the grind of postseason play or does a better job at exploiting the weaknesses of his adversaries than Izzo.

Take Sunday’s Midwest Regional final against Louisville for example, when Izzo gave Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino (a future Hall of Famer) the coaching equivalent of an atomic wedgie. Not only did Izzo figure out how to crack Pitino’s vaunted full-court press in two short days of film study, he made doing it look rather easy. That’s what Izzo has been able to do throughout his career, put his players in the position to make the difficult look stunningly simple.

At 54 years old, it’s highly unlikely that Izzo will coach long enough to win as many games as Knight, who in 41 seasons set the record with 902 wins. But if he were to coach as many seasons as Knight, Izzo would shatter his record by 79 games at his current pace.

Although it’s highly unlikely that Izzo will come close to Knight’s mark, that shouldn’t deter people from mentioning his name in the same breath as Wooden, Smith and Knight.

Had Izzo begun coaching earlier, those coaches would be lucky to be mentioned in the same breath as him.

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