East Lansing, MI
Tom Izzo himself called the loss to Middle Tennessee the, “Biggest,” loss in NCAA history. Certainly the 90-81 loss was enormous on the landscape of college basketball.
This giant of college basketball known as Tom Izzo is under two weeks from a probable announcement that he is entering the Hall of Fame, but that loss still stings. Izzo has admitted not only to dealing with the loss, but he has had to endure fans calling him out while he mourns the defeat. The only comfort has been that while it was his biggest loss, he had his best group of young men to lead while enduring it.
While the loss stings, the fact that it is if not the biggest, one of the biggest really speaks volumes to what MSU basketball stands for. People storm the court and celebrate wins over Michigan State because of the program Izzo has built. People don’t storm the court beating Middle Tennessee, but they do when they beat MSU.
People know how competitive and brutal the nature of college sports is. That is why when Tom Izzo opened up about dealing with the loss he mentioned some comfort he got in a text. A text from a legend and a man he competes with every year.
“I got a text from Mike Krzyzewski that night, and I won’t go through everything that was in it, but it was a really cool text. It was kind of exactly what you’re saying, that few people can understand that because few people have been there, and his 2 (seeded loss) to Lehigh, and then his 3 (seeded) team to Mercer, it was kind of like, if you’re not up there all the time, there’s not an upset. And so part of it is, we put ourselves in that position, that’s a positive thing.” Izzo continued, “It’s a disappointing thing, but it speaks volumes that it’s a positive thing. You know what, I said, I told my wife, one week, five days, we went from winning the Big Ten (tournament), which I think was an accomplishment, the Big Ten tournament, sitting in that room and realizing we’re a two seed, instead of a one seed, but a two-seed two seed, back in the middle of January, end of January, that wasn’t the case, and feeling so good. That was Sunday night at 6, 7 o’clock, and by Friday night 6, 7 o’clock, the world had ended, and that has, as we stated the highs and lows of this sport are incredible. But how you handle them, how you move forward, I’m not moving forward yet, I’m not gonna move forward until I get solely in my mind, I think I’m 99 percent comfortable with what happened, but until I’m 100, until I maybe watch the rest of the tournament, until I evaluate the film again, and then I’m going to move forward.” The attention given to the MTSU loss Izzo thinks is a compliment. “I think it is a testament to the players who played here before, the program we’ve built, that, I have to admit, I think it’s the biggest upset, and the reason I think it’s the biggest upset is we were picked as a potential national championship team, by you guys (the media), by the coaches. But are you really ready to throw it at me, by me I came out and said I thought we were a team that had a chance to win a national championship. I didn’t say a one in a million shot, I thought we were one of the 10, 12 15 legitimate teams that had a chance, so when you put yourself in that position, and that was done over a period of time over the year, and then you get beat by the lowest seed that ever beat somebody, in other words, a 16 didn’t beat a one, I don’t know what the other eight were (15 over 2), I know what Mike’s (Coach K) was, I know at that time, I don’t know how much of a contender they were. Was that the year North Carolina was better than the Lakers? Was that the year Kentucky was better than the Celtics? I don’t know exactly, I should look that up, but I don’t think anybody was picked by more people, to be in the Final Four, than we were. And so that would make it the biggest upset. You know what? I just have to make sure that’s not my legacy here. And each year, will it remind me, like those free throws I shoot? Yes it will. Reminders don’t always have to be negative, um, they can be motivating rings, and I just don’t know.”
So how will Izzo frame this loss to future teams? “Next year’s tournament, what am I going to say in the hotel the night before: Remember what happened last year? Let’s go do it better than last year?’ I’m not going to do that, I’m going to accept that, in my mind it wasn’t what we did as much as it was what the other team did. With me I can live with that a little easier than if we would have gone out and kids would have got in trouble the night before, or if in my mind we didn’t respect the team or the game, that would have been harder to deal with.”
It says a lot about Tom Izzo and the respect he has nationally when one of his biggest competitors reached out to him. No doubt this loss will only make him better and Michigan State better.
We all can learn from Coach K and Coach Izzo. You don’t have to kick people, even those you compete with in a dog-eat-dog business every day, when they are down. The Spartans are fine, they will be back. Coach K would know, when he was upset as a #3 seed by a #14 seed in Mercer 80-71 in 2014, he still came back and won a title. Last year.
Tom Izzo will have his most talented team next year, who knows he may follow Coach K’s example.