Michigan State isn’t typical Izzo team — except it’s rolling in March

You can spell "March" without any of the letters in Izzo, but why would you want to?

From 2005 to 2014, Tom Izzo’s teams were 51-23 in the month of March. They haven’t won a national title in that span, but they’ve reached three Final Fours (once losing in the national title game) and have just kind of generally been a pest to deal with in the NCAA tournament, regardless of what happened in the regular season.

Throw in this season, and the Spartans are 56-25. In March. That’s the time of year where teams are desperate, playing for their NCAA tourney lives in the regular season or conference tournament, and then of course, in the Big Dance itself, where Izzo is now 43-16.

His program has reached the NCAA tournament in 17 straight seasons, the third-longest streak nationally, and whether Izzo’s teams are young or old, reeling or rolling, they just seem to know what to do once they get here.

This year’s team is of the second variety — a bit young in spots, one that’s taken some getting used to. The Spartans began the season in unfamiliar territory: on the bubble. On Jan. 24, Michigan State lost at Nebraska (a team that finished 13-18) and found itself staring at a 13-7 record. A tweak here, some increased confidence there and all of a sudden Michigan State was rolling.

The Spartans are 12-4 since that loss at Nebraska, and 9-3 since Feb. 7.


Since March began, Michigan State is 5-2, and their only two losses are to No. 1 seed Wisconsin.

This team, though, didn’t make it easy.

The final score in Friday’s win over No. 10 seed Georgia — 70-63 — was not as close as it seemed. Michigan State went up by 13 twice — at the 7:16 mark and again with 5:59 to go — and still led by 10 with 1:16 to go. Then Georgia went on a 9-2 run in the final 55 seconds to cut the deficit to three. Izzo pleaded. He cajoled. He hit the scorer’s table. After the game as he walked into his locker room through a throng of waiting reporters, he turned to them and cracked, "Can anybody make layups?"

"My father told me nothing was going to be easy and we kind of lived on that today," Izzo said afterwards.

It wasn’t. But Michigan State held on. At times, they looked nothing at all like a 7 seed, racking up 19 fastbreak points.

This year’s Spartans have had some good luck (after some awful luck earlier in the season) that have made this season’s turnaround come at the perfect time. It’s not the typical March turnaround by any means. This is a team without a great senior — Travis Trice and Branden Dawson are very good players, but they’re not Adreian Payne or Draymond Green or Mateen Cleaves.

"It’s pretty easy to see we’re not a typical Michigan State team. We don’t have maybe as much talent as we had," Izzo said. "We tell our guys you have to play hard enough, good enough and smart enough. For the most part, we play hard. A lot of times we play good. Now, the third one, that’s got to fall on me because we’re just not playing as smart as we need to play in certain situations.

"But we have played well enough to be in a lot of games and I do think that it was fun to listen to the players say, ‘OK, remember what we learned in Wisconsin.’That’s encouraging because that means they’re not treating the history like — that’s just just the way it is — you treat it that you can’t change it but you learn from it. Now in the next two days we have to figure out what we did right and wrong and somehow to stop one of these two teams we could play."

If anyone can do it, it’s Izzo.