Michigan State Basketball: Tom Izzo has formula for national title team

Tom Izzo, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Izzo, Michigan State basketball (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) /

After nearly ending the chase for his second Michigan State basketball national title, Tom Izzo has the winning formula in front of him for 2019-20.

No college basketball coach has been to more Final Fours than Tom Izzo since he took over as head coach at Michigan State in 1995, but multiple coaches have grabbed more national titles since then and it’s taken less Final Fours for them to do so.

Since Izzo became the man at Michigan State, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun, Billy Donovan and Jay Wright have all won multiple titles and it’s taken them seven Final Fours or less to do so according to the 2019 NCAA Final Four Records.

None of this is to invalidate what Izzo has done for Michigan State, as he has brought a lot of success to a university that hadn’t made much noise since winning the 1979 tournament led by head coach Jud Heathcoate and hall of fame point guard Magic Johnson. Spartan fans, however, know the clock is ticking, and Izzo won’t be around forever. He’ll retire when he sees fit, but that might not be until he gets added to the list of coaches that have won multiple titles.

Izzo won it all in 2000 in his fifth year as head coach when he was just 45 years old. Nineteen years, six Final Fours, nine Big Ten regular season titles, six Big Ten Tournament titles, a Hall of Fame induction, a few coach of the year awards, and a number of other accolades later, that title still stands as the only national championship Izzo has brought back to the Breslin Center.

You best believe he wants to hang another banner.

Izzo will always be remembered as one of the great college basketball coaches. He is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, but that second title seems to be what’s separating him from names like Knight, Smith, or Krzyzewski.

If he was to win it again, maybe things like his records against Duke, North Carolina, and Syracuse would stop being brought up so often. Maybe saying the words “Middle Tennessee State” wouldn’t leave such a sour taste in Spartan fans’ mouths anymore. Maybe his “best team” from 2018 will be thought of as a stepping stone for greatness instead of a disappointment. Maybe he would be considered an all-time great.

But he needs to win it first, and the time is now.

Before the season started, if you would have told the average college basketball fan that Michigan State was going to beat Michigan three times, claim both the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles, and beat Duke to go to the Final Four all without Josh Langford, they probably would have tried to ruin any and all credibility you still had for having an opinion like that.

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What Izzo managed to do last year has been written about too many times to count. What hasn’t been talked about as much is what it will take to get over the hump and win two more games.

This year felt like the year for Izzo to get his second ring. Very rarely is there a squad that faced the injuries and adversity Michigan State faced and still manage to be one of the last four teams standing.

I thought for a brief second that the season wouldn’t go on much longer after Kyle Ahrens went down against Michigan in the conference tournament championship game, but after watching Cassius Winston continue to be the leader that he is and seeing Matt McQuaid punish the Wolverines time after time, I knew there was a chance.

After watching the Spartans march to the most important game of the year against Duke, like everyone else, I knew this would be the game that decided if Michigan State would either leave the court with a great season or the team with the best chances to win the whole thing.

To say that East Lansing was buzzing after Michigan State beat Duke is an extreme understatement. That win will probably go down top-five as all-time moments for Michigan State fans.

There wasn’t a “team of destiny” feel to it because Langford didn’t go down in a tournament game like Louisville’s Kevin Ware did a few years ago, but it still felt like there was an underdog mentality surrounding the team, and that’s what separated the Spartans from everyone else.

Everyone knew that Texas Tech would be tough, but no one was ready for the defensive wizardry that Chris Beard drew up. The Red Raiders did exactly what they had to do to get it done. Most still agree that Michigan State didn’t choke, Texas Tech was just the better team that day.

It was a crushing blow to accept, but it was still one hell of a ride. There might not be a banner with the words “2019 National Champions” hung from the rafters this fall, but there’s still a pretty good consolation prize for Spartan fans, the blueprint to win next year’s title.

Michigan State will return all but three players next year, and some great three and four-star talent will be on campus this summer. Langford will be healthy and ready to return to the court after having a great start last season.

Izzo showed what he can do without Langford for most of the season, Ahrens for the most important part of the season, and Ward for a few key games down the stretch. The fact that he’ll have two of those players back is dangerous for any team that will pick a fight with the Spartans.

College sports might not be the same as professional franchises in that a team can be replaced in one season if a coach really wants to do that, but programs still need to cash in on talent when they have it. Michigan State has the formula to win now. Winston will return after giving fans a season to remember, Xavier Tillman has shown he’s the best big on the team, Aaron Henry is a great athlete that just needs to develop a jump shot, Rocket Watts could be a great guard that can give Winston some rest. Everything is in Michigan State’s favor, they just need to win, but that’s easier said than done.

Michigan State was ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s “Way-Too-Early Top 25” for next season that came out just minutes after Virginia was crowned the national champion of basketball. There’s a lot that could change in the next few months. With some transfers still looking to find their next team, rankings could change. Michigan State will presumably be in the top five regardless of what happens in the coming months.

Next. MSU Football: 10 post-spring bold predictions for 2019. dark

Izzo was the coach to snap Michigan State’s 21-year basketball championship drought, and he has a chance to break another double decade long championship drought. The pieces are in front of him, but instead of just knocking on the door, he needs to bust right through it.