Lucas Oil Stadium
As the Michigan State Spartans (27-8) prepare to tip off against the Duke Blue Devils (29-5) here on Friday night, there is a sense of calm before the storm. Both Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski were laid back, jovial and ready to just tip it off when they addressed the media earlier today.
Izzo described his emotions this way, “We’ve had a good week of practice. I think our guys are excited to be here. I think we’re pretty healthy, and we’re in maybe one of the best cities to be in for a Regional or Final Four, and we definitely with some of the best sets of teams that are here. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Coach K gave Tom Izzo a lot of love. “Really excited to be here and to play against Michigan State. Tom is somebody I really admire. I admired him when he was an assistant, because I didn’t know that anyone could really be an assistant for Jud. I hope Jud takes that the right way. It’s meant as a joke.”
He went on to praise Izzo. “He just has done it the right way. And he’s built a great program, and we’ve had great games in the past, and he’s somebody that he’s a guy’s guy and a coach’s coach, and their guys play hard all the time. I think we play hard all the time. I think it’s going to be a great game for college basketball.”
So what does Izzo expect to see when the Spartans hit the court on Friday from the Blue Devils? “I’m going to get a disciplined team that doesn’t beat themselves. And I think you can hope this guy doesn’t shoot well or that guy. You’re probably going to get a pretty good shooting team, and you’re going to get a team that doesn’t beat themselves. Most of the time, they’re very solid defensively. You’re not going to get a lot of full court pressing. You’re not going to get a lot of zones.”
He went on to add about his Spartans that, “The same with us. So that makes it easier in some ways. Unfortunately, the things they do are so solid. And that’s what I’ve always respected about him. You don’t beat Duke unless you beat Duke. They’re not going to beat themselves.”
Izzo added about expectations of the Blue Devils, “I think a lot of teams can have good games, bad games. They can have better shooting nights than not, but you’ve got to go out and earn your win. That’s the first thing I think about. It’s the first thing I said to my team. You better saddle up, because there will be nothing given. Everything will be earned in this matchup.”
Coach K shared what he thinks Izzo’s cagers will send out on Friday. “I think the main thing is that I know they’re going to play every play. I know they’re well prepared and that they play to win. For the most part, both of our programs, we don’t beat ourselves. Someone has to beat us. And that’s what I see. I think he coaches every game like it’s his first. I try to do the same thing. Hopefully, with the knowledge of having won a few. So there are no possessions off. They’re going to show up. We’re going to show up. I really love that. This is a big time game. It’s a big time game and we’re excited to be a part of that. We want to be in big time games.”
I have covered MSU for a long time. In all of that time Tom Izzo has spoken of Krzyzewski in an almost reverent tone. Certainly not out of fear, but out of respect. For someone as accomplished as Izzo to feel that way, it has to mean something special to Coach K.
So I asked the legendary coach what Izzo’s public and private praise means to him. “Well, really good, because I consider him a great friend. There’s nothing about Tom that I don’t think is good. If we lose to them, believe me, I’ll hug him and shake his hand, and he’ll do the same for me. I like that. I think it’s more the way it used to be in coaching, and probably we both have great teachers in that regard and brought up a certain way where we understand the game is bigger than anybody.”
Coach K took a moment to wax poetic about what basketball has done for him and Izzo. “For us to be at this level of the game, you got to be pretty lucky to be. And so just do your best, handle it the right way, and if somebody does well, let them know that they do well. Somebody doesn’t have to be bad for you to be good. And that’s the type of guy Tom is. Like somebody else can be good. And I hope that we’re perceived to be the same way.”
There is no doubt that Izzo and Krzyzewski are close and that both greatly admire the other. There is also no doubt that both of them are cut from the same cloth. Both are fierce competitors and on Friday night both would love to beat the brains out of the other.
This is going to be the premiere game of the night. It could be the premiere of the dance. This is two heavyweights. Both wanting a fight and both know they are going to get it. Let’s get it on!