Izzo’s Definition of a College Basketball National Power

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By Paul M. Banks

INDIANAPOLIS- What are the benchmarks, numbers, standards for entry into the same class as the four (Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, UCLA) most historically elite programs?

Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, whose program has been in the national conversation for the last 10 years or so, offered a couple definitions.

Izzo’s led his Spartans to 7 Elite Eights and 6 final fours in 12 years. However, his most impressive statistic is the fact that every player he’s coached all fours years at State has been to at least one Final Four.

“The old adage is true: it’s harder to stay there than to get there. There’s more outside distractions, not the media, but for the players: agents, different things they deal with, and recruiting is getting harder. I think there’s more cheating, I think it’s getting worse as we make more money- let’s be honest about it,” Izzo said recently.

So what is the gold standard?

“There’s NEVER an off-season when you’re at a a school like ours; which means the school doesn’t recruit to itself like a Kentucky or Kansas or Carolina does,  We’re not Michigan, Ohio State or Penn State football; those are all 100 year deals. But you still have to stay up to those standards,” Izzo said recently.

I asked for further clarification on what the term “recruit to itself” means.

“The program {Michigan St.} does not recruit to itself, but I’m not sure it ever will and there’s only 5 or 6 programs that do that. Do I think we’re in that next tier? Yeah I do, the UConns, Texas, Florida, UCLA’s a different bird because they were so good for so long. But if I’m not out every day of the summer, I think I’ve missed two days in 14 years. Those programs {the top tier} they work, but they can be out 10-12 days in the summer. And that’s not gonna change, not in my era. Because what I’m trying to build, they built at Kentucky and Carolina in 50 and 70 years. What I’m hoping to do is get to that point where the basement and first floor is so good. Maybe one of my guys comes in from there and takes it up another level down the road,” Izzo responded before later articulating about what growth he has left to achieve:

“My next step is to learn to enjoy what we have, because we proved now that we’ve sustained it, and that was a big deal because if you can do it for 10-12 years or more, you should be able to say, yeah we weren’t a shot in the dark, and I’m not sure I’ve learned to do that. Players got to learn new things, so do coaches,” he said.

So Tom Izzo regards his program as not in the top tier of elite programs, but in the second tier right below it. Is that the ultimate goal for him?

“It bothers me enough to drive me, but it doesn’t eat me alive. And makes me want to say that’s Michigan State let’s win the third national championship, let’s be elite in that way, try to win another one; not many coaches have done that. The comparisons to the Dukes and Carolinas, that stuff is ultimately out of my control.”

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