Hayes: Mr. March? Coach Terror? 'Teddy Bear' Tom Izzo has Michigan State partying again
A few days before this ride began, when he still didn’t really know what he had with this team, a parent of a player walked up to Tom Izzo and asked a simple favor.
“He said, ‘coach my kid,’” Izzo said. “The hell with the outside stuff, coach my kid.”
One weekend into the NCAA Tournament for Michigan State, Mr. March (or Coach Terror) has shown up again. Or at the very least, a subdued version.
That was Tom Izzo crying on the court during a CBS interview after Michigan State’s 69-60 win over No. 2 seed Marquette moved Michigan State into the second weekend of tournament.
Death, taxes, Izzo in the Sweet 16.
But this one might have been his most challenging.
He likes this team, he really does. They work to get better, they listen, they’re coachable.
But until this week, they’ve looked nothing like the Spartans teams of the past. The were among the worst teams in the nation in forcing turnovers, averaging less than 10 a game.
They were 7-8 in their last 15 games, but had the ability for so much more. Izzo just couldn’t get them to consistently rebound and defend like his teams of the past — especially in the 2nd half of the season.
Not the elite teams of the past, but just about any of the past 25 straight teams that made this dance.
So Coach Terror showed up. Or maybe he didn’t.
But something allowed Michigan State and Teddy Bear Tom enjoy yet another special tournament moment.
“The terror side has left,” Izzo said during his introductory NCAA press conference last week. “Lawyers will sue you for telling a kid he did something wrong.”
He stopped mid-sentence, and explained how when implores players to stay focused and do the right job, that he looks in the mirror and doesn’t like what he sees. And he tells them.
“So maybe,” he said, “The terror side will come out again.”
How about this for terror: USC entered the tournament averaging 72 points a game, and got 62. Marquette was averaging 80 points a game, and got 60.
Michigan State spent the first 30 games of the season playing inconsistent perimeter defense. The deflections, a defensive hallmark of Izzo teams of the past, just weren’t there and the Spartans forced just 9.8 turnovers per game.
While Marquette hit 40% from beyond the arc (11-of-27), it made only 38% of 2-point shots — and turned the ball over 16 times in the face of a relentless Michigan State defense.
Michigan State hit only 2-of-16 shots beyond the arc, and still won. It had only 8 assists on 28 field goals, and still won.
In just about any other tournament game, those truly anemic offensive numbers would’ve led to an early exit. But not with the way this team suddenly is playing defense.
Izzo proclaimed after the USC win in the first round that Michigan State had found its “mojo.” In the tournament, when every possession is critical and not everyone can shoot, defense can carry teams a long way.
It’s the one thing every team has control of, no matter the circumstances. So yeah, maybe Coach Terror had something to do with it, after all.
Every season at Michigan State begins the same way. Conditioning, individual instruction and eventually team practice. That’s when every team experiences the most valuable Izzo drill.
It’s called War, and there’s only 1 goal: get the rebound. At all cost.
It’s all about boxing out, rebounding and running a fast break off the rebound. Defensive rebounds lead to fast breaks, which leads to spacing, which leads to open looks — which, more times than not, leads to points.
It’s 5-on-5, pick and man and box out when a coach throws up a shot. Players rebound everything, including made shots.
Every loose ball is up for grabs, even if it’s out of bounds.
Again, get the rebound at all cost.
It’s more than rebounding leading to fast breaks and better shot selection. It’s setting a tone with a physical want of the ball, or the play, of the moment.
It’s what happens when you open your biggest lead of the game at 52-45 with 6 minutes to play, and Marquette scores 3 straight buckets to cut the lead to 1.
It’s how you respond when you have to make a defensive stop, and have to get a rebound to start a break to get a better look.
It’s how Marquette hits 1 shot in the final 3 minutes — and is outscored 11-5 — until a meaningless, uncontested layup to finish the game.
Coach Terror walks arm in arm with the War drill, and makes no excuses. It’s why he’s a Hall of Fame coach, why he’s won an NCAA title and why they should enshrine him again if he gets this team to the Final Four.
They’ve been through so much this winter at Michigan State, the tragic shootings on campus still raw and at front of mind. Coach Terror had no option but to give way to Coach Teddy Bear.
Each team is different, each season is, too.
Before the first round game against USC, Izzo admitted that he was “managing” more than coaching — but that now he’s coaching them.
“Teddy Bear? I don’t know,” Izzo said. “I don’t know where that guy went.”
He’s the guy celebrating another Sweet 16 run. And maybe a whole lot more.