Izzo hopes to continue NCAA weekend magic
DETROIT (AP) -- Tom Izzo was surrounded by coaches and confidants in a conference room at Michigan State's hotel, trying to figure out how to beat North Carolina for the national title.
Izzo's three assistant coaches, two video coordinators and mentor, Jud Heathcote, joined him for the late-night session that wrapped up between 2:30 and 3 a.m.
"I wanted to be fresh," Izzo joked Sunday.
What isn't a joke is how good Izzo-led teams are in the second game of an NCAA tournament weekend, going 14-2.
"Win the weekend," center Goran Suton said. "That's our motto."
And Izzo credits the team's success to the players' focus and belief in their system.
"I said, 'You get me through the first game, and I feel good that I can help get you through the second.' And they've kind of had that mentality."
The Spartans' two losses second game losses were against North Carolina in the second round two years ago and versus Texas in a 2003 regional final, both games in opponents' home states.
Izzo's mastery of winning one-day preparations started in his first NCAA tournament in 1998, when the Spartans opened with Eastern Michigan -- led by lightning-quick guard Earl Boykins -- then had to get ready for Princeton's backdoor-cut filled offense.
"We devised a plan where we have these little 20-minute meetings," Izzo said. "Even if we get back at 1:30 in the morning from our game, which has happened a few times, we always have a film session so they can go to bed on it."
If top-seeded North Carolina, favored by 71/2 points Monday night, sleeps on the Spartans, it might prove to be a mistake.
Izzo's .756 winning percentage in the NCAA tournament barely trails those of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (.763) and Florida's Billy Donovan (.759) and puts him just ahead of Williams (.750) among active coaches.
While Michigan State systematically breaks down each of its opponents -- analyzing 10 games before every matchup -- the Tar Heels simply focus on their systems.
"I'm not trying to belittle any other coach that does a lot," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, who prepares for teams much like his mentor, Dean Smith, did. "We always prepared ourselves and weren't very concerned about other teams. We give our guys a two-page scouting report. I have some good friends in coaching who will give their teams 15 or 20.
"We teach by principles. That's what I've been comfortable with."
Despite his success, Izzo is rarely comfortable.
He has tried to find comfort in waking up early and staying up late, hoping to outwork his peers.
Even though Izzo is making $2.8 million a year and has as much job security as any coach in the country, he is just as relentless as he was as a grinding, little-known assistant for Heathcote from 1983-1995.
"That's what makes this program so good," video coordinator Jordan Ott said. "You respect his work ethic, passion and energy. He's blue-collar."
Izzo is also a football fanatic.
He was raised in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where he grew up as a fan of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi along with best friend, Steve Mariucci, who went on to coach the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions.
"The way he cuts up film, the way he'll approach his first offensive plays, his approach to game planning and preparing his team is very similar (to football)," Mariucci said. "He was sitting in there last night and this morning, looking at cutups just like a football coach, breaking down offense, defense and out-of-bound plays."
Izzo also welcomes people such as former Spartan Magic Johnson and Minnesota Vikings assistant coach Pat Morris, who has coached at Michigan State, to help him out along the way.
"I learned from my football buddies," Izzo said. "I listened to Magic talk about when they were in the playoffs how they used hotels and had courts laid down in them."
Assistant video coordinator Doug Herner, who has two-plus decades of experience as a high school coach, was responsible for creating half a court with tape in a ballroom this week.
Ott, Herner and a crew of 10 managers were responsible for starting a process that analyzed 10 of North Carolina's games with a computerized editing system. It helped that they recorded 1,800 games this season, trying to be ready for any opponent.
Ott estimates he sleeps about 4 hours a night during the NCAA tournament, getting through the day with about 10 cans of diet cola.
"You got to give credit to our managers and the people behind of scenes that y'all never see or y'all never talk to," guard Travis Walton said.
Each of Izzo's three assistants are assigned a team to scout each week in the NCAA tournament.
Dwayne Stephens began breaking down the Tar Heels on Wednesday. He watched about 30 hours of film for a "long edit" that showed 400 highlights before trimming most of them to show the players about 50 plays during a 10-minute session.
What's his No. 1 tip for the scouting report?
"The one way to slow down their break is to beat them on the glass," Stephens said.
Even though Michigan State's feel-good story seems set up for a bitter ending, Suton has faith his coach can overcome the odds.
"We believe in coach Izzo," he said.
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