Luke DeCock

Michigan State’s Izzo emulates Krzyzewski but is still playing catch-up

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo holds up the net after his team defeated Louisville 76-70 in overtime in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament East Regional in Syracuse, N.Y., Sunday. Izzo and Michigan State took the NCAA Division I championship in 2000.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo holds up the net after his team defeated Louisville 76-70 in overtime in the NCAA men’s college basketball tournament East Regional in Syracuse, N.Y., Sunday. Izzo and Michigan State took the NCAA Division I championship in 2000. Associated Press

There’s no easy way to ask Tom Izzo about it, because the record is so ugly. Nine games against Duke, on some of the biggest stages college basketball has to offer. One Michigan State win.

So the question is asked, about Mike Krzyzewski: “He kind of has an advantage in the head-to-head …”

At which point Izzo starts laughing. “Kind of?” he interrupted. “You can’t have a rivalry when it’s 8-1.”

Izzo was able to laugh about it Monday, but it has to rankle him. He has modeled so many aspects of his Michigan State program on what Krzyzewski has done at Duke, with tremendous success. And yet Izzo has had almost no success against Krzyzewski, in the NCAA tournament or otherwise.

With the exception of a 2005 win in the regional semifinals in Austin, Texas, where Michigan State upset top-seeded Duke and J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, Krzyzewski has had Izzo’s number every time. That includes the 1999 Final Four, the 2013 regional semifinal and the most recent meeting, a 10-point Blue Devils win four months ago. The teams meet again Saturday in the Final Four.

“It will be fun to see if we can change this around,” Izzo said. “This would be a good weekend to start if we can do that.”

The programs are peers in so many other respects. Krzyzewski has gone to 12 Final Fours and Izzo seven, but Michigan State has more Final Fours and Elite Eight appearances since 2000. They battled to the very end over Jabari Parker, and Michigan State was one of the first teams after Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor as well.

(Ironically, one of the matchup advantages the Spartans may have Saturday is the ability to rotate two big bodies, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling, against Okafor. Schilling ended up with the scholarship earmarked for Parker.)

The on-the-court record belies just how many similarities the two programs have. After winning the national title in 2000, Izzo said he wanted his program to be like Duke: consistently competitive, a defined philosophy, by the rules.

“I guess I appreciate, being here as long as I have, someone who has been in the same place even longer,” Izzo said. “That isn’t easy to do, either. Expectations get so high. He’s a good coach, a classy guy, and his players handle themselves the right way. You look at that program and say that’s where you would like yours (to be) someday. That’s what keeps me fighting.”

Izzo is far from unique in this respect – Gonzaga’s Mark Few said last week, “literally everything we’ve tried to do at Gonzaga, we always ask, ‘What did Duke do here?’” – but he’s had more success than just about anyone at it.

“Nothing surprises me that he and his program would do,” Krzyzewski said. “They don’t have a team. They have a program. As he develops each team, I don’t know what the time frame of it is before that group understands what the program is about, whether it be offense, defense or just character-wise, but they’re going to keep improving because it’s a program. A program of excellence.”

There are significant differences. While Krzyzewski has been determined to continue recruiting the kind of one-and-done talent this team is built around, Izzo very publicly backed away from that pool after losing out on Parker and others. Duke recruits nationally, while Michigan State concentrates on the Midwest – Michigan, Indiana and Ohio in particular. Michigan State plays a brutal, anyone-anywhere early schedule, while Duke rarely plays an actual road game until ACC play begins.

The results, though, are similar. The two programs would have met in this same building in 2010 had Butler not upset Michigan State in the other semifinal. Five years later, the Final Four is back in Indianapolis and so are Duke and Michigan State.

“As far as Mike, it’s almost unprecedented what he’s done,” Izzo said. “It’s good to have him around because I’m always chasing. Seven seems like a lot until you look at 12. Then it doesn’t seem as many.”

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

K VS. IZZO

Tom Izzo has taken Michigan State to seven Final Fours, but he’s struggled against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, whose teams have won eight of nine meetings.

Date Location Score

Dec. 2, 1998 Chicago Duke, 73-67

March 27, 1999 NCAA Final Four, St. Petersburg, Fla. Duke, 68-62

Dec. 3, 2003 East Lansing, Mi. Duke, 72-50

Nov. 30, 2004 Durham Duke, 81-74

March 25, 2005 NCAA regional semifinal, Austin, Tex. Michigan State, 78-68

Dec. 1, 2010 Durham Duke, 84-79

Nov. 15, 2011 New York Duke, 74-69

March 29, 2013 NCAA regional semifinal, Indianapolis Duke, 71-61

Nov. 18, 2014 Indianapolis Duke, 81-71

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