Auburn Hills — One coach has been to 16 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, won 38 Tournament games, reached six Final Fours and has a national championship under his belt.
The other earned his first Tournament victory Thursday in his third try.
To say the contrast between Michigan State's Tom Izzo, in his 18th season leading the Spartans, and Josh Pastner, in his fourth with the Tigers, is stark probably doesn't do it justice.
But when No. 3 seed Michigan State and No. 6 Memphis square off at approximately 2:45 today at The Palace in the NCAA Midwest Regional, the coaching battle is likely to be front and center.
Not that either coach will admit it, of course.
"I don't think (it matters) as much as people make it," Izzo said. "I only say that because players play the game. You know, it really does come down to that, especially in a one-day prep and things like that."
Pastner echoed Izzo's sentiments.
"It's not daunting because, like I said, this is a players' game," Pastner said. "I can assure you, we've won, whatever, 100-and-some-odd games in my four years here and I've never thrown an assist, I've never shot a shot or grabbed a rebound. So, I mean, this is a players' game. Players make shots, grab some rebounds, and coach looks like he knows what he's doing. So I understand it's a players' game."
It's true, neither coach will make a play in today's quest to reach the Sweet 16. Preparing the players, however, is all on them.
'No question marks'
Izzo has built a reputation as a master at the one-day turnaround, meticulously going over film and putting his players through walk-through after walk-through in various hotel ballrooms.
Senior Derrick Nix, who reached a Final Four as a freshman, admits the walk-throughs can become monotonous, but puts his faith in the coach who has proven himself time and again.
"It makes you trust him more," said Nix, coming off a 23-point, 15-rebound game against Valparaiso. "He's been so good with this team and previous teams, how could you not believe what the guy is saying?"
Between video uploaded to iPads and the constant film work with the staff, Michigan State's players often step on the floor feeling as though they already have an advantage.
"It leaves no doubt for you because now you have no question marks," sophomore guard Travis Trice said. "You know exactly what people like to do and you don't have a reason for messing up on your assignment."
And it all goes back to the man in charge and his quest to win a second national title.
"It's all about championships," Nix said. "A national championship is the biggest thing a team can accomplish, and that means a lot to him. He tries to instill that and beat it into us."
Pastner: Don't 'overcoach'
It's not exactly the same style Pastner uses. There is film work, but it's not at the level a coach like Izzo takes it.
In fact, Pastner has decided less is more.
Last season, when Memphis was preparing to face Saint Louis in the NCAA Tournament, Pastner said the six days of analysis was too much, and he felt he and his staff "overcoached" the team. The result was a 61-54 loss and a change in philosophy.
"I said this year, we're not doing that, we're focusing on Memphis," he said. "I thought it was a blessing in disguise that we didn't have to know our opponent (Saint Mary's) until late Tuesday night. It was just a simple, quick turnaround and just go play, less time to prepare, which means less time to overthink, overanalyze, overcoach, over-game plan, and I thought that was good for us. So we'll do the same thing."
The Memphis players say Pastner's approach is different and one they appreciate.
"He's not one of these big-time offensive, trying-to-set-up-plays type of coach," junior guard Joe Jackson said. "But as long as you play defense and you rebound, I mean, anybody can play for him, and that's really what you get from Coach Pastner. He's always upbeat no matter if we lost five games in a row, he's always positive. That's all you can ask for him from a coach."
Praise for Izzo
As a graduate assistant at Arizona in the late 1990s, Pastner wrote letters to Izzo looking for work. This year, when he needed to get his team to improve its rebounding, he consulted videos where Izzo goes over his team's drills.
It's allowed Pastner to build a healthy amount of respect for his counterpart.
"He should be in the Hall of Fame," Pastner said. "And I'm not just saying that to say that he should be in the Hall of Fame; he's going to be in. So what's the holdup?
"Second thing is, is he's one of the great coaches regardless of sport. This just isn't in basketball. I mean, this is regardless of sport. He's one of the great coaches of all time, and he's a good guy."
Izzo loves the path Pastner has taken, from Arizona to an assistant under John Calipari at Memphis to his current job.
"I'm sure in some ways I saw a little bit of myself in him," Izzo said. "The difference is he got about an eight-year head start on me as far as getting a head (coaching) job at a prestigious place, and he's run with it.
"You know, after this is over, I'm going to be proud of him for what he's accomplished. I'm hoping to be playing next weekend and so is he, but either way, I will be (proud)."
Memphis coach Josh Pastner doesn't have the resume of counterpart Tom Izzo, but he does have a talented team. / Getty Images
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