February 18, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Matt Charboneau

MSU's Izzo proud how protege Crean has restored Indiana's winning ways

Indiana coach Tom Crean has earned the admiration of former mentor Tom Izzo for his accomplishment of returning the Hoosiers to national prominence. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When you coach for 18 seasons, go to six Final Fours, win more than 400 games and throw in a national title for good measure, there is no doubt that success will have a positive effect on those who work for you.

In the case of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, his coaching tree includes eight who have gone on to become head coaches, with five still leading college programs.

What also happens when you have that many former assistants around the country is you're bound to go head-to-head at some point. For the most part, Izzo has dominated his former protégés.

Coming into the season, he had lost just twice to a former assistant — to Stan Joplin's Toledo team in 2002 and last season to Indiana and Tom Crean.

For the most part, however, the matchups have been fairly anticlimactic. Joplin's victory at Toledo was a bit of a fluke and Mike Garland, back at Michigan State as an assistant, lost his only matchup with his former boss as Cleveland State's head coach in 2005.

But for Crean, it has been more frequent. The two met in the NCAA Tournament in 2007, where Michigan State knocked off Marquette in the opening round. A year later, Crean was in charge at Indiana, guaranteeing many more showdowns between the two.

However, Crean was dealing with a program in a rebuilding mode. In the early seasons, Izzo's Spartans dominated, winning the first five matchups. But last season, Crean's building was starting to pay off, and in the final week of the regular season, the Hoosiers gave Crean his first win over his former boss.

It signaled a change to the teacher-student relationship. No longer was this going to be a one-sided battle, and as this season has progressed, Crean has proven his worth while getting the Hoosiers back to national relevance. He cemented it with a win over the Spartans at home in late January.

In no way is this an indication some major shift is coming and Crean will go on to dominate for years to come. It simply shows that he has nudged his way near the top, guaranteeing that showdowns with his former boss will be an interesting angle.

Now, it seems, these matchups will be between teams battling for conference titles and national rankings.

There's no doubt that will be the case on Tuesday, the same as it was a little more than three weeks ago in Bloomington.

And the biggest admirer of what Crean has done might be Izzo.

"(He) my former assistant, he's done a hell of a job there," Izzo said on Saturday. "And I'm not trying to make it like it's David against Goliath, because it's not. But it is the No. 1 team in the country and I think earned, deserved and done over, consistently, over the whole year. I've done that once or twice and that is very, very difficult to do. You need a hell of a staff. You need some real character in those players and guys that are getting up and taking everybody's best shot and have got the bull's-eye."

You also need a pretty good pedigree if you're going to pull it off.

Crean's is pretty good. All he'll have to do is look down at the other bench for a reminder.

So long, Buckeyes

When Ohio State decides it no longer wants to stay in the hunt for the Big Ten title, it goes down in flames.

The Buckeyes lost at Wisconsin on Sunday, putting them three games off the pace with five games remaining. No, the Buckeyes are not officially out of the hunt, but considering the schedule and the way they're playing, they might as well be.

The latest piece of evidence Ohio State doesn't belong was the 71-49 thrashing at the hands of the Badgers

But this has been coming for some time. After Ohio State played arguably its best game of the season but still lost to Michigan in overtime, it struggled to get past Northwestern. Now it faces games this week against Minnesota and Michigan State.

The Buckeyes will need to be perfect while getting plenty of help to get back in the race. Here's betting neither of those options comes to fruition.

Key games this week

No. 1 Indiana at No. 8 Michigan State, Tuesday: The Spartans have three more tough games to follow, but a win here would give them a one-game lead to kick off a brutal stretch. The Hoosiers have the opportunity to separate themselves and sweep the season series.

Illinois at No. 4 Michigan, Sunday: After holding off Penn State on Sunday, the Wolverines were looking forward to taking six days off before the Illini arrive. The break could be coming at just the right time as they try to right the ship for the stretch drive. Home games against Indiana and Michigan State give Michigan a shot at closing the gap.

No. 8 Michigan State at No. 13 Ohio State, Sunday: The Spartans' outcome against Indiana will have a huge bearing here. A win against the Hoosiers means the trip to Columbus could be one more step to a title. A loss to Indiana means MSU will be fighting just to keep pace against an Ohio State team clawing to remain near the top of the Big Ten.

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/mattcharboneau