What Oakland coach Kampe thinks of 'Izzo-gate,' and his Sweet 16 predictions
Oakland coach Greg Kampe wasn't surprised by the media's reaction.
The image of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, red-faced and a pointed finger in the face of freshman Aaron Henry during a first-round NCAA Tournament victory over Bradley — and Izzo being calmed down, or held back, depending on your perspective, by two of his star players, junior Cassius Winston and senior Matt McQuaid — almost immediately went viral.
Deadspin chimed in, complete with a swear word in its headline. The New York Times did, too, obviously without the curse word. The Washington Post. ESPN. And on and on. The national press was decidedly critical. The local press, around campus day in and day out, was decidedly defensive.
As for Kampe? Well, few know Izzo like Kampe. So, you know ...
"You know what I think of that," Kampe said over the phone Wednesday afternoon, after getting off the golf course. "Let me get this right so you can quote me right.
"Tom Izzo does not coach for the media or for the mainstream America. Tom Izzo coaches for those players, and he has a relationship with those players that allows him to coach, and he coaches.
"He promised those kids when he recruited them that they would be the best they could be, and that's why those kids go there. Every one of those kids love him for that, and they want him to coach that way."
The incident dominated the sports-talk dialogue in the immediate aftermath.
Henry, for what it's worth, shrugged it off, saying that's Izzo, and that's Michigan State, and that's OK.
"The telling fact in this whole thing is Aaron Henry's response to it," Kampe said, scoffing at the comparisons of Izzo to ill-tempered coaches like Bobby Knight and Woody Hayes, both of whom crossed the line. "It's a true family culture. It's a great culture.
"(Izzo) knows everything he's doing. He pulls the strings like a puppetmaster. That's the best way to put it. he's a puppetmaster. He knows how to get the best out of those kids. I mean, he just won the Big Ten again, and he had two lottery picks (leave; Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr.), and he won it again, and he won the (Big Ten) tournament.
"I see people tweeting, 'I wouldn't let my son play for him.' Well, if you had a son that was good enough, then you would let him play for him."
Michigan State (30-6) is in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2015, and plays LSU (28-6) Friday in Washington, D.C. Michigan (30-6) plays Texas Tech (28-6) Thursday in Anaheim, California.
Kampe spoke to The News about the remaining bracket, and what he sees happening from here on out to the Final Four, early next month in Minneapolis.
► Texas Tech and Michigan on Thursday. Your thoughts on that matchup?
► "If you remember, I told you that the game for Michigan would be Texas Tech. Everyone was talking about the Elite Eight and Gonzaga, but in my opinion, Texas Tech would be the tough one. And the reason I told you so, Texas Tech is good defensively, and that guy (Chris Beard) is a great coach, a really, really good coach. He's revamped the team from last year's Elite Eight team. He's got a lottery pick (Jarrett Culver), and you've got a chance to win any game you play when you have a lottery pick. That was my team to go to the Elite Eight and play Gonzaga. I think it'll be a rock fight. Michigan is really good defensively. It's gonna be the team that makes shots. Both teams are gonna shot in the 30s (percent), it'll be one of those 55-54, 63-62 games, and for a team to win, they have to make shots. Or it might be the team who has the ball last."
► LSU has an interim coach in Tony Benford. What challenge do they pose for Michigan State?
► "Don't get me wrong, LSU can beat them. LSU won the SEC, and the SEC was a great conference — the best it's been in a long, long time — and they won it. They have issues, but they might be galvanizing them, too (with the interim coach, replacing suspended Will Wade). Remember Michigan with the airplane issues (in 2017, before the Wolverines won the Big Ten tournament). Sometimes that brings a team together and that makes players do things in the clutch that maybe they wouldn't normally do, and LSU is on that path. They can beat Michigan State, but my money's on Michigan State. There's a distinct advantage in the coaching for Michigan State, and LSU hasn't played anybody like Michigan State. Trust me, I've been on the sideline against them. Stuff happens out there that no coach can control. You can't simulate the size and physicality that Michigan State brings to the basketball court. Put on all that an unbelievable point guard (Winston), and one thing the NCAA Tournament has always proven out is that guard play wins in this thing."
► Everyone talks top-seeded Duke, which just narrowly got by UCF. Should that close game give Michigan State fans some hope?
► "For their fans, yes. The coaching staff doesn't think that way, or the players. They believe they will win. (As for Duke), the worst thing a team can ever get is (the) 'they're unbeatable' (label). Kentucky was unbeatable a couple years ago (and lost), Duke has had teams that were unbeatable (and lost), UNLV ... It's almost the kiss of death when you start saying they're unbeatable. It's one game. Now if it was the NBA and four out of seven, then Duke would win it. If anybody beat them, it would be North Carolina. But none of the other teams in four out of seven would beat Duke. But it isn't four out of seven. It's one game. And any of those top two seeds, or Texas Tech, in my opinion could win it.
"I think Duke dodged the bullet that every team that wins a national championship or gets to the Final Four has to dodge. Michigan, last year, should've lost to Houston, but the kid (Jordan Poole) throws in an unbelievable shot, and then they're unbeatable (en route to the championship game). It's a game against tough competition, and you've got to be great, and you've got to be lucky. And Duke got lucky. Two point-blank shots that didn't go in. And the play in that game that nobody talks about, (UCF is) up three and then they go for an alley-oop, and the guy missed a dunk. You don't do that when you're about to beat Duke. That, and Duke missed two free throws. They were lucky. You have to be lucky to win.
► It's a pretty chalky Sweet 16. Are there are any teams left that could surprise you and win it all?
► "No. My Final Four bracket had four No. 1 seeds. I just felt that this year — and I've never done that before in picking brackets ... and oh by the way, I put my bracket in the ESPN thing and I'm in the 98th percentile and feeling pretty good about that — I just don't see that (any big upsets). It's only the second time since they went to 60-whatever (teams in the NCAA Tournament) that all three top seeds got to the Sweet 16. It's played out the way the season was supposed to, and I think it'll continue to play out that way. I don't think you'll see anything worse than a 3 seed there. I still think the No. 1s, maybe a 2."
►Michigan and Michigan State predictions?
►"Michigan State, 65-59; Texas Tech, 53-52."
►Western Michigan coach Steve Hawkins' predictions: Michigan State, 80-71; Michigan, 71-68.
NO. 2 MICHIGAN vs. NO. 3 TEXAS TECH
Tip-off: 9:39 p.m. Thursday, Honda Center, Anaheim, Calif.
Records: Michigan 30-6; Texas Tech 28-6
Next up: Winner faces No. 1 Gonzaga or No. 4 Florida State in the Elite Eight.
NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE VS. NO. 3 LSU
Tip-off: 7:09 Friday, Capital One Arena, Washington
Records: Michigan State 30-6; LSU 28-6
Next up: Winner faces No. 1 Duke or No. 4 Virginia Tech in the Elite Eight.