Admiration mutual for MSU's Izzo, Duke's Coach K
After almost 20 years, 18 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament, a national title and now seven appearances in the Final Four, there is still one program Tom Izzo is chasing.
For the Michigan State coach, college basketball excellence begins and ends with Duke and coach Mike Krzyzewski.
It just so happens that Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils stand in the way of the Spartans getting to the national title game for the first time since 2009.
The teams will meet Saturday in the national semifinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and while Izzo gushed on Monday about all the coaches in the Final Four — Kentucky's John Calipari and Wisconsin's Bo Ryan included — he holds Krzyzewski in the highest regard.
"I think there's so many things, to be honest with you," Izzo said of what he admires most about Krzyzewski and the Duke program. "I think he's done it the right way, with good kids. The consistency is what I marvel over. It's hard to be that consistent over that much time.
"So I just have always kept an eye on him. He's been a good friend. I just appreciate the way he's kind of adapted, changed his style some."
It's no surprise Izzo admires Krzyzewski the way he does. The Duke coach has won more games than any coach in the history of Division I basketball and has four national championships while also putting together an impressive run coaching with USA Basketball.
And on top of all that, he holds an 8-1 record against Izzo.
"Somebody said, 'You guys have a good rivalry,' " Izzo said with a laugh. "I said, 'You can't have a rivalry when it's 8-1.' … I guess I appreciate being here as long as I have, someone that's been in the same place even longer, because I don't think that's easy to do either.
"Expectations get so high. So good coach, classy guy, done it the right way. His players handle themselves the right way. I guess that's why you look at a program, you say, 'Where would you like yours someday?' I guess that's what keeps me fighting."
The Spartans and Blue Devils have played in the Final Four once before. It was Izzo's first in 1999 when Duke came away with a 68-62 victory. The Blue Devils also beat the Spartans in the Sweet 16 in 2013, but Izzo's lone victory over Krzyzewski came in the NCAA Tournament.
That was in the Sweet 16 in 2005 when Duke was the No. 1 seed and Michigan State was a No. 5. The Spartans followed that with a win over Kentucky to reach the Final Four.
"I thought there were a couple times we could have beat them," Izzo said. "One time we played them at our place after they lost to Purdue, I think, up in the Great Alaskan Shootout. Thought we could beat them. We lost by 20."
The admiration is mutual.
"Tom is as good as there is," Krzyzewski said. "Not just a coach, but he's a great guy. He's a terrific friend. I think we have an amazing relationship. Nothing surprises me that he and his program would do. They don't have a team; they have a program. As he develops each team, I don't know what the timeframe of it is until 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. It's a program of excellence."
He's also not buying into the fact this game will be an easy win for the Blue Devils, despite what the seeds suggest and the fact they beat the Spartans by 10 early in the season.
"They're really good," Krzyzewski said. "That doesn't surprise me at all. They're going to show up every game with a great game plan, with a toughness and an unselfishness to play that they're not going to beat themselves. That's who Tom is. That will be him for as long as he coaches because that's what he does. That's why he's so good."
There is no doubting Krzyzewski's credentials, and Izzo is no slouch.
In fact, this Final Four features four of the best. Krzyzewski has now been to 12 Final Fours, matching UCLA's John Wooden for the most ever, while Izzo has now been to seven. Calipari is in his fourth; Ryan in his second.
It's a position in which Izzo loves to be as he keeps going after the coach and program he admires.
"If it is pressure, it sure is good pressure to know that you've been to that many when there's so many great coaches that haven't had a chance to do it," Izzo said. "I don't feel entitled, that's for sure. But I don't look at it as pressure. I look at it as a great feat to be involved with so many coaches that have been to many of them. John has been to more than a couple now. Bo has now been to two.
"As far as Mike, I mean, it's almost unprecedented what he's done. 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."
Major accomplishments for Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Duke's Mike Krzyzewski:
National titles: One (2000)
Final Fours: Seven
Elite Eights: Nine
Sweet 16s: 13
Conference titles: Seven (Big Ten)
Conference tournament titles: Four
NCAA appearances: 18 in 20 years
Record: 495-198 (most wins in Michigan State history; tied 62nd college basketball history)
Honors: National coach of the year (1998), Big Ten coach of the year (1998, 2009, 2012)
Olympic gold medals: Two (2008, 2012)
FIBA World Championships: Two (2010, 2014)
National titles: Four (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010)
Final Fours: 12
Elite Eights: 14
Conference titles: 12 (Atlantic Coast)
Conference tournament titles: 13
NCAA appearances: 31 in 40 years
Victories: 1,016-310 (most wins in Duke history; No. 1 college basketball history)
Honors: National coach of the year (1986, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1997, 1999), ACC coach of the year (1984, 1986, 1987, 1999, 2000); Basketball Hall of Fame (2001), College Basketball Hall of Fame (2006)