"I created real relationships with those guys," MSU freshman forward Xavier Tillman said. "Not being able to play with them anymore is really hard." David Guralnick, The Detroit News
Detroit – If there is someone new coaching Michigan State’s basketball team next season, it won’t be because Tom Izzo decided to walk away.
That’s because after 23 seasons leading the Spartans, nothing will push Izzo out right now.
Not the outside heat from a report questioning how his program has handled sexual assault cases, not his star player’s name showing up in an FBI report and not another stunning loss in the NCAA Tournament, this one coming Sunday in the second round at Little Caesars Arena when 11th-seeded Syracuse knocked off No. 3 Michigan State, 55-53.
“I never ever planned on going anywhere,” Izzo said after the game. “From the first rumors … I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’ve got a job to do and I’ve never run from anything in my life. Nothing. I don’t plan on starting now. So I’ll be here. I took too many bullets this year not to be here. So I’ll be here and we’ll be back knocking on the door to win a championship, I’m gonna make damn sure of that. I’m gonna get the help of my people, my team, my support and hopefully I’ll do a better job handling all the other things.”
To say it’s been a long season for Izzo and the program would be an understatement. The pressure was on from before the first game was even played as winning a national championship was the stated goal. It seemed like a realistic one, too, as Miles Bridges returned for his sophomore season and the Spartans were adding All-American Jaren Jackson Jr.
And after a fast start to the season that included ascending to the top ranking in the nation, things started to get complicated off the court. First it was the ESPN report that attempted to tie past issues with basketball players in with the Larry Nassar scandal.
Then, just before the end of the regular season, Bridges’ name appeared in a report about an FBI investigation saying his parents has received money from the associate of an agent.
Through it all, Izzo did his best to deflect the questions while his team navigated the added pressure. Whether that played into Sunday’s loss is hard to say, but Izzo made it clear that any complaints should be directed at him, not the players.
“Listen, it never ends happy for all but one team,” Izzo said. “I've been in the finals. I got beat and felt bad. I've been in the first round of the Final Four and got beat and felt bad, and in the Elite Eight and got beat and felt bad. And the Sweet 16. A couple of years ago I was in the first round and felt bad. That's never going to change. But that's not going to define who we are. What's going to define who we are is what these kids went through this year and how they handled it, and that's what's going to define us.
“To me that's the only thing that matters in the end because I saw the facts of what they gave me, and I had great appreciation for the facts of what they went through and how they handled it. And every Michigan State person can be a little upset with me; don't be upset with them, because they did their job in a very difficult time and did it with class and humility.”
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo's losses to double-digit seeds in the NCAA Tournament:
2004: 10 Nevada, 72-66, Round of 64
2006: 11 George Mason, 75-65, Round of 64
2016: 15 Middle Tennessee, 90-81, Round of 64
2018: 11 Syracuse, 55-53, Round of 32