By his fourth season, Michigan State was in the Final Four for the first time in 20 years. A year later, the Spartans won the national championship, and last spring made the Final Four for a second straight year even after Lucas got hurt against Maryland. With Lucas and a host of players returning this season, the Spartans were a popular pick to perhaps win Izzo's second title.
Then came the injuries and Allen's dismissal. Last month, Izzo had to toss another player off the team: Korie Lucious, the guard who broke Maryland's heart with a buzzer-beating three-pointer last March.
"It's just been a perfect storm," he said. "I don't like to be an excuse-maker, but with the injuries and the guys I've had to throw off the team, it's been difficult. I blame myself for most of it. Jud [Heathcote] always used to say it's hard for your leader to lead if he's struggling with his own game. Kalin's been doing that all season.
The injury affected his speed, and that changed his whole game. I don't think I've done a good enough job helping him with that.
"Honestly though, I still think we could get our act together before this is over. Kalin's 95 percent now. I have to be able to get them to defend and rebound better. I still think we can be a tough out in March if we can get some confidence back and get there."
Throughout the season, as he always does, Izzo has talked to coaches about what he has been dealing with. His best friend is former Detroit Lions Coach Steve Mariucci, who has been a friend since high school.
But he also has talked through the years to people such as former Florida football coach Urban Meyer and Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.
"During the season I like talking to football coaches," he said. "If you talk to basketball coaches they pretty much have the same issues that you do, so it's almost like talking to yourself. Football coaches see things a little differently than we do.
"I talked to Coach Paterno last fall when they were struggling a little bit. I asked him how he dealt with it, if he tried to make changes tactically. He said, 'Nah, coaching isn't about x's and o's; it's about dealing with distractions and issues that come up with your kids.' I think about that a lot because he's right."
He paused. "On the other hand, it would be nice if we could defend every once in a while."
He laughed, finding a way to see humor in the middle of a long winter. "If I go through this once every 15 years, I can take it," he said. "I'll tell you one thing though: The next time I do go through it, I think I'll be better at it than I was this time around. If nothing else, I think I know now I can take a punch."
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