As always, Izzo had a murderer’s row schedule: a trip to Hawaii that would include games against Connecticut and Washington; at Duke a few days later; Syracuse in Madison Square Garden; a sneaky-hard game against Oakland; and Texas. Michigan State went 2-4 against those teams.
“I know some people think I’m crazy to schedule the way I do,” Izzo said. Syracuse Coach Jim “Boeheim always looks at my schedule and says to me, ‘You really are dumb.’ Well, I might be. But it’s worked for us in the past. When we had all the problems in the summer I thought maybe I should try to get out of a couple of games. I know guys who do that when they get people hurt. But I didn’t want to do that.”
Izzo’s scheduling philosophy was borne of desperation. When he took over the coaching job from Jud Heathcote in 1995, the Spartans weren’t very good. Uncertainty about how long Heathcote would coach had hurt recruiting.
“The first two years we were supposed to be on ESPN twice each season according to the Big Ten contract,” Izzo said. “We were so bad they only put us on once each season. I knew I had to get more TV games. I ran into [then-Temple Coach] John Chaney that summer, and he said, ‘I’ll play you.’ I said, ‘No way, I don’t want to play you.’ No one wanted to play them. But he convinced me we’d get the game on TV and we did. I looked at John’s schedule and saw he played anyone and everyone. It had clearly worked for him. So I started doing it.”
It worked. Izzo’s teams lost some tough games early but played their best basketball in March.
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.