If the 2018 Michigan State Spartans failed to mesh under Tom Izzo, the 2019 Spartans not only succeeded, but had to succeed many times over.
Josh Langford was lost for the season. Michigan State had to adjust.
Nick Ward got injured. Michigan State had to adjust.
Moreover, Ward got injured before the first of two regular-season games against rival Michigan. The Spartans played twice without Ward against Michigan.
They won both times.
If the 2018 team profoundly underachieved with high-end NBA talent, this team — with less available talent (due to Langford’s injury) — just as profoundly overachieved. The NCAA Tournament won’t change this reality. This team maxed out in Big Ten play, period.
A happy coach knows what this team achieved even more than any outside observers can understand and appreciate.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team in my life,” Tom Izzo said. “Coaches say that every time after they win and year after year, and I’ve had some incredible teams and incredible guys, but what these guys have been through nobody will ever know.”
You could see on CBS cameras during the Big Ten Tournament that Izzo — in typical fashion — is straightforward and firm with his players during games. No BS, no shortcuts, no vague wordsmithing to circumnavigate tough truths. Izzo speaks directly and forcefully to Cassius Winston and the other members of his team. Even after Ward was unfairly nailed for an illegal screen in Saturday’s Big Ten Tournament semifinal against Wisconsin, Izzo had some pointers to offer on the bench, as though emphasizing the need for Ward to improve on what was already good and make it even more airtight so that officials would have even less of a reason to make a bad call.
Izzo’s attention to detail has been apparent with this Michigan State team. If he simply couldn’t push the right buttons in 2018, that certainly hasn’t been the case a year later.
We will see if the Big Dance provides another memorable moment for one of this century’s finest March masterminds.
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