A couple years ago a 30 minute interview with Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo turned into a three-hour marathon. We talked basketball and the economy. We talked about family and the economy. We even talked about health and fitness as Izzo promised to use a treadmill in his office more.
But one of the more interesting things we talked about was Michigan and Michigan State hoops. Izzo didn’t talk about his desire or need to stomp the Wolverines every time he faced him, although that is what he wants to do. Instead he talked about his desire to see both programs strong and to make college basketball a top of mind sport in the state of Michigan.
“Why can’t we have a North Carolina-Duke situation here,” Izzo said. “Why can’t both programs be strong and amongst the top in the nation. Trust me I want to beat their ass every year. But having both programs strong is good for all of us.”
College basketball is not top of mind in our state and this is a long way from being Tobacco Road North. However, Michigan and Michigan State play tonight for more than bragging rights. The two teams are fighting for a Big Ten title and the game is important. The Spartans are tied for first. The Wolverines are a game behind and this is the first time the two teams have faced each other while ranked since 1998.
That is way too long The Wolverines didn’t put up their end of the bargain slugging through coaching failures under Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker. They wanted to be the Duke of the north instead of just being Michigan following scandals with the Fab Five and Fresh Five. Izzo took advantage and strung together a bunch of Final Four appearances while Michigan was lucky to make the Final Four in the Big Ten tournament.
Michigan coach John Beilein has made Michigan a contender with his often frenetic and sometimes erratic offense and mind bending switches in defense. Izzo keeps humming along and poking his nose in the conference race and national title chase. You can make a point that Izzo played a small role in Michigan hoops getting stronger.
When Michigan was writing the blue prints for new basketball facilities and practice court one of the places they stopped for advice was Breslin Center in East Lansing where Izzo rolled out the blue carpet for them. The Spartans were light years ahead of the Wolverines in regards to facilities. If Izzo could help make basketball stronger in the state, he was all for it.
Tonight they coach in a game where none of us know who will win. It is not North Carolina-Duke but it is the next best thing. It is Michigan and Michigan State and that should always be a reason to pay attention.