Michigan State basketball: Has Tom Izzo lost his magic touch? It’s complicated


After Michigan State basketball lost to UCLA in the First Four, some are wondering if Spartans head coach Tom Izzo has lost his magic touch.

March has often been Tom Izzo’s month, but that won’t be the case this year.

Michigan State basketball was bounced in their First Four game against the UCLA Bruins after staged a furious comeback to win 86-80 in overtime. There will be no miraculous run to another Final Four for the Spartans. There will be no shining moments for Michigan State basketball. The offseason begins much sooner than Michigan State basketball fans had hoped it would and now the questions about Izzo will loom large until next season.

Izzo is a Hall of Famer and his legacy is in-tact. But after a disappointing season, it’s easy to criticize the coaching legend when he and his team don’t meet expectations. It’s the nature of the sport and comes with the territory.

“Well, just disappointed,” Izzo said after Thursday’s game. “I mean, we had the game won. And we made some of the same mistakes we’ve made two or three times this year in critical situations, and I thought we played incredibly well offensively and incredibly poor defensively.

“And give them a lot of credit — they made some plays. We were up five, six. Seemed like we had it in control and just didn’t rebound the ball like we could have or should have, especially under some situations.

Tom Izzo has led Michigan State basketball to only 2 Final Fours since 2009

Michigan State basketball isn’t supposed to be sitting on the couch watching March Madness with the rest of us hoping our brackets don’t spontaneously combust. But here we are as the NCAA Tournament begins in earnest on Friday and the season is over for the Spartans and their fans are left to wonder if Izzo has lost his magic touch.

To them, I say relax.

Teams are allowed to not make the Final Four every year. It could be worse, just look at Duke and Kentucky who have even bigger expectations and didn’t even make the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky had arguably its worst year in program history.

Izzo led Michigan State to the Final Four two years (the last time the NCAA Tournament was held), his eighth in his illustrious career. Six of them came from 1999-2009 so the rate at which he’s reaching this stage has diminished, but that can largely be attributed to the changes in recruiting, the era of the one-and-done recruit and the birth of non-traditional programs making it harder for the same teams to win every year. This isn’t like college football where the same teams win all the time.

Sure, losing to a 15-seed as they did in 2016 is unacceptable. But you know what? That happens in March Madness. It happens to great teams every year. It happened to Duke. It’s happened to Kansas. It’s happened to Kentucky. Maybe not to 15 seeds, but Goliath loses to David this time of year.

Izzo’s still recruiting at a high level as evidenced by getting the commitment of No. 1 2022 recruit, Emoni Bates. Now, it’s a question of whether he’ll ever play for Michigan State depending on the NBA’s allowing of high schoolers to enter the NBA Draft. However, getting his commitment still counts. He can still sell recruits on coming to East Lansing and playing for him and within his system.

For all the talk about whether Izzo is too intense of a coach, which flared up again vs. UCLA when he got in a heated interaction with Gabe Brown, players clearly want to play for him. So let people talk on Twitter that Izzo is a dinosaur and coaches of his ilk aren’t what works in today’s game for today’s athletes.

Izzo is still great. He still knows how to recruit. He will make it back to the Final Four. Michigan State basketball will always be a threat to cut down the nets in March Madness so long as Izzo is on the bench.

For more NCAA basketball news, analysis, opinion and features, check out more from the FanSided college basketball section to stay on top of the latest action.

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