INDIANAPOLIS – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski have been teaching young men how to play basketball for decades.
On Thursday, they demonstrated why they’re so good. They stay loose.
Instead of getting tense and out of sorts the day before the Midwest Regional’s well-hyped coaching matchup, the pair took turns praising one another’s styles, their loyalty to their schools and their teams’ penchant for limiting mistakes.
I consider him a great friend. There’s nothing about Tom that I don’t think is good. If we lose to them, believe me, I’ll hug him and shake his hand, and he’ll do the same for me. I like that, said Krzyzewski, the NCAA Division I record-holder with 956 career wins.
I think it’s more the way it used to be in coaching, and probably we both have great teachers in that regard and were brought up a certain way where we understand the game is bigger than anybody.
Even heading into a game that will put one of these coaches within a victory of yet another Final Four trip.
There may not be a more compelling coaching duel in this year’s tournament.
In 33 seasons at Duke, Krzyzewski has gone to 11 Final Fours, the most among active coaches.
He is one of only three coaches in NCAA history to win at least four national championships. The last time he faced Michigan State, the Blue Devils gave him a 74-69 win that broke Bob Knight’s career record for wins.
Izzo doesn’t mind playing that role.
I’m going to be famous someday because it was our game last year at New York that broke the record, and I guess if you’ve got to be famous, who cares what the reason is, Izzo said, drawing laughter. Yet, I look at it too that if we had to lose to somebody that was doing something special, the class and the way he’s done things over time, his staff, his recruiting, we’ve had to recruit against him a few times and it’s always fair and up and up. We usually lose, but we’re trying to make some progress.
Izzo has done a pretty darn good job in his own right. He owns a school-record 439 career wins in 18 seasons at Michigan State and won his only national title in 2000.
Both come into the game focused first on defense, though Duke (29-5) has been slightly more proficient on offense and Michigan State (27-8) slightly more physical. Both have contended with injuries to key players.
Duke’s Ryan Kelly missed 13 games this season with a right foot injury but has played well since returning.
Keith Appling wore a brace over his injured right shoulder during the Spartans’ open workout.
I wouldn’t really say that my shoulder is 100 percent, but it’s close to it, Appling said. I’m going to do as much as I possibly can to help my team advance in this tournament.