Michigan State’s Tom Izzo and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski embody college basketball and embody everything we love about March Madness. They are icons, legends and former statesmen of the game, and they will face off again in the NCAA Tournament, meeting in the Round of 16 on Sunday afternoon (5:15 p.m.).
Typically, Coach K overpowers Izzo.
History has proven this over and over again.
Sunday will be their 6th meeting during March Madness, the most manager vs. manager / team vs. team, with Coach K – who is 12-3 overall against Izzo – looking to progress or retire after having lost just 4 of 16 games with Izzo, the Big Ten’s all-time winning leader. (Bob Knight still has more total wins, but Izzo has 666 as a B1G trainer.)
“I like the game, I just don’t like the record of this game over the years,” Izzo said, according to CBS Sports.
Either way, it will be a milestone for both coaches.
For the No. 7 Spartans (West Region), beating No. 2 Duke would be the perfect follow-up to Friday night’s narrow 74-73 win over No. 10 Davidson. For the Blue Devils, scoring a win over Izzo would be a Sweet 16 gift for their coach, while keeping their dream alive for another game.
Although this is only a Round of 32 contest, it will have the feel of a Final Four matchup. College basketball royalty don’t usually meet this early in the tournament, but a rocky end to the regular season and lackluster performances in the Big Ten tournament resulted in MSU’s lowest ranking since 2019, as he was No. 9 en route to the Big Dance.
However, in 2015, the No. 7 Spartans made it to the Final Four only to be forced out of the water, 81-61, by eventual national champion Blue Devils. In the 2019 Elite 8, their final tournament encounter, the No. 2 Spartans came away with a 68-67 victory over the top-seeded Blue Devils. Izzo has never won back-to-back games against Coach K, so Sunday might be historic in that regard – emerging on the driving side of the scoreboard would also tie the postseason streak at 3-3.
So yeah, a lot is going around this game of the round of 32, one of the most significant second-round matchups in NCAA Tournament history. It’s not every year that two HOF coaches from mega programs meet on the opening weekend of March Madness.
“I’m looking forward to it in so many ways,” Izzo said. “Not when I look at the record, but when I look at the coach, the team, and the position we’re in, it should be a great day for college basketball.”
Favored by 6.5 points, Duke certainly has an advantage, at least according to bettors. Of course, the story also comes into play; it’s hard to predict that Izzo will overtake K in “normal” scenarios, let alone what we’ll see on Sunday. Duke has another Duke team loaded. Duke is going to be Duke. MSU, however, lacks its typical firepower. Without Joey Hauser, the Spartans would have lost in the first round to Davidson; they avoided their 6th first-round outing in Izzo’s 24 straight playoff appearances.
This season didn’t go the way Izzo wanted it to, that’s no secret. Whether it’s preventing the Spartans from being lazy, unmotivated or just plain distracted, the iconic manager has often expressed his displeasure with his team’s inconsistency. But he also mentioned that once in the tournament he thinks his Spartans could potentially make a run.
Sunday could end up being the game of the tournament, given the circumstances. It will also be the Big Ten’s best chance to dive deep into March, with conference favorite Iowa having already been knocked out of the tournament. A Michigan State team that beats Duke should quickly move into favorite status, regardless of personnel and standings.
Yes these The Spartans beat the Blue Devils, anything could be possible – maybe even another under-the-radar run to the Final Four, like in 2015, when they were very on the bubble before winning a general offer before finally meeting Duke .
Whatever the outcome, however, Sunday will be memorable. Either it will keep Coach K’s HOF career going for another round, or it will keep Izzo’s Spartans dreaming of what was extremely unlikely before the playoffs; this being a deep run in March.
“I didn’t want to look ahead and dream about the game, because you have a chance, once again, to play against maybe the all-time great, as they say about LeBron. [James] or they say about Michael [Jordan]”, Izzo said after Spartans win over Davidson, per ESPN. “In the coaching world, the GOAT is the team we will play against, and it’s earned. It wasn’t given. It’s earned.
“And you know, I’m going to do my best to see if we can get a few more, one more, on the positive side of this thing, but every time we’ve played it’s a game that I was looking forward to.”