"I just never want to be on Dick Vitale's 'cream puff' scheduling list," Izzo joked. "But many years ago we took on the 'any time, any where' theory of playing people and it's kind of stayed with me."
Conventional wisdom suggests that Tom Izzo's long-held philosophy of scheduling the best has paid off in two distinct ways. First, Michigan State basketball fans have been fortunate not only to have cheered on some of the best teams in school history, but also to have seen them play against many of college basketball's best. Second, playing a tough out-of-conference schedule has prepared Spartan teams for the postseason--both in terms of getting in (the tangible benefits of high strength-of-schedule and RPI ratings) and increasing NCAA tournament success (the intangible benefits of playing against the best in the regular season).
Per njd's suggestion--and in the spirit of seizing every semi-reasonable posting subject idea during the long, awful offseason--we here at TOC, Inc. present Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, a comprehensive map of all the quality OOC games MSU has played under Tom Izzo:
View Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere in a larger map
Explanations and caveats: green pins represent regular season wins, red pins represent regular season losses, yellow pins represent postseason wins, and purple pins represent postseason defeats. I've broken them down that way because Izzo usually has control over who he plays in the regular season but not in the postseason. My selection criteria for what games to include was sort of arbitrary: I included games against all BCS conferences, plus games against notable smaller conference schools (Gonzaga, BYU, etc.). All postseason games were included, and, as this is designed to show discretionary scheduling results, conference games are excluded. Also, it's worth zooming in on the map, as it seems that Google Maps has an unfortunate tendency to favor red pins over green pins when both exist in the same spot -- making MSU's performance look worse from 50,000 feet than it really is. For instance, the default zoom shows only one red pin over Lexington, Kentucky; you'd need to zoom in all the way to see 2003's green dot, courtesy of Tim Bograkos. So, click through to the larger map to see listings and scores for each individual game.
My own observations, after the jump.
- State's record against quality OOC competition since 1995-96 is 71-47 (.602). That total includes wins against the entire who's-who of college basketball: Arkansas, Gonzaga, Louisville, Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, UConn, Florida, Syracuse, Maryland, Arizona, Stanford, UCLA, Duke, Texas, and many more. I doubt that any other program can match that list of wins in the last 15 years.
- Since 1995-96, MSU is 16-3 against quality competition at the Breslin Center. The only three losses: a 56-54 loss to Temple in 1997, a 76-75 loss to Syracuse, the eventual national champions, in 2003 (where Carmelo Anthony baaaaarely outdueled Chris Hill in the best basketball game I've ever seen in person), and the embarrassing 72-50 Big Ten-ACC Challenge loss to Duke in 2003. Wins have come against North Carolina, UCLA, Kentucky, UConn, Louisville, and Gonzaga, among others.
- Records against the other big conferences (though I'm sure I've made at least one counting error):
-- ACC: 9-15. Bleh. Izzo started out 0-5 and has been steadily working back since then, with famous victories (UNC in 2000, Duke in '05, Maryland this year) being offset by epically awful losses (UNC, each time).
-- SEC: 12-4. Simply gaudy.
-- Pac-10: 6-4. Surprising that there haven't been more than 10 games in 15 years.
-- Big 12: 13-8. Lots of games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Kansas, and a number of impressive victories.
-- Big East: 9-5. Bunch of games against Syracuse, UConn, and Seton Hall, and few others.
- Records against notable teams:
-- North Carolina: 2-7, with the last victory coming in 2000. Clearly, the Tar Heels are Tom Izzo's greatest bugaboo.
-- Duke: 1-4. Next season's game at Cameron Indoor Stadium will be the first matchup against Duke since the 2005 NCAA Tournament, a game you may very well remember.
-- Kentucky: 4-2, including two epic NCAA tournament victories ('99 and '05).
-- Kansas: 3-1. The only loss was in 2003 at Allen Fieldhouse.
-- UCLA: 1-2. The 2007 game still stings.
-- Syracuse: 1-3. A Sweet Sixteen dismantling of the then-Orangemen in 2000, followed by 3 losses of varying competitiveness.
-- Connecticut: 2-1. Including them is really just an excuse to link to this video.
-- Texas: 3-3, including an immensely frustrating NCAA Tournament loss in 2003. MSU will have the chance to take the upper hand in the series this December at the Breslin Center.
-- Gonzaga: 3-1. Sadly, the most memorable game was almost certainly the loss.
-- Virginia: 1-0-1, including the only tie (or at least, no-decision) on the ledger, the bizarre game in 2003 that had to be called because the floor was sopping wet.
-- Arizona: 2-2, including a brutal shellacking in the 2001 Final Four.
- Finally, two quick thoughts. This little project confirms that the the nadir of MSU basketball under Tom Izzo indeed happened in 2003-04. What an awful year: losses to Kansas, Duke, Oklahoma, Kentucky, UCLA, and Syracuse, and a first round NCAA exit at the hands of Nevada. (And the map doesn't even reveal the blowout in Champaign, and the absolutely brutal losses to Wisconsin.) Granted, that's an absolute terror of a schedule, and probably the most difficult a Tom Izzo team has faced -- but the team's poor showing that season might not be coincidental. The '03-04 team clearly wasn't ready to face such a schedule, and it seems like the gauntlet might have hurt--not helped--them. MSU's OOC schedules since them have been tough, but never as overwhelming as that one; it seems like Izzo might have learned a lesson to turn it down a notch or two. Also, the map reveals just how good the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 teams were 20-3 in games against quality OOC competition and in post-season games. The less-heralded 2000-01 team beat UNC, Florida, and Kentucky; the Final Four blowout loss against Arizona (in what KJ calls "the first turnover implosion game of the Izzo era") has to be considered one of the most disappointing of the Izzo era.
And now, a question for you: what team would you like to see MSU play that we haven't yet played in the Izzo era? It's a tough answer because we've played almost all the historically great college basketball teams in the last 15 years. To me, the only obvious answer is Georgetown. In any event, it seems obvious that MSU is now indisputably one of the great college basketball teams because we haven't shied away from playing other great basketball teams.