This Friday we will be tuning into a contest that will exhibit true competitive greatness, the kind that the most accomplished College Basketball coach of all time, John Wooden, would cherish as he is the one who popularized the term ‘Competitive Greatness’ when he placed it atop his Pyramid of Success. Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski may not hold the legendary status that Coach Wooden possesses yet, but they are without a doubt the two best coaches in this modern era of College Basketball (No Calapari does not compare, he is a snake and we all know this). These two men appear to be friends off of the basketball court, but it has become obvious that they are each others most intimidating competitors on the court.
In the past we have seen Coach K defeat Izzo’s first final four team in 1999 (Which might have been Izzo’s best team), Duke has beaten the Spartans many times in those meaningless ACC versus Big Ten Challenges in past Novembers, and most recently Jabari Parker chose Duke over Michigan State after Izzo went all-in on the five star recruit from Chicago (Actively recruiting him since he was in the eighth grade). So far it appears as if Krzyzewski has held the slight upper hand against Izzo but Michigan State has held their own in past battles against Coach K and The Blue Devils.
Michigan State upset top seeded Duke in the 2005 sweet sixteen on their way to the final four, Izzo added the transfer Mike Chappell who left Duke only to win a National Championship at Michigan State in 2000, and now there is speculation that Krzyzewski will step down from his head coaching position with the United States Olympic Men’s Basketball team and Izzo might take his place as the coach of the 2016 Men’s Olympic squad. These two men share a similar competitive drive and will power, but the styles of these two men could not be any more different. Duke is a small privately funded University where basketball is king, while Michigan State is a large public university that is funded by the state who values it’s football program on the same level as its successful basketball program.
Izzo took the long and difficult route of becoming a head coach as he was one of Jud Heathcote’s assistant coaches for thirteen years before he became the head coach at Michigan State when he was forty years old in 1995. Coach K took the quick path of being an assistant coach at Indiana under Bob Knight for a year, then coaching at Army for five years before obtaining his current position at Duke as a thirty-three year old in 1980. Izzo’s teams are known for having tough, athletic, Midwestern kids who are typically second-tier recruits that sometimes come from a tough inner-city up bringing. Izzo has a magical way of humbling and developing these young men while their in college, keeping them around for four years and leading them to at least one final four during that time span.
Krzyzewski recruits the top talents in the country every year. His players are known for their intelligence and skill, they typically come from wealthy families, and his players come from any region of the United States and sometimes other countries. It often takes less than four years for Coach K to develop these talents and he frequently has his players leave college early and become stars in the NBA.
On the court Izzo starts his offense low, near the three point line, which leads to more turnovers but more offensive rebounds and back to the basket points in the paint. Krzyzewski starts his offense high, near mid-court, which promotes better ball control and more three pointers, but less rebounds. Krzyzewski puts together easier non-conference schedules and coaches offense and ball control in the early season, this leads to more wins during the regular season and higher national rankings but sometimes Duke shows a lack of toughness in the NCAA Tournament where they have often been beaten by tougher Big East or Big Ten programs.
Izzo always schedules a very tough non-conference schedule and coaches defense and rebounding in the early part of the season. This causes the Spartans to turn the basketball over more often and lose more games early in the season, but it helps them battle through adversity and tougher half court basketball in the NCAA tournament, usually by then Michigan State resolves there turnover issues by playing against tough Big Ten defenses throughout the conference season. Izzo is Fire, Krzyewski is Ice. Krzyzewski is smooth, Izzo is rough. Izzo is the north, Krzyzewski is the south. Krzyzewski is Coke, Izzo is Pepsi. Izzo is a long road trip in a car, Krzyzewski is a short trip on a plane. Krzyzewski is a box office hit movie, Izzo is the long detailed novel that was written ten years before the movie was released. Izzo is like Marijuana (Illegal but has never killed a single person), Krzyzewski is like Alcohol (Legal and socially acceptable but kills thousands of people every year). Krzyzewski is an over the counter remedy for a cold, Izzo is a natural rest and recover cure for an Illness. Duke is the Roman Empire, Michigan State is… well, the Spartans. Krzyzewski is Yin, Izzo is Yang.
There is no doubt that Fridays battle will be another great contest in this competitive saga between Izzo and Krzyzewski. I’m not saying that this will be the final battle between good and evil, but as a fan this surely feels like it. The stakes are high for this game. Both programs have aspirations of winning another national championship and playing the overall number one seed Louisville in the elite eight on Sunday. There is also bad blood being bled in this rivalry as these two programs took part in an intense recruiting battle over the so called ‘Next Lebron James’ Jabari Parker.
Lets actually forget about the potential of a National Championship, playing Louisville, and even Jabari Parker. Lets focus on the upcoming battle this Friday. Izzo and Krzyzewski are without any doubt the two most elite men in their profession and in my opinion they are the two most successful and hard working men on the planet (Sorry Barack). This will be a fierce battle and a masterful display of the competitive greatness that the legendary coach John Wooden placed atop his Pyramid of Success.