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Crying Foul! Part of Coach Izzo's "March Madness" Method

Coach Tom Izzo's not fouling against Minnesota may have cost the Spartans another game, but, was this choice just a part of his method toward "March Madness?"

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

A question...

As we all know, Coach Izzo has historically chosen to defend rather than foul when up by three in late-game situations.

Perhaps I'm too analytical, and maybe of a different sporting time than some out there, but here's a question I have to the coaches, like Coach Izzo, who choose to play defense rather than foul when up by three points in the closing seconds of a game.

Why is it considered, by all coaches including those of Coach Izzo's ilk, that, when their team is behind at the end of game, that it's right, fair, and perfectly sporting to intentionally foul in order to gain extra possessions with the hope of extending the game and potentially having a chance at a comeback with missed free throws, but, that when a team is up by three at the end of a game, that it's somehow not perfectly right, fair, and sporting to foul to try and close out a win in the most efficient and seemingly logical way?

Logic aside...

Two things bothered me about the post-game comments by Coach Izzo about his choice not to foul.

One, Coach Izzo said that he didn't want to foul with 13 seconds to play-that with 13 seconds there was too much time left. The problem I see with that thinking is that by the time Minnesota gets the ball down the court, if there is any defensive pressure, there should be 10 seconds or less. If Minnesota makes their free throws, and that's still an if, but let's say for argument's sake that Minnesota makes their free throws, after the Spartans inbound, there should be 7 seconds or less at most. If MSU makes their free throws they are in the same position to foul again, or, make or miss, they can play defense with the added advantage of less time on the clock, and, due to a more desperate forthcoming shot attempt, less likely to be called for a foul, especially when playing at home, or, at least goes my thinking.

Two, Coach Izzo said that he didn't want to shoot free throws with the way the Spartans have been, or were, shooting free throws, but, with all the attention and work the Spartans have put in to improve upon their free throw shooting, wouldn't it have gone a long way in showing confidence in his team's extra work and effort to let them ice the game from the free throw line?

In the win against Ohio State four games ago, in a similar situation but with only 4 seconds left instead of 13 seconds, Coach Izzo said in his post-game comments that if Ohio State had been able to inbound the ball that he was planning to foul before Ohio State had a chance to take a final shot. Some took this as a sign that perhaps Coach Izzo's thinking on this end-of-the-game situation had changed, but, there was a huge difference between that game against Ohio State and this game against Minnesota for his team.

Against Ohio State, the Spartans' team confidence needed a boost, they needed to know they could beat a top team, and also, with bubble talk then at its height, a win for the Spartans was absolutely necessary for both the team's Tournament chances and for their collective psyche. Also, against Ohio State, Michigan State gave their all and full effort on defense in order to win that game in East Lansing and it seems that Coach Izzo felt his team well deserved the win.

But, in the game against Minnesota, with a place in the Tournament nearly sealed up, perhaps Coach Izzo thought his team could learn from playing defense rather than fouling and that perhaps they were ready to take the step to be able to defend a team at the end of the game. Also, against Minnesota, Michigan State did not play with the same full-out defensive energy and intensity that they had played with against Ohio State, and MSU, instead, was able to hang with and then build a lead against the Golden Gophers by outscoring their opponent rather than by beating them with Coach Izzo's favorite defensive effort or by playing the way the Spartans had played during their four straight wins.

For those Spartan fans who are frustrated at Coach Izzo's stubbornness not to foul at the end of games, we have to remember that, yes, Coach Izzo is a winning coach, but part of what has made him a winning coach is that he's teacher at heart-a teacher who is very good at reading the needs, strengths, and weaknesses of his team so that come March and April his teams perform at their very best.

I suppose, "Trust in Izzo" may be the message of the day, but, after last night's loss, where escaping with a win still could have provided plenty of teachable moments, I can't say I don't wish our team's coach was more comfortable with still being the teacher he is while also being more logical in these end of the game situations and giving his team the very best chance to win by just fouling, but, on to Wisconsin we go, where on Sunday afternoon we'll see if what happened in last night's game in East Lansing pays dividends.,