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Tom Izzo named as finalist for Naismith Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year Award

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NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo has been named as a top-15 finalist for the Naismith Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year award. The NCAA released its late season candidates list on Wednesday.

With three regular season games left to play this season, Izzo has the led the Spartans to an overall record of 23-5 and a conference record of 14-3 — which currently has MSU tied for with Purdue for first place in the Big Ten. The Spartans also have the most “Quad 1” wins in the NET rankings with 11 (home wins against teams ranked 1-30, neutral site wins against teams ranked 1-50 and road wins against teams ranked 1-75 in the NET) .

But what’s more impressive than just looking at high level statistics or records is how the Spartans have gotten here. Junior shooting guard Joshua Langford has missed the majority of the season with an ankle injury. He was averaging 15 points and 3.6 rebounds per game, while shooting 44 percent from the field. Langford is also a captain and vocal leader for the team.

Junior forward/center Nick Ward broke his hand and has missed the past two games. He likely won’t return until the NCAA tournament, if he returns at all. Ward averaged 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds, while shooting 60.4 percent from the floor and often putting pressure on opposing teams by sprinting down the court in the transition fast breaks. During that timespan, the Spartans have put together an impressive comeback win against Rutgers and an outstanding road victory at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, breaking Michigan’s 22-game home winning streak in that building.

In addition to this, Izzo deserves some credit for the emergence of Cassius Winston. Under Izzo’s tutelage this season, Winston has not only completely transformed his game, he’s positioned himself as a favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, and a finalist for the both the Wooden Player of the Year and Naismith Player of the Year awards.

Izzo has also helped Winston become a better leader both on and off the court. With Langford and Ward both injured, Winston is now looked at as not only the top scoring threat on the team, but has still maintained his excellent court vision and continues to be one of the top passers in the entire nation. He’s also played a ridiculous amount of minutes and is MSU’s ironman. Prior to the season’s start, I wrote an article stating that I was surprised Winston was not named a captain. Due to Winston’s outstanding play, he’s now earned that title, as Izzo recently named him as a third captain — a rare move by Izzo to name a late season captain.

I don’t know that Izzo will take home Coach of the Year honors, but given the injuries, adversity and adaptability that MSU’s head man has dealt with this season, he certainly deserves to be considered. There were a couple of awful losses to Illinois and Indiana this season, but the overall body of work speaks for itself.

Izzo — a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee — won the AP College Coach of the Year in 1998, and is a three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year. However, he has never won the Naismith College Coach of the Year award. In fact, no Michigan State coach has won the honor, which has been given out since 1987.

Other notable names on the finalist list include John Beilein (Michigan), Matt Painter (Purdue), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), Rick Barnes (Tennessee), Mark Few (Gonzaga), Tony Bennett (Virginia), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Kelvin Sampson (Houston), amongst others.

The winner is set to be announced on April 7. Good luck, Tom!