Given Tom Izzo as the Michigan State Spartans head coach has 22 straight years in the NCAA tournament and 52 wins in that time frame, there are a lot of games to look back at over his career. So I decided we could all use a fun debate over what his best win each day of the tournament was through each round (note I am going by day, not just round, so today is the best win in a first round game played on Thursday only, and tomorrow will be the best win played on Friday).
So for our first look back, I picked Michigan State’s win over the Valparaiso University Crusaders in the 2000 NCAA tournament as Izzo’s best win in a first round Thursday game. The one seeded Spartans romped the sixteenth seeded Crusaders by a final score of 69-35. Stifling defense was the story of the game in this one as the Spartans silenced any doubter out there as to whether they earned the one seed in the 2000 tournament.
Quickly after opening tip, MSU made it clear what the story line of the game would be. After Crusader’s Milo Stovall made a three-pointer (he would end the game 1-for-5 from three) with 17:18 left in the half, Valparaiso would go on to miss 12 straight attempts as they endured a 10:35 scoring drought while Michigan State opened a 20-3 lead.
The Spartans would close the half with a 29-15 lead. Valparaiso finished the half just 6-of-26 from the floor, while committing seven turnovers. As for the second half, MSU committed the grave sin I did not know an Izzo team ever did and threw some zone defenses out at the Crusaders. However, it did not let them take any advantage beyond pulling the score to within 15 at one point, trailing 42-27.
However, the Spartans responded with a 12 point run, eventually building their lead out to 30 at one point, and game play finally ended with a 27 point blow-out win.
As for game leaders, Mateen Cleaves paced the Spartans with 15 points and eight assists. Jason Richardson led the team with ten rebounds, while the next closest was the foursome of Andre Hutson, Charlie Bell, Morris Peterson, and Mike Chappell all grabbed four each. Peterson was the only other Spartan to score in double-digits with 12 points.
MSU won the boards battle 37-29, but lost the offensive end eight to seven. However, the Crusaders managed just 25 percent shooting overall from the floor. Lubos Barton was the only player for Valparaiso to get into double-digits with 13 points, going 4-13 from the field. The team managed just 13-52 shooting from the field against the stifling Spartan defense.
You can hear Coach Izzo’s post game press conference audio here (Warning: ESPN link). MSU advanced to the second round to face eighth seed Utah in this tournament. However, this is not the last time Tom Izzo and the Spartans face Valparaiso in the NCAA’s first round. In 2013 the Crusaders faced down the Spartans and again left in defeat. This time ended with a more respectable score margin of 65-54.
Check back again tomorrow for another fun look back at yet another first round Tom Izzo coached game that ended in a “Victory for MSU!”