Few are more well-known than Mike Krzyzewski from Duke and Tom Izzo at Michigan State in a sport where coaches are the most lasting stars.
Both were at the top of their respective fields for decades, winning national titles, Final Fours, and being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
They have been battling on a greater scale than usual between teams from different leagues, as well as on the biggest stage of the NCAA Tournament.
They’ll be doing it again on Sunday.
Izzo stated Saturday that “the game is larger than usual” and added, “There will be strange emotions on both sides.”
In the West Region’s second round, the second-seeded Blue Devils (296-6) and the seventh-seeded Spartans (231-12) will meet. This matchup has more to play for than who advances to next week’s Sweet 16 in San Francisco.
It’s the final meeting of a series that is entering its 16th year. This will be a goodbye to coaching friends whose meetings have been a welcome fixture on the nonconference schedule. It also serves as a reminder about the changing college basketball landscape. Krzyzewski will retire after Duke’s last game. A rivalry with Izzo as a coach could be a thing of the future in today’s coaching shuffle.
It’s very difficult for me to prepare,” Izzo stated. Everyone is asking, “Are you going end your career on this note?” Is this what you are going to do? Is that what you are going to do?
“First, let me say that I won’t do any of this. They will, hopefully, find a way for them to win. Just think about what he and his team are going through. It’s an emotional rollercoaster ride that I can’t imagine.
For the couple of tournament-tested coaches , the resumes are just as amazing.
Krzyzewski, 75, is the winningest college basketball coach. He can achieve 1,200 victories Sunday to go along with his five national championships (and a record-setting 12 Final Four trips) over a 47-year history. 42 of those games were at Duke. Izzo, 67 has won the 2000 NCAA title. He is also second among active coaches, with eight Final Fours during his 27-year career.
This meeting is unique because these long-successful coaches continue to find their way to one another; it will be the sixth consecutive season that the Blue Devils will face off with the Spartans. They are both part of the four-team Champions Classic, which kicks off the season. They have also met in the annual series between Big Ten and Atlantic Coast conferences.
Krzyzewski is the clear favorite of Izzo, with a 12-3 record. This includes 3-2 in NCAAs with Final Four wins 1999 and 2015. The Spartans beat a Duke team with the eventual No. 1 pick Zion Williamson in the NCAA Final Four. This was Izzo’s most recent postseason meeting. In the 2019 Elite Eight, Zion Williamson was the No. 1 draft pick in NBA.
Izzo acknowledged his losing mark
Krzyzewski stated that you don’t hang a banner on your record against a particular team or coach. “So, if you get too caught up in your record or that on Saturday afternoon, or any other, it’s not the right thing to do.”
Krzyzewski’s career is down to just five games, and he will join the ranks of prominent retirees such as North Carolina Hall of Famer Roy Williams or Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger. Both of them left the sport last spring.
What is the future beyond this? Krzyzewski has been a long-standing advocate for proactive NCAA leadership in helping the game develop. He is currently thinking about it during the brief moments between preparing his team to play the next game.
Krzyzewski stated, “I would hope people, who are looking at the future for our game and college sports, would try to get veteran coaches — whether it’s women’s or men’s — to take a glance at the world of basketball at the collegiate level, and share ideas, and share what they think might work well for a new structure.”
“That would give us a better understanding of our game and what it could do to improve and maintain its current stature, or maybe even increase.”
Although Izzo appears to be one of the top names on that list, he isn’t quite ready to move beyond coaching. When asked if recent retirement announcements have affected his outlook on the future, Izzo replied that he plans to keep it going “for a while” and that he knows he has friends in Williams, Krzyzewski and Williams to help him when the time comes to retire.
He can only do one more round of golf with his friend for now.
Izzo stated, “For 40 minutes I’ll wager you Mike wants me to beat the hell outta me, and I bet that you want to beat him.” “And what will happen after that, only time can tell.”