Izzo, Spartans Prepare For Dragon Hunt

Izzo, Spartans Prepare For Dragon Hunt

Crowley Sullivan

Izzo, Spartans Prepare For Dragon Hunt

For Michigan State to achieve the ultimate goal, a familiar road block might need to be blasted through…

Contact @crowleysullivan

As usual, people are screaming their heads off about seeds, locations, who got in, who was left out, bodies of work, Quadrants, strength of schedules, and conspiracies that kept teams out of the Tournament because of the font styles on their uniforms.

Dick Vitale appeared to have a dribble of blood slowly coming from his nose last night that made him look a lot like that one guy from the movie “Get Out” who was “having a seizure.”

The difference between Vitale and the “Get Out” guy is that I actually think Vitale really was having a seizure.

Vitale really, really, really thinks Oklahoma State should have been in the Tournament.

If he keeps up his Moon Howling, I’m sure the Selection Committee will reconsider everything and Oklahoma State will be let in by the time the first games start.

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Committee has spoken and March Madness is officially off and running.

Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans earned a #3 seed in the Midwest – and with it, a reward for a regular season Big Ten Championship of playing in Detroit to kick off their own madness.

At this very moment, the Spartans are hard at work, activating Izzo’s Blueprint that this program has followed for what is now an astonishing 21 consecutive Marches.

Like Izzo’s program, all teams in the field of 68 are focusing on their initial opponent.

But every fan (and most members of every program in the Tournament) is looking at the the road and the hurdles and the openings and the chances and the matchups and the possibility of making it to San Antonio.

Here’s what Michigan State fans can be confident in:

There isn’t a team in this field of Tournament qualifiers that the Spartans can’t and should’t beat.

It’s been appropriately said for a year now – Michigan State is loaded from top to bottom.

Izzo has the star in Miles Bridges.

He has the speed in just about everyone who runs the floor.

He has the athleticism with the collection of Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Matt McQuaid, Nick Ward, Jaren Jackson, Tum Tum Nairn, and Gavin Schilling.

He has the perimeter game that rivals any he’s ever had in Cassius, McQuaid, Bridges, and even Jaren Jackson.

He has the low post play in Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson along with the typically rugged and experienced veteran Schilling.

He has the depth to be able to run ten guys throughout the course of a ball game.

He has the difference maker that few others have in Jaren Jackson.

Yes, there are big men across the country who are imposing and athletic and great around the rim – Arizona’s Deandre Ayton is probably the best individual player in the nation.

But it’s Jaren Jackson’s defensive presence that gives Izzo a difference maker he hasn’t ever had.

And Michigan State has the coach who knows how to navigate the waters properly that can lead to six wins in order to claim the second national championship for Izzo and the third for the university’s storied basketball program.

There is one team that can keep the Spartans from reaching its ultimate goal: the Spartans themselves.

It would be silly for any of us to take a win over 14th seeded Bucknell in the First Round matchup Friday night in Detroit for granted.  Middle Tennessee State is fresh enough in everyone’s minds and that might be helpful in the initial weekend.

Hell, Weber State is still fresh in some of our minds.

And a possible Second Round contest against TCU or the winner of the Arizona State/Syracuse First Four matchup would be as challenging as a Second Round game could be.

But if you try to tell met that you’re not peeking ahead to a possible Sweet Sixteen matchup against Duke, I’ll try to convince you that Florence Nightingale did NOT have a torrid love affair with Abraham Lincoln while Lincoln managed the granular and nuanced details of The American Civil War.

Over his Hall of Fame career that has included the obvious achievements of seven Final Four trips, eight Big Ten Championships, five Big Ten Tournament Championships, and, of course, the 2000 National Championship, there have been a few dragons that Tom Izzo has not been able to slay.

Ole Roy Williams has Izzo’s number.  And that number is seven – Izzo has a 1-7 mark against Ole Roy since Ole Roy aw-shucksed his way back to Chapel Hill and that’s about as palatable as an order of The Admiral’s Feast at Red Lobster.

Bo Ryan was kryptonite for Izzo in the way he somehow managed a 16-12 record in head-to-head matchups.

Izzo paid Ryan his respects when Ryan decided to stroll off into the sunset – but he enjoyed his rivalry with Bo Ryan about as much as he enjoys studying Milton Friedman’s economic principles before drifting off to bed.

But – even with the poor mark against Ole Roy and the ways in which Bo Ryan usually made Izzo look a bit like Vice Admiral James Stockdale during the 1992 Vice Presidential debate – it’s no secret to anyone that there is one dragon out there that Izzo has wanted to slay more than any other.

It’s been a bit of a white whale obsession for Izzo.  His 1-11 record against Mike Krzyzewski and Duke is probably the one thing that keeps Izzo up at night in the middle of August while he’s on a family vacation somewhere in the Upper Peninsula.

The virgin trip to the Final Four in 1999 gave Izzo and the Spartan Nation its first real taste of how The Dragon could (and would) spoil Green & White parties.

In 2003, Michigan State hosted Duke for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

The Spartans entered the game ranked 5th in the nation and Duke was a ho-hum 6th.

It was going to be a moment for Izzo.

He decided it would make sense for the team to don silver uniforms.

I guess the silver uniforms were meant to demonstrate something.

Final score of that game was 70-52 and it wasn’t that close.

This Duke thing is a dragon that makes the dragons that fly around on “Game of Thrones” look like Beanie Babies.

In the 2005 Sweet Sixteen, as part of one of the more legendary March runs in the history of the Tournament, Michigan State – as a #5 seed – took down #1 seeded Duke with muscle and might en route to yet another Final Four after a 78-68 victory that remains Izzo’s lone win over Coach K.

And it took any self-respecting Spartan all of about one second last night to see that a run to the Final Four this time around will likely call for a Sweet Sixteen matchup with The Dragon.

Sure, this Tournament starts on Friday night with a First Round contest against Bucknell.

And a victory earns the Spartans a Second Round matchup that gives this team a shot at the Sweet Sixteen.

Like Coach Norman Dale told his Hickory Huskers, we all know that the rule in tournament play is never to look past your next opponent.

But who among us doesn’t believe that this tournament truly starts for this group of Spartans when it gets a shot at finally slaying The Dragon that has caused Izzo the most frustration?

Isn’t it running through your mind that a win over The Dragon would actually be the specific point at which this Spartan squad would be on its way?

Aren’t you envisioning the final buzzer sounding at the end of what would be yet another massive matchup between two of the finest programs of the game, the two legendary coaches walking to mid-court to shake hands, and thinking to our collective selves, “He did it.  Now he’s gonna get the whole thing done…”?

Bring it on.

Take care of business this weekend.

Then slay The Dragon.

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