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Spartan Coach Is a Smashing Success

Ask most fans to answer off the top of their heads, and they’d probably guess the active coach with the best NCAA tournament winning percentage is Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.

But in a race that seems to shift, nip and tuck, almost every season, the correct answer is Tom Izzo.

With an NCAA tournament record of 23-6, Izzo’s winning percentage of .793 (among active coaches who have participated in at least 10 NCAA tournament games) edges Krzyzewski’s .786. Krzyzewski was 66-18 after the Blue Devils’ regional semifinal loss to the Spartans.

Krzyzewski’s record reflects a long history of excellence, but Izzo’s rapid rise has been remarkable.

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Only a decade ago, Izzo, now 50, was a relatively anonymous longtime assistant to Jud Heathcote before taking over as coach of the Spartans in 1995.

Now he has the Spartans in the Final Four for the fourth time in seven seasons.

North Carolina Coach Roy Williams calls Izzo “a marvelous coach” and attributes Izzo’s tournament success in part to the areas he emphasizes most -- defense and rebounding -- and their importance in close, high-level games.

“He also recruits very good players who are willing to buy into what he’s selling there,” Williams said. “I may be wrong, but I don’t know that now that it’s March, some of us are dumber or smarter. I think you establish habits throughout the course of the whole year, and I think that’s what Tommy does.”

One of the things Izzo establishes is football-mentality toughness -- his best friend is Detroit Lion Coach Steve Mariucci -- and he doesn’t hesitate to get physical himself.

Before the NCAA tournament, Izzo took out a sledgehammer and stunned his players by destroying the tape of their Big Ten tournament loss to Iowa, a game in which Alan Anderson missed two free throws in the final seconds.

“Get it out of your heads right now, because it’s over,” Izzo told them.

The Spartans made a new start, and in the crucial second overtime against Kentucky to reach the Final Four, they made 11 of 12 free throws, including four by Anderson.

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