By Adam Biggers
The value of a great coach can never be underestimated, especially during the NCAA Tournament.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State's head coach, is renowned for his sideline savvy and ability to get the most out of his players—and that becomes all the more evident each March when Izzo, who has coached his way to a national title and six Final Fours, continuously has his Spartans in the hunt for glory.
For the 10th time during his tenure, Izzo has Michigan State, the West Region's top-seeded team, in the Sweet 16. He's two wins away from the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans, but first has to derail Rick Pitino's fourth-seeded Louisville Cardinals on Thursday in Phoenix.
Izzo's presence alone is probably worth at least a few points each game. He knows what to do, and when to do it. Far from just a coach, Izzo is an institution—a figurehead of the hardwood worth his weight in gold come March Madness.
"He's extremely valuable," said Spartans legend Shawn Respert, who remembers Izzo as a determined assistant under the iconic Jud Heathcote.
In the trenches year-in and year-out, Izzo's mastery of managing talent is quite difficult to contend with. Out-witting "Mr. March" is nearly as challenging as winning the tournament itself. It's safe to assume that potential opposing coaches would rather see the Spartans bow out early than devise a game plan to knock Izzo out of his comfort zone.
"He's been (to the NCAA Tournament) 15 straight times and has 17 years of head coaching experience—he's at the point where he's seen it all," Respert said. "You're not going to surprise Tom Izzo with a new offense or new out-of-bounds plays."
At times, however, Michigan State doesn't benefit from Izzo's tact for Xs and Os. Instead, players reap reward from digesting what they're told and making their own wise decisions on the court.
"Coach Izzo's magic is that it's not about him knowing it all—it's how he can relate that (to players)," said Respert, who now works for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves as a player mentor and developer. "That's where Michigan State sets itself apart from a team that makes the tournament every now and then."
Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.