Feb. 18, 2013
By Steve Grinczel, MSUSpartans.com Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - There's no shortage of storylines coming out of Tuesday night's historic matchup between No. 4 Michigan State and No. 1 Indiana in the Breslin Center.
For starters, will the earth slip off its axis when two Top-5 teams and clash on the banks of the Red Cedar River for the first time ever? Will ESPN analyst Dick Vitale be audible over what is sure to be an uber-amplified Izzone as the Big Ten co-leaders tangle? Does anybody really expect MSU icon and unabashed Spartan fan Earvin "Magic" Johnson to be unbiased during his first television broadcast call of a college game?
Is Keith Appling worth the five points that separated the Spartans from victory in the first meeting with the Hoosiers if he can avoid the foul trouble that limited him to three points in just 19 minutes on Jan. 27 in Bloomington?
Can Michigan State extend its 17-game home win streak against Indiana dating back to 1992?
Some angles are dripping with so much irony, they're leaving rust stains.
Although Tom Izzo has never concealed how much he hates to coach against good friends and former aides, he's actually looking forward to standing across the timeline from Indiana coach, good friend and former aide Tom Crean.
Izzo was a seventh-year Spartan assistant coach and Crean a graduate assistant for legendary MSU head man Jud Heathcote in 1989-90. Then, after Heathcote retired, Crean was the first assistant Izzo hired after he took over the program in 1995-96. They worked side-by-side during two lean seasons and all the way through the 1999 Final Four.
Izzo compared coaching against Crean in their current situation favorably to the Super Bowl where John Harbaugh won the ultimate sibling rivalry by leading the Baltimore Ravens to victory over the San Francisco 49ers, who are coached by his younger brother Jim.
"If I had to play somebody else in this league, and we're both playing for the championship, it'd be like the two brothers playing for the Super Bowl," Izzo said at his Monday press conference. "I don't like doing it, they didn't like doing it but John Harbaugh had a great line (when he said), the only thing that could be worse than this is if one of us didn't make it.
"And, that's kind of true. I know what (Crean) has gone through, and we talked about it a lot, the first couple years (at Indiana). We went through some things here, too, though not quite as bad as what he went through. He's done a great job, just like he did at Marquette, building it, and I'm proud and happy to say I think he's used a lot of the things we did here.
"But I'm only happy to say it because he helped me do it here."
The tidy little bow on that anecdote could be tied by Crean's wife, Joani, who just happens to be the sister of John and Jim Harbaugh.
However, paradoxical expression was taken to another level when Izzo was reminded of how far he and Crean have journeyed since the night of March 8, 1997 when Izzo's second Spartan team hosted No. 25 Indiana.
Although NIT-bound Michigan State pulled off a 63-60 upset, Izzo was seeing red ─ literally and figuratively ─ because legions of crimson-clad Hoosier fans made a large, and showy, assembly in MSU's hall.
Immediately after the game, instead of celebrating the win, Izzo approached a couple of associate athletic directors named Mark Hollis and Greg Ianni about how to prevent something like that from ever happening again.
Izzo remains so blinded by the spectacle of Spartan faithful appearing to be outnumbered in the Breslin Center, he actually remembered the game as a defeat.
"That was my lowest moment as a coach as far as not necessarily the game we lost, but how can you build a program?" Izzo said. "I still remember that hallway talk with (now deputy athletics director) Ianni and (now athletics director) Hollis, and what I said to Tom Crean. He'll probably remember it all because we were incensed by it.
"That is part of the irony, I guess, because I don't know, but I'd be willing to bet that this may be the greatest crowd ever at this place because of all the folderol around everything, the excitement, the kind of team we have, the kind of team they have."
Michigan State's most recent victory over the No. 1 team at home was the 64-55 upset over Wisconsin in 2007. But, the Spartans were unranked and the game was preceded by very little build-up.
No. 4 vs. No. 1 will be something altogether different.
"Of course," Appling said. "Indiana's a pretty good team coming into our building, and this place should be rocking. This is what it's all about. This is why we came here, to compete for Big Ten championships and potentially No. 1 seeds in the (NCAA) tournament.
"I definitely embrace it. It should be fun. Both teams are going to play hard and everybody's going to give it their all."
"If wasn't for those guys, people like me wouldn't be here and this program wouldn't be where it's at," Appling said. "It makes us play even harder."
Whatever the result, Izzo and Crean know they can trace its plotline all the way back to a prologue written when neither had any idea they'd meet again under such auspicious circumstances.
"It's made for TV, it's made for newspapers, it's made for books," Izzo said. "This is one of those reasons that I'm glad I'm (coaching) in college and I'm glad I'm here ─ because I get the opportunity to do this. Our players feel the same way and I'm sure their players do.
"I might remind Tom that we don't allow as many Indiana fans in as we used to."