Tom Izzo and the "more with less" fallacy

Submitted by ClearEyesFullHart on April 4th, 2014 at 12:13 AM

     Izzo inherited a ridiculously loaded MSU team in 1995. Quinton Brooks is largely hailed as one of the best small forwards to lace 'em up for MSU. Power forward Jamie Feick went on to play for the 76'ers. Ray Weathers went on to play for the Suns. Jon Garavaglia was a McDonalds All American and Mr. Basketball. In his first year, he also brought in Morris Peterson of the Toronto Raptors and Antonio Smith. Izzo took that team all the way to the second round of the NIT.

     Then on Feb.17, 1996 There was a rollover accident on M-14 involving U-M player Maurice Taylor’s Ford Explorer. Teammates Robert Traylor, Louis Bullock, Willie Mitchell, Ron Oliver and recruit Mateen Cleaves were all in the vehicle.


     Izzo capitalized, adding Mateen Cleaves(Pistons) and David Thomas(founder of Wendy's) who helped MSU all the way back to the second round of the NIT. The parade of blue chips continued with Charlie Bell(Suns) and Andre Hutson(Beat up Chuck Norris when Matt Trannon was but a twinkle in his father's eye). This ushered in the Golden Age of MSU basketball('98,'99, 00) when MSU would bookend a National Championship with two additional Final 4's. Loaded as those teams were, this Golden Age led to the great Tom Izzo “More with Less” fallacy. Because MSU does not recruit on the level of Kentucky, Kansas and Duke(them and 342 other schools) Izzo somehow gained the “Beilein” reputation, the coach who advances in the tournament despite his (Perceived) lack of talent.

     Izzo has led the Spartans for 19 long years. Impressively, he has had them in the NCAA Tournament for the last 17 of them(One or two of those came with a wink and a nod from the selection committee, but we'll come back to that). That's not quite the 34 year bowl streak Michigan enjoyed under Bo-Mo-Carr, but that kind of consistency is rare in college basketball. Under Izzo's reign, MSU has been to 6 Final Fours and won a National Championship. They've also been bounced in the first round 4 times and lost in the Sweet 16 4 times. Until recently, MSU just dominated Michigan in terms of head to head as well as the post-season. Beilein has obviously turned that around in the last 4 years, winning 6 of the last 9. But that is a local issue. You don't come up with an OP title like that simply because there's a new sheriff in town. No, what leads me to believe that the end is near for Izzo is something much more sinister. Recruiting.

     Despite what the media would have you believe, Izzo has simply never HAD to do more with less. He has always been a good recruiter, and he has always had more. I went back and looked at some recruiting numbers and outcomes. There are a number of caveats here. Trey Burke and Caris Lavert were 3* recruits. But to some extent you can look at it as a numbers game(like fantasy football). There's something like a 60% chance that Fantasypros(or Rivals) is going to have each player ranked correctly, a 20% chance they'll be significantly better, and a 20% chance they're going to be worse(Unless you're John Beilein). But if you look at MSU's elite recruit Rivals numbers as far as they go back adding a star for each year of experience(assuming that a sophomore 4* is equal to a freshman 5* and that a 3* player encompasses too great a range to even consider) you find:

2002: 5* Elite 8
2003: 4* 5* First Round
2004: 4* 5* Final 4
2005: bupkis(Roster score of 32) First Round
2006: 4* 4*(RS 28) Second Round
2007: 4* 4* 4*(RS 37) Sweet 16
2008: 4* 5* (RS 36) Runner Up
2009: 4* 4*(RS 51!) Final 4
2010: 4* 5 *(RS 53) First Round
2011: 5*(RS 43) Sweet 16
2012: 5*(Harris) 4* 4*(RS 46) Sweet 16
2013: bupkis(RS 38) Elite 8
2014: 4*(RS 24)

     That's a score of 24 for next year. The next lowest would be the 28 from 2006, the year where MSU scraped into the tournament(wink, nod) .500 in conference and got bounced the first weekend. That team was a 4* player better than next year's roster.  The next lowest was the 2005 team(two 4* players better) that also went .500 in conference and lost in the first round.  For reference, 2009's Final 4 team was rated 51.  For those keeping score at home, in the measurable past that's a Roster Average of 40 points(the equivalent of 8 5* freshmen). More with more.

     Assuming that Dawson stays and Harris leaves, on paper this coming year's State team will be the worst (from a rivals ratings and experience standpoint) since the modern era of recruiting sites(turn of the century). With Izzo reaching for 3* recruits these days, and the NCAA taking steps to weed out thug ball, I don't see much help on the horizon for them either. You're looking at Dawson as a 5* senior, Valentine and Costello as 4* juniors, and that 4* freshman point guard who can't shoot coming in. That's it.

So what happened to Izzo's recruiting? Several things.

     Somewhere in the early 2000's, the NBA stopped playing defense. You see that 5* all the way up there next to 2003? That's Shannon Brown. That's the last one of the guys represented here that went on to the NBA. You're looking at a decade of player development failure.  Obviously, the NBA is the dream for a lot of recruits, and Izzo just plain isn't getting it done. Draymond Green(3* recruit not included) should also be mentioned. Not only is he getting 20 minutes per game in the NBA despite playing for MSU, but he is doing it as an undersized defensive specialist. In a league where the regular season has become the all star game.






breslin 2



The Breslin Center was state of the art in 1989, but it has barely been touched since then. I'm no interior decorator, but moldy concrete is generally not the way to go. 

     Style: Michigan State's defensive mandate is clear: If your man gains an advantage on you, push him, grab him, do what you've got to do. It works great if you can get away with it, but this year MSU is collecting personal fouls like Pokemon cards

I can understand Izzo's feelings of entitlement, as he has benefitted from lazy Big Ten officiating for his entire career, but if you make contact with your hand, arm or elbow away from your body, it is a foul.  It has always been a foul.  He made jokes after the UConn game about his players not being allowed to "touch anybody" and I can totally see where he's coming from.  Who would have ever thought they'd make him play by the rules?


     (Related)Results: Call it Karma. Call it correlation without causation. But MSU has badly underperformed their talent level against Michigan(JMo foul trouble aside) or more importantly in the post-season since the Wonders Hall incident. It sounds great, they made it to the Sweet 16 three times. But before the Virginia upset their post season scalps were pretty weak.  St. Louis, Long Island, Valpo, Memphis, Delaware, Harvard. Sixth Seed Memphis is the only one that even moves the needle.  2010 stands out as Izzo's most glaring failure, as their most talented team(RS 53) lost out in the first round.  With a 4-6 year window to grab the attention of high school kids, Izzo's time is running out.


(Related) Disillusionment. Izzo seems generally unhappy, and his interaction with the press has lost an air of...sanity.

     If you're keeping score at home, he comes into the press conference near tears. He rips his own recruiting, whining that he has to play guys he hasn't played in a month. Then he cries about the officiating. Then he cries at the officiating again. Then he complains about poor Keith Appling's wrist.

I don't know if many recruits want to play for a sniveling whining excuse machine.

Then you've got the UConn press conference.  His team was just upset by a team that by most accounts has no business in the Final 4, and Izzo seems...Relieved

I dont know of many coaches who would seem that happy that their season was over, that they wouldn't have to coach that particular group of players again.  With this group though, he probably wasn't alone.


     This is the most concerning if I am a Michigan State fan. The man calls attention to the Federal Rape Investigation that has been kept out of the media...For no other reason than that he is addicted to making excuses. Then he calls it “ridiculous” and says that he's “sick of it”. Now, whatever you think of the Wonder's Hall incident...Put yourself in the shoes of the victim. Then look at what the mouthpiece of your school is saying about the event that changed your life. Even if that's what you're thinking...What kind of human being is so self-absorbed and stupid that they can spout off PUBLICLY about such a terrible allegation as a personal annoyance? And then when they asked him to elaborate, he told members of the press, “Don't mess with me right now”. You brought it up sir.  The MSU student newspaper just broke the story that Federal Authorities are investigating the victim's claim that the University "engaged in activities to malign her character" in retaliation for her reporting the assault.  I am sure the victim is quite sorry for inconveniencing a man of Izzo's stature. 



Most players dont like being trashed in the media and getting the full Bobby Knight treatment in front of their friends and family.  Even the biased MSU media admits that he goes too far  But Izzo seems unable to coach any other way, and his talent level is shifting accordingly.

They say that you want to leave a program “Better than you found it”, and the guy won a Championship and went to a bunch of Final 4's, but if he bailed for the NBA or even retired with the roster in its current state...What would that do to his legacy? Everyone has an instinct for self-preservation,but the words “cowardly” and “selfish” might come up. Not in the media of course, they write what he tells them to write. I mean in living rooms and around water coolers.


With all of this said, Izzo could pull through this in two or three years. For MSU, that simple metric does seem to predict season outcome pretty well, but if you look at it, Beilein won a Big Ten Championship with a roster score of 5.  Beilein made it to the NCAA Championship game with a roster score of 13. But Tom Izzo is no John Beilein. Can you imagine what Beilein would do with the 40's Izzo has averaged over his career? I very much look forward to finding out.




April 4th, 2014 at 1:04 AM ^

I am the king of writing far too long OPs and responses and even I was fatigued half way through.  Not sure why this is here at this time?  Was there a myth Izzo is doing it with 2-3 stars?  Izzo is a good coach, took MSU up from where it was in the Jud Heathcote era, does well in March, and over the past 15 years has MSU at a very high level...

His current squad started three 5 stars and two 4 stars, 3 of which were McDonald's All Americans...including a senior 5 star big man which is about as rare as a dodo bird in today's NCAA.   So if there an internet rumor he is working with MAC level kids and working wonders?

Despite a very good recruiting record full of STARZ that probably only trails/matches Thad Matta's the last 10 years, Gary Harris will be his first early entry in 9 years.  For comparison, we are at risk of putting 5 into the NBA early in 2 years, and will surely (12 months from now with LeVert) have 6 in three years.  Three of which will be 3 stars...

And we're 6-3 in the last 9, after Beilein started 0-4 with Amaker's kids.  I shall enjoy Beilein & staff continuing to rebuild on the fly in ridiculous fashion, and beating MSU's best coach in their history.  Must suck to be MSU - just imagine if some dude from MSU showed up and came in and beat Bo repeatedly when he was at the top of his game.  That's what they are feeling.


April 4th, 2014 at 1:58 AM ^

If Chris Webber and Ed Martin hadn't dug a 15-year pit for Michigan basketball, making it impossible for Michigan to recruit for the last 11 of those years, Tom Izzo would have been known for exactly what he is: a decent coach but not a great one.  In other words: Jud Heathcoate v.2.

As soon as Beilein was hired, Izzo could no longer walk into recruits' living rooms, say "Fab Five Scandal" and walk out with a commitment.  Izzo is outta there as soon as the Pistons' season is over.


April 4th, 2014 at 10:44 AM ^

If Chris Webber and Ed Martin hadn't dug a 15-year pit for Michigan basketball, making it impossible for Michigan to recruit for the last 11 of those years

Sarcasm? The idea that the Ed Martin scandal was some kind of time-release punishment that lasted a decade is farfetched, to say the least. Many schools have gone on probation. This does not have to mean a decade in the wilderness. Look at OSU in the wake of the O'Brien and Tressel scandals.

Our problems post-Fisher came down to 1) hiring a terrible coach (Ellerbe), 2) replacing him with a mediocre coach (Amaker) and 3) falling way behind in the facilities race. The solution was not that complicated either: we hired a very good coach (Beilein), and gave him the facilities he needed to help sell us in recruiting.


April 5th, 2014 at 1:39 PM ^

100% correct.  Michigan's hiring of Ellerbe and neglecting the program in general are the reasons for the terrible years.  Blaming Webber for the many losing seasons is c-c-c-crazy.  Granted he's high profile and not always easy to love, but you can't ignore the way other schools have recovered quickly from sanctions.


April 10th, 2014 at 7:23 AM ^

I think it was the Adreian Payne bit at the slam dunk contest that put this particular itchy sensation behind my eyeballs. Just the huge and widening gap between media perception and reality. Payne is quite the humanitarian. Lord knows a college athlete has never befriended a kid with cancer before.

And yes, the general level of Izzo fellating that goes on in the media has a cumulative effect. I understand that in the past Izzo's teams have exceeded their seed. In the glory days, it worked like this: Non-conference MSU lays an egg. MSU rallies in conference by mugging players on the perimeter, not allowing teams to run conventional offense. Middling seed. Whistles swallowed in tournament, MSU thugball advances over more skilled teams. Rinse and repeat. Fortunately, the game just isn't played that way anymore.

Thing is, the media didn't get that memo. And we get talking heads predicting an MSU championship every year for no other reason than "Izzo is magic". You've got local media proclaiming MSU teams(who haven't done anything) that Michigan has swept as being better for the same reason. It wears on you after a while.


April 4th, 2014 at 12:33 AM ^

I remember Cleaves' recruitment very well. MSU was always considered the favorite. Blaming the rollover accident is not accurate.




April 4th, 2014 at 12:39 AM ^

MSU and OSU are going to be legit and a pain to play in the near future.  With their coaches in place, they will be solid on poor talent years and really good on good talent years.  Get over it, it won't dramatically change now that we've become competent. 

Izzo is a great coach and a great recruiter.  He may have a down year next year but I bet they overachieve and they will be a bitch to play.

Voltron Blue

April 4th, 2014 at 12:45 AM ^

I have no idea why you're catching so much flak so far.  I genuinely appreciate the effort and analysis in your's quite interesting.  Let's hope you're right!

I do disagree with your insinuation about his legacy, however.  I think if he gets out now, while the getting is good, nothing that comes after will accrue to his responsibility.  History would only remember the good stuff.  But if he sticks and misses the tournament a few times, then everyone will note the downward trajectory at the end.



April 4th, 2014 at 9:21 AM ^

Upvoted for not being ashamed of your biases, or afraid to admit them.

Interesting analysis. I'll add one other thought about Izzo's mood this year in particular. Something you'll hear from every long-time teacher is that every once in a while, you get a class of students who are, for whatever reason, just not as much fun to teach. And it wears on you slowly. Now Izzo has it better than your average high school chemistry teacher, since he gets to choose what kind of players he's bringing in. But it really only takes mis-reading the personality of one recruit to bring in a guy whose bad vibes mess it up for the rest of the team.

To be clear, I'm not defending how Izzo has handled this particular piece of adversity. Nor do I intend to speculate as to which someone (or someones) may be 'bad apples' on MSU's team. I'm merely conjecturing as to why Izzo has seemed unusually unglued this year.


April 4th, 2014 at 8:50 PM ^

I seem to recall Izzo specifically praising how good the chemistry was on this years team. Maybe that was early in the season and things changed.
I think he lacked defense this year and leadership. He had high hopes for this team. He usually downplays expectations, but he was talking about going all the way from the beginning.


April 4th, 2014 at 8:38 PM ^

the M universe can be a tough crowd. 

I'm not supposed to say a damn thing, but I basically went loser leaves town on three reasons why every last fucking analyst in the world was wrong and MSU wasn't winning a damn thing:

1) The BTT was a reversion to the strange old world of the Big Ten where nothing is a foul 

2) Payne had the gas tank of a tubercular mouse 

3) Izzo was going to die playing Appling and exposing his team to a 4 on 5 matchup on the offensive end.

Wasn't this pretty much correct? 

I think Izzo helped sink his team. He never figured out just how careful he had to be with Payne's minutes - the only time he didn't overplay him was when his team was up high double digits (see the last two games of the BTT). He either mismanaged Appling's injury (although I imagine there's every chance he was never getting better) or played a guy far too much who was a massive offensive liablility. 

And yes, all that mugging is a foul once you get out of the bizarro world of Big Ten officiating. 

This year was the best officiated year of Big Ten basketball I can recall. It was a shame that things got weird in the BTT, but we weren't winning that thing, anyway. 


Glen Masons Hot Wife

April 4th, 2014 at 12:50 AM ^

well uh, you've done your homework.

Izzo is a good coach.  He's no John Wooden, but he's very good.  I'd like to think that beilein is better, and its starting to look like that may be the case.

My favorite line:

  "Style: Michigan State's defensive mandate is clear: If your man gains an advantage on you, push him, grab him, do what you've got to do. It works great if you can get away with it, but this year MSU is collecting personal fouls like Pokemon cards(Gotta catch em all). At some point, Izzo is going to have to adapt or die."


April 4th, 2014 at 1:09 AM ^

If these new NCAA rules on hand check continue he really does need to change his philosophy / teachings. 

MSU fans scratch their head why they there is such a foul disparity btw them and opponents when most of their offense this year was have everyone stand at the 3 point line and jack up 3s (something ironically they mocked us for - yet they shot more this year I believe), while concurrently playing "40 minutes of unnecessary roughness" on defense.

As long as Izzo is there they will be a solid squad, but last 2 years Chicago has not treated Tommy well, so they are replacing McDonald's All Americans with for example a kid from Bloomfield Hills who they offered a week ago.  I guess the handlers of Bloomfield Hills are more friendly.


April 4th, 2014 at 4:13 PM ^

If Gilbert did the same things today, I'd agree. At the time? Not so much.

Look at the quoted players - to a man, they all talk about what they could have gotten elsewhere. Every school was doing the same things - UCLA did it better by insulating Wooden from Gilbert and turning him loose.

Also, look at the quoted players attitude towards Wooden. Some hated him, but again they're remarkably uniform - the man generally practiced what he preached, was helpful to his ex-players, and a damn fine coach.

Sainthood? Surely not, but saying that Wooden was not a coach that everyone would want at their school is ... not supported by the evidence, Gilbert notwithstanding.

Bill Bafferty

April 4th, 2014 at 1:14 AM ^

Wait wait wait, Izzo is the best coach ever! He won ONE NC 22 years ago and almost won a few other times. Ridiculous Staee fans must like horseshoes and hand grenades because that's what their basketball team is. They think they are blue bloods up there with Duke and Kentucky. I hate Coach K but he is miles better than whiny bitch Izzo. Izzo complained that UCONN had a home court advantage with a 138 mile trip but Staee was blown out before the first TV timeout in a NC game vs Carolina a mere 92 miles from East Landfill.