- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

DETROIT (AP) - Michigan State systematically has broken down what North Carolina likes to do on offense and defense.

The Tar Heels, meanwhile, have simply focused on themselves as they’ve done since Dean Smith was working the sideline.

Soon, one method will be validated.

“I’m not trying to belittle any other coach that does a lot,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Sunday, a day before the national championship. “We always prepared ourselves and weren’t very concerned about other teams. We give our guys a two-page scouting report. I have some good friends in coaching who will give their teams 15 or 20.

“We teach by principles. That’s what I’ve been comfortable with.”

Despite his 14-2 record in the second game of an NCAA tournament week, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wasn’t comfortable heading into his second national title game.

He tried to find comfort by waking up early and staying up late, hoping to outwork his peers.

Even though Izzo is making $2.8 million a year and has as much job security as any coach in the country, he is just as relentless as he was as a grinding, little-known assistant for mentor Jud Heathcote from 1983-1995.

“That’s what makes this program so good,” video coordinator Jordan Ott said. “You respect his work ethic, passion and energy. He’s blue-collar.”

Izzo is also a football fanatic.

He was raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where he grew up as a fan of Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi along with his best friend, Steve Mariucci, who went on to coach the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions.

“The way he cuts up film, the way he’ll approach his first offensive plays, his approach to game planning and preparing his team is very similar (to football),” Mariucci said. “He was sitting in there last night and this morning, looking at cutups just like a football coach, breaking down offense, defense and out-of-bound plays.”

Izzo also welcomes people such as former Spartan Magic Johnson and Minnesota Vikings assistant coach Pat Morris, who has coached at Michigan State, to help him out along the way.

“I learned from my football buddies,” Izzo said. “I listened to Magic talk about when they were in the playoffs how they used hotels and had courts laid down in them.”

Izzo was surrounded by coaches and confidants in a conference room at Michigan State’s hotel late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, trying to figure out how to beat North Carolina for the national title.

His three assistant coaches, two video coordinators and Heathcote joined him for the late-night session that wrapped up between 2:30 and 3 a.m.

The only time he has lost an NCAA tournament game with only one day to prepare for it was against North Carolina in the second round two years ago and versus Texas in a 2003 regional final. Both games in opponents’ home states.

Izzo credits the team’s success to the players’ focus and belief in Michigan State’s system.

“I said, ‘You get me through the first game, and I feel good that I can help get you through the second.’ And they’ve kind of had that mentality.”

Izzo’s mastery of winning one-day preparations started in his first NCAA tournament in 1998, when the Spartans opened with Eastern Michigan _ led by lightning-quick guard Earl Boykins _ then had to get ready for Princeton’s backdoor-cut filled offense.

“We devised a plan where we have these little 20-minute meetings,” Izzo said. “Even if we get back at 1:30 in the morning from our game, which has happened a few times, we always have a film session so they can go to bed on it.”

If top-seeded North Carolina, favored by 7 1/2 points Monday night, sleeps on the Spartans, it might prove to be a mistake.

Izzo’s .756 winning percentage in the NCAA tournament barely trails those of Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (.763) and Florida’s Billy Donovan (.759) and puts him just ahead of Williams (.750) among active coaches.

Assistant video coordinator Doug Herner, who has two-plus decades of experience as a high school coach, was responsible for creating half a court with tape in a ballroom this week.

Ott, Herner and a crew of 10 managers were responsible for starting a process that analyzed 10 of North Carolina’s games with a computerized editing system. It helped that they recorded 1,800 games this season, trying to be ready for any opponent.

Ott estimates he sleeps about 4 hours a night during the NCAA tournament, getting through the day with about 10 cans of diet cola.

“You got to give credit to our managers and the people behind of scenes that y’all never see or y’all never talk to,” guard Travis Walton said.

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