Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski are as synonymous with March Madness as it gets. The Duke Blue Devils, under the tutelage of Coach K, are in their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament. On the other hand, the Michigan State Spartans are merely at 16 straight under the watchful eye of Izzo.
Yet, despite so many opportunities to meet each other in the Big Dance, the two coaches have only gone head-to-head twice in the tournament, with each having one win apiece.
Izzo made an instant impact after taking over the Spartans from his mentor Jud Heathcote in 1995. He led Michigan State to a NCAA championship in 2000 and six Final Fours. He has 35 career NCAA Tournament wins, third behind Krzyzewski and North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Roy Williams.
Krzyzewski has had the best modern-day success at a school since taking the head coaching position at Duke in 1980. Under Krzyzewski, Duke has won the NCAA Championship four times and stormed the Final Four 11 times. Coach K is the all-time winningest active coach in the NCAA Tournament with 79 wins.
Since Izzo took over for Michigan State in 1996, the NCAA Tournament has seen at least one of the two teams in the Sweet 16 in every year except for 1996, 1997 and 2007.
When the brackets were revealed, and Duke and Michigan State were paired in the same region, talk started pretty quickly about an inevitable game in the Sweet 16 between the two schools. Izzo was quick to dismiss it, telling the Associated Press what all good coaches say.
"You know it is hard to look ahead to any of that. Coach speaking, never do that. But in human speaking, you do that."
He is right after all. Although both teams have enjoyed great success in March Madness, the melee of the NCAA Tournament hasn't let the two schools play each other too often. In 2012, they would have been set up for a meeting in the Final Four, but Duke was bounced in the first round. In 2011, they wouldn't have played until the championship game.
Both times the two schools have met, however, a lot has been on the line. Their most recent game was on March 25, 2005, when No. 5 Michigan State knocked out No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16, 78-68. Paul Davis led the Spartans with 20 points to upset a Duke team featuring J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and Shelden Williams.
Their only other NCAA tournament matchup was on March 27, 1999, when a No. 1 Duke defeated a No. 1 Michigan State, 68-62, in the Final Four. Elton Brand led the Blue Devils with 18 points, as Duke would then go on to lose in the national title game. For the Spartans, the Final Four loss in 1999 would spark a string of three consecutive Final Four appearances.
This year, for their third clash, there's just as much on the line for the No. 2 Blue Devils and No. 3 Spartans. Duke is trying to wash out the bad taste of last year's first-round upset, and are looking to justify the hype surrounding a team that spent five weeks ranked No. 1 this year. The Spartans and Izzo are in a slump as only Izzo can see a slump, where they haven't pushed past the Sweet 16 since making the Final Four in 2010.
For the Spartans, unfortunately, they are heading to Indianapolis, which, like a lot of places across the nation, almost counts as Duke's backyard. The Blue Devils have won two of their national championships in Indianapolis, including their most recent one over the Butler Bulldogs in 2010. Additionally, Izzo hasn't had much success against the Blue Devils, going just 1-6 in his career against them.
Whether or not this is the year Izzo registers another notch in the win column against Duke remains to be seen. Michigan State romped through their second- and third-round matchups rather impressively, but Duke wasn't slouching around either, taking down Creighton by a score of 66-50 despite foul trouble that sat Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly for a good portion of time.
Either way, in a NCAA Tournament that hasn't been short of storylines, this is one of the better ones out there and should make for one hell of a game.