If you weren't aware that Tom Izzo is being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Friday night, you are far from alone. A trio of the sport's most recognizable stars -- Shaquille O'Neal, Yao Ming and Allen Iverson -- headline the class, resigning Izzo's honor to live in sidebars across the internet.
Not that any of that matters to Izzo, who has flawlessly traversed the fine line between celebrity and inconspicuousness for as long as anyone can remember.
There are few coaches in any sport at any level who are more difficult to put into a box than Izzo.
This is Tom Izzo, the coach who has taken Michigan State to at least the Elite Eight nine times in 19 NCAA Tournament appearances, and who has won more games in the Big Dance than any other coach in the history of the Big Ten. This is also Tom Izzo, who still does his weekly radio show at the same unassuming Reno's East Side Sportsbar & Grill in East Lansing like he always has. He's sent six players to the NBA in the past five seasons, but his teams are still defined by terms like "toughness" and "rebounding prowess" that are typically reserved for "plucky mid-majors."
Even the way Izzo is entering the Hall seems conflicted, as the coach who has been defined by his March prowess for the past two decades is coming off perhaps his most disappointing NCAA Tournament loss to date. Six months ago, many believed that Izzo was on the verge of cutting down the nets with the Spartans for the second time. Instead, Sparty was stunned by 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State in an upset that many believe stands alone as the most substantial in tournament history.
Izzo's response to that loss in the postgame press conference only added to his already sturdy reputation for being one of college basketball's most well-regarded personalities. He accepted the loss as the most difficult of his coaching career, he cried when talking about it being the last game for AP Player of the Year Denzel Valentine, and he gave Middle Tennessee the respect and credit that they had earned.
When he was asked about what effect the loss might have on his team's 2016-17 season, Izzo wasn't about to give an in-depth response with his 2015-16 players in tears right next to him. He also wasn't going to let the question fly past him without a response.
"Meaning no disrespect, but that is a ridiculous question," Izzo said. "I don't care about next year. I don't care about tomorrow. That's the problem. You know it's always what's next? There's three guys here that gave me every single thing they had, and I don't care about next year. I don't even care about tomorrow right now. I just care about the present and what they did for me, for us. And somehow I've got to make sure that in all this disappointment that does not get lost, because that's the problem with sports; it does get lost. And somebody's not happy unless they win it all. It just was disappointing that we didn't move farther than we did. But I learned nothing, zero, for next year. I got 200 days to worry about next year, and I'm not going to worry about it one bit today.
"Sorry, too, by the way."
It was Izzo at his best when he was at his worst. It was also to be expected after years of showing the proper appreciation for the moment.
The loss itself, however, wasn't to be expected. A 15/2 upset that was made even more shocking by the program being upset and the man pacing the losing sideline.
Since the late '90s, Michigan State's success in the NCAA Tournament, both as a favorite and an underdog, has been so overwhelming that "Tom Izzo in March" has become a cliché in college basketball circles. It's a fact that might be the defining one of Izzo's career. Of course it also demands noting that the cliché has had more staying power than most in the sports world because it's deeply rooted in truth.
Izzo has been to the Final Four seven times in 21 seasons, a percentage bettered only by the greatest tournament coach of all-time, John Wooden. His 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances are a Big 10 record, and only Kansas, North Carolina and Duke have ever had longer streaks.
While those numbers are impressive enough, it's how Izzo has achieved them which serves as the foundation for the cliché bearing his name. Though his lone national championship came with a heavily favored No. 1 seed, Izzo is a remarkable 13-10 in the tournament when Michigan State is the worse-seeded team. Those 13 wins are the most all-time for a coach in that scenario. Perhaps the most unbelievable of all Izzo stats is that he is 22-4 in the second game of any NCAA Tournament weekend, with all four losses coming to No. 1 seeds or eventual national champions.
In many ways, Izzo has become what Mike Krzyzewski's higher visibility allowed him to be years ago: a constant who is as synonymous with college basketball as the program he has spent the past 33 years helping build. It's now almost impossible to imagine the game without him.
While Iverson and O'Neal might garner the lion's share of headlines this weekend, their stories are, for the most part, already written and published. Izzo's is not.
Unlike his class of 2016 counterparts, Izzo's greatness will be on display somewhere other than a stage in Massachusetts (or a television set on TNT) this year. He's 61-years-old, his current contract runs through the 2020-21 season, and he desperately wants to win a second national championship. Whether he attains the sport's biggest prize again or not, it'll be an unsettling day whenever a tournament arrives and the college basketball world doesn't get the opportunity to watch the most prominent figure at Michigan State try.
He might be celebrating the pinnacle of his career in September, but Tom Izzo still goes best with March.