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Men’s basketball: Why Tom Izzo believes Matta’s criticism isn’t valid

Michigan State coach Tom Izzo talks to the media following Ohio State’s 72-67 win over the Spartans on Jan. 15 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Ashley Nelson | Sports Director

Over the past three seasons of Ohio State basketball, coach Thad Matta has taken his fair share of criticism. And 2016-17 has been no different.

From a near Final Four berth in 2013, to a No. 6 seed, No. 10, an NIT berth and this season starting 0-4 in the Big Ten, several people around Columbus are calling for a change of guard inside the Buckeye program.

Tenured Michigan State future-Hall-of-Fame coach Tom Izzo doesn’t see the merit to the claim.

“I don’t care what people in Columbus say, (Ohio State’s) a good team,” Izzo said.

Izzo, the man behind turning Michigan State basketball into a national powerhouse, has been battling Matta for 13 years on the court and in recruiting. In his 22nd season as head coach of the Spartans, Izzo has led the Green and White to seven Final Fours, one national championship, one runner-up finish, seven Big Ten regular-season championships and five Big Ten tournament championships. In several of those years, Matta’s Buckeyes have been right there in March, battling Izzo’s Spartans for the crown.

Matta, too, has built OSU to be a nationally recognized program. In recent years, the program hasn’t had the same momentum it had from 2006-2013 when Matta made two Final Fours, a national championship game, won five regular-season conference titles and four conference tournament titles, but nonetheless, it’s the same program and coach.

Izzo has dealt with criticism over the years as well, but none like Matta has been given this season. Izzo spoke freely following OSU’s 72-67 win over Michigan State on Sunday saying that he gets ticked off when proven coaches take what he views as unnecessary criticism. He added that “nobody is satisfied with anything anymore.”

Izzo noted the Buckeyes schedule to date, which is certainly a contributing factor to the 11-7, 1-4 Big Ten record OSU currently has. But sometimes that seems to skip over the assessments of those outside of the program. Izzo continued by saying not many teams go to Minnesota and Wisconsin and win. He also said that any game at Illinois is a “dogfight game,” and OSU had the game won at Virginia on Nov. 30, which is notoriously difficult to accomplish. The Cavaliers have lost just three home games since 2014.

“But hey, (Matta) did a better job than I did, so if they’re complaining here, they should be complaining in East Lansing,” Izzo said.

“I shouldn’t say this, but hell, I’m happy for him. From the standpoint of the way people treat him around here, I’m happy for him. He’s won a lot of games here … He doesn’t have to answer to anybody and he probably doesn’t need my support, but I’ll probably need his.”

There’s no argument to be made that Matta is one of the greatest coaches in school history. He has the most wins in school history (331), 12 consecutive 12-win seasons and a streak of four-straight Sweet 16 berths. He took OSU into the NCAA tournament in 2011 as the No. 1 overall seed for the first time in school history.

Whether or not there is validity in the denunciation he has received in the recent past and present from the fanbase isn’t the question being raised, rather having a fierce competitor, world-class coach and loyal friend like Izzo supporting him amid a tough stretch is nothing less than significant.

“My dad told me that you can count your real friends on one hand and coach (Izzo) is definitely one of those guys. When I first came here, I looked at Michigan State and said, ‘I would love to build what Tom Izzo has built at Michigan State,’” Matta said. “When I got in this league, I was the young guy and he wanted me to do well because I was young … To me, he is a mentor. He is a great friend and I think he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen in this business, hands down.”

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