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Emma: A First-Hand, Up-Close, In-Game Experience With Tom Izzo

By Chris Emma--

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (CBS) -- With everything on the line and the crowd on its feet, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was looking my way.

Maryland's Melo Trimble dribbled toward the half-court line and attempted to heave a desperation 70-footer to tie the Big Ten Tournament semifinal Saturday, and Izzo was looking the other way, shielding his eyes with his hands like a catastrophe was unfolding. His pent-up nerves were directed toward press row, not Trimble's game-tying shot.

Just as that ball bounced innocently to the floor, Izzo shook his head with angst filling his face. Michigan State held on to a 64-61 win over Maryland to advance to the Big Ten tournament championship.

"Hey, we won," Izzo later said in a flabbergasted tone.

I sat and watched for the entirety of Sunday's game and marveled at a coach for whom I hold such great respect. I wanted to see how he does it.

There's no coach made for March like Izzo. His resume speaks for itself -- a national championship, seven Final Four appearances, 18 straight NCAA Tournament appearances and so many more accolades. Izzo made Michigan State a national power.

Each March, Izzo adds a new chapter to his historic coaching career, molding a Michigan State team into a Final Four contender. No matter the Spartans' record or seed, they always seem to be clicking by tournament time.

"He only wants the best out of you," said Spartans senior forward Denzel Valentine, a National Player of the Year finalist. "He pushes you."

Izzo's approach is tried and true, from the butt kickings of October preseason practices to the fine-tuning of February leading into March. He knows how to maximize his Michigan State teams.

Come tournament time, Izzo's walk-through practices and film sessions are more detailed than ever, going over every little thing. His preparation pushes for perfection, something he expects to see on the court.

"His intensity really peaks at this point," Spartans senior guard Bryn Forbes said. "He's the most prepared coach I've ever seen."

No matter where Michigan State goes, Izzo never seems quite content. He's reaching for a certain standard -- damn near flawless.

Izzo is famously maniacal along the bench, quite the treat for those with a courtside view. He's extraordinarily intense.

Minutes into the game, Eron Harris engaged in a scuffle with Maryland's Jake Layman. He yelled back at the transfer player: "Stop that West Virginia s--t!" Later, senior forward Matt Costello committed a clumsy foul. Before Izzo could even intervene, Costello said, "It was dumb."

In the second half, there were many heated discussions with the officials and the eventual punching of the scorer's table. Izzo stomped, shouted, jumped, jarred and coached his Spartans to a key victory. He's a mad man, pushing every button possible with his team, but what stands out is that he's constantly coaching. Every aspect of the game is a teaching moment.

Michigan State prevailed over a daunting Maryland team, stating its case for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament field. Izzo still was far from pleased.

"We have bigger dreams than to win a game right now," Izzo said.

Oh, he means it.

Izzo's striving for a second national championship at Michigan State. That standard of perfection he preached comes in pursuit of winning another title. All of the antics along the way are just part of the ride.

College basketball needs more like Tom Izzo, a man whose Hall of Fame career is often overlooked because of his persona. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone in the game who could say a bad word about him.

Izzo's players hold great respect for his approach, because it makes them great. The Spartans are poised each March for a run toward the Final Four and success after that. Look no further than Draymond Green, who constantly offers Izzo credit for his development into an NBA All-Star with the Warriors.

Valentine's the next in that crop of Michigan State greats, someone who has thrived with Izzo's coaching. He's seen four years of teams ready for a run come March.

March is Izzo's month. His Spartans are ready to push for that standard of perfection. Izzo will be yelling, slamming, bouncing and anything but happy until it's reached and a championship is attained. He seems like a nervous wreck, but it's all part of the pursuit.

"He's a Hall of Fame coach for a reason," Valentine said. "He coaches his tail off."

Chris Emma covers the Chicago sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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