Tom Izzo Convinced Nick Saban to Pick Michigan State in NCAA Tourney Bracket
Nick Saban’s NCAA tournament bracket had been decided before the influence of an old friend forced him to reconsider.
Sometime before the start of the second round of the annual postseason competition used to determine a national champion, the Alabama coach spoke to Tom Izzo, the Michigan State men’s basketball coach, who convinced Saban to change his pick that initially saw No. 2 seed Virginia beating the seventh-seeded Spartans in the tournament’s round of 32.
“I actually had to change my bracket before the tournament started because I talked to Tom and he said, ‘If we can beat Georgia (in the second round), I think we can beat Virginia,’ Saban said during his press conference Wednesday. “So I had Virginia beating them, but I picked (Michigan State) on insider information.”
On Sunday, Izzo’s intuition proved correct: Michigan State 60, Virginia 54.
“Kristen (Saban's daughter) is gonna get mad about that, though,” said Saban, who quipped earlier in his response that he wanted to make it clear to the NCAA that he wasn’t betting money on games. “It's just a family thing with the kids and everybody. But we have fun with it every year.”
Saban befriended Izzo when the pair were hired as head coaches at Michigan State in 1995. Saban abruptly left the school after the Spartans' final regular-season game of the 1999 season -- a 35-28 win against No. 13 Penn State -- to take the same position at LSU.
“Coach Izzo, Tom Izzo, and I are still really good friends,” Saban said. “(He is) probably one of my best friends.”
Izzo, a native Michigander, never left the school. Now in his 20th season at Michigan State, he has guided the Spartans to six Final Fours, including one national championship in 2000 – the same season in which Saban left the football program.
Still, Saban said it’s important for coaches of other sports at the same school to establish mutual friendships, largely because it can benefit their own program. Saban’s 1999 Michigan State team saw similar success as its basketball counterparts did later that season, finishing with an overall record of 10-2, its best win total since 1965.
“I think it’s important to have relationships,” Saban said. “I think when you’re good at everything in this day and age, there’s a lot of attention, whether it’s women’s softball, tennis, our gymnastics program here, our golf program – men and women’s – basketball, baseball. I want to be good in everything. I’ve tried to be supportive in every way to help them recruit and support their programs.”
Izzo’s Spartans face No. 3 seed Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 on Friday.