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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Bacon: Michigan State and Izzo not basketball underdogs (even when they're underdogs)

The 2018-19 MSU men's basketball team
Michael Conroy/AP
Michigan State guard Jaden Akins (3) had five points and four rebounds to help the Spartans get past Marquette in the NCAA men's basketball tournament Sunday. MSU and coach Tom Izzo are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2019.

In the NCAA men's basketball tournament, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo is in familiar territory. The Spartans have reached the Sweet 16 and Izzo has been setting some records along the way.

Michigan State will take on Kansas State Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Michigan Radio sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about men's and women's college basketball and the Michigan men's hockey team.

NCAA men's basketball tournament: No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 7 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden, New York - Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

Doug Tribou: The 7th-seeded Spartans advanced to the Sweet 16 after knocking off No. 2 seed Marquette last weekend. John, many call that an upset, but can we really keep saying "upset" after the records Tom Izzo set with that win?

John U. Bacon: No, you cannot. On paper, yes. I get it. That's a lower-ranked team compared to Marquette. But Tom Izzo has been to the NCAA tournament 25 straight years. And with that victory, he now has 16 wins as the lower seed in NCAA tournament games. That's that's a record. He's also taken six of his teams that were seeded No. 5 or higher to the Sweet 16. That is also a record. So yeah, I guess that's an upset, but not when you consider the coach. And betting against Tom Izzo, by the way, is a very hard way to make a living.

DT: At Madison Square Garden in New York, the Spartans will take on Kansas State. The Wildcats are a 3-seed and had a big year under new head coach Jerome Tang. How do you like MSU's chances?

JUB: I love them, even though on paper this would also be an upset. One: they're playing their best basketball at the best time and they always do under Izzo. Two: Jerome Tang has done a phenomenal job with Kansas State. They had three losing records before this year. But so what? He's a first-year coach and Izzo is not. That's going to matter at Madison Square Garden. Furthermore, last point, Michigan State has got a whole lot more [alumni] in Manhattan than Kansas State does.

DT: The University of Michigan men's team did not make it to the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines did play in the NIT, the National Invitation Tournament, and got bounced in the second round. Coach Juwan Howard's win-loss records have been on a downward trend over the past couple of seasons. What needs to change when he's back for his fifth season in charge?

MSU coach Tom Izzo has 16 career wins in the NCAA tournament when the Spartans had a lower seed than their opponent.

JUB: Well, quite a lot. And some of these things are pretty simple, but they're not easy. One: play better defense. That's coaching. Two: play hard every night. That's coaching. Three: rebound every night. That's coaching also. Fourth thing is recruiting. They do a little better on that front. But they've got plenty of talent to make the tournament this year. It was a bad year and right now Michigan is in disarray.

DT: In women's college basketball, U of M saw their season end with a 24-point loss to Louisiana State University in the second round of the NCAA tournament last weekend.

The Michigan State women did not qualify this year, but more significantly, they saw their longtime head coach, Suzy Merchant, step down this month because of some health concerns. Merchant had been at MSU for 16 seasons. What has she meant to that program?

JUB: I think, Doug, she is nothing less than the face of the program. They had basketball at Michigan State before Suzy Merchant, certainly from the 1970s when Carol Hutchins - [who later became] Michigan softball coach - actually played for them. But she's got a great record at Michigan State and she's won Big Ten titles in 2011 and 2014 and gone to ten NCAA tournaments.

DT: John, before I let you go, the NCAA men's ice hockey tournament starts Thursday. The University of Michigan will take on Colgate in Allentown, Pennsylvania Friday. U of M is the third seed overall. The Wolverines have had an interim coach, Brandon Naurato, all season. He replaced Mel Pearson, who was fired. How strong of a case does Naurato have for keeping the job long-term?

JUB: Well, pretty strong and getting stronger every week, apparently. Last weekend they beat top-ranked Minnesota at Minnesota to win the Big Ten tournament title. That's pretty impressive. And right now they have as good a chance as anybody to win the NCAA title. Man win's a NCAA title? Pretty hard to fire. So he's doing a good job.

DT: And the state of Michigan well-represented in the men's college hockey tournament. Thursday night in New Hampshire, Western Michigan University will face Boston University. And on Friday, Michigan Tech takes on Penn State in Pennsylvania.

John, thanks a lot.

JUB: Doug, thank you.

Editor's note: Quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
John U. Bacon has worked nearly three decades as a writer, a public speaker, and a college instructor, winning awards for all three.
Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
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