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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.

John U. Bacon: Izzo's NCAA tourney streak at MSU endures, Howard's tenure at Michigan ends

Michigan coach Juwan Howard reacts during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Conference men's tournament Wednesday, March 13, 2024, in Minneapolis. Michigan fired Howard on Friday, March 15, 2024, after five seasons, 82-67 record and two NCAA Tournament trips. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
Abbie Parr
Michigan men's basketball coach Juwan Howard reacts during the second half of the team's game against Penn State in the first round of the Big Ten Conference men's tournament Wednesday in Minneapolis. The Wolverines lost in what would be Howard's last game. U of M let him go Friday.

The Madness of March is upon us. The brackets for both the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments are set after the Selection Sunday announcments.

Tom Izzo said he was nervous, but the Michigan State University men kept their tournament appearance streak alive. Michigan, on the other hand, had no chance of being selected and the Wolverines are looking for a new coach.

Michigan Public sports commentator John U. Bacon joined Morning Edition host Doug Tribou to talk about all that and more from the world of sports.

Doug Tribou: Tom Izzo and the Spartans got their 26th consecutive invitation to the NCAA tournament. MSU is the No. 9 seed in the West region and will face 8th seed Mississippi State on Thursday. After an up-and-down season, Izzo said he was especially nervous before the selections were announced. How much harder is it getting in this era to build the kind of streak Izzo has?

JUB: It's much harder, Doug. So many rules have changed. The one-and-done rule, which allows players to play basically a [year] of school and then head out for the NBA; free transfer, of course; and the NIL — which is name, image and likeness — which pays the players. All these things complicate the world for the coaches.

And let's not forget, Tom Izzo has [already] broken Coach K's record at Duke. He has got the longest streak [for an individual coach] in the history of the NCAA tournament. As Steve Martin, the comedian, said, 'It's one thing to be great on a given night. It's much harder to be good every night, no matter what.' And that is what Izzo has done.

DT: The state of Michigan’s other entry in this year’s men’s tourney is Oakland University. The Golden Grizzlies got in after winning the Horizon League title. They're a No. 14 seed and will face Kentucky, a No. 3 seed, on Thursday.

One team, as I mentioned, that didn’t make the tournament is Michigan. And in related news, Juwan Howard’s tenure as the U of M men’s basketball coach ended Friday. In a statement, U of M Director of Athletics Warde Manuel said, quote, "the program was not living up to our expectations and not trending in the right direction." Was this the right call by U of M?

"At some point, the AD has got to make a tough call. This was, I am certain, the right call."
John U. Bacon on Michigan's decision to fire head men's basketball coach Juwan Howard.

JUB: It was. And I think it might have been the only call by the time all was said and done. They're dead last in the Big Ten. By some measures, the worst team in school history. And there have been off-court issues against Wisconsin, a couple of years ago, with Juwan Howard and anger issues. And it came out this last month, [Howard had] an altercation with his strength coach, Jon Sanderson in December, which did not go public until about a month ago. Those were not good things. And yet, he was a beloved figure, Juwan Howard was, so that one I'm sure was still a tough call for Warde Manuel.

DT: In five seasons, Howard did have some successes. A Big Ten Conference title in 2021, two NCAA tournament appearances. And of course, he's a member of the Fab Five, one of the most famous players in Michigan history. How difficult is it to thread that line?

JUB: Well, it's the classic family business. Do you run it like a business, or do you run it like a family? And you kind of go back and forth, I think. In this case, as you said, he did win a Big Ten Conference title in 2021. But those are largely John Beilein's players, the previous coach, and it's been going downhill since. At some point the AD has got to make a tough call. This was, I am certain, the right call.

DT: Michigan says it has started a national search for its next coach.

Over in the women’s bracket, the MSU women have the same seed as the Spartan men. They’re a No. 9 seed and will face No. 8 North Carolina on Friday. The U of M women are also dancing. They’re also a No. 9 seed and will face 8th-seed Kansas on Saturday.

Before I let you go, let’s turn to hockey. For most of this season, the Red Wings seemed absolutely determined to make the playoffs for the first time since 2016. But since the end of February, the Wings have lost eight of their last nine. And in the eight losses they gave up 42 goals. By tailspin standards, this is a doozy. How do they get back to better form for the final stretch here?

JUB: Well, the obvious thing, Doug, is stop doing that. [laughs] Forty-two goals in eight games, that's more than five per game. That's about twice as many as they should be giving up. That's not just goaltending, it's not just defense. It's team defense, which means the forwards also have to get back. The other issue that you did not mention is Captain Dylan Larkin. He's been out for two weeks and that, they don't need. He is a great player at both ends of the ice. Offense and defense. That makes a big difference.

DT: And in other hockey news, Michigan and Michigan State will square off for the Big Ten championship on Saturday night in East Lansing. John, that should be a show.

JUB: Should be a great show. Great for college hockey, but also great for the Spartans. [MSU coach] Adam Nightingale has done a great job resurrecting that program. The Spartans should be a perennial top-10 team. This is good for college hockey.

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.

The University of Michigan holds Michigan Public's broadcast license.

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.
Caoilinn Goss is the producer for Morning Edition. She started at Michigan Public during the summer of 2023.
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