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NCAA 2015

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When it comes to game preparation, nobody better than film nut Izzo


PHOENIX -- Every game.

Somewhere buried in Michigan State's film library is every game. Not just every Spartan game, every game played this season. Everywhere.

That doesn't make Michigan State unique. There are several schools with monster DVR/satellite setups that allow them to record the bounce of every ball from November up to now in the Sweet 16.

It does make Tom Izzo better than just about anybody this time of year.

"Attention to detail like none other," assistant Mike Garland said. "Not only does he know his team, the ins and outs of motivating his guys and weaknesses and how to play teams, he also knows the opponents."

Or an opponent's opponent or someone he might play in the NCAA tournament. If you don't get it yet, let us translate this DVD's subtitles: In 14 previous NCAA tournaments at Michigan State -- this West Regional's top seed -- Izzo has either advanced to the Final Four or lost to a Final Four team 10 times. His program is the only one to have appeared in six of the last 13 Final Fours, just the fourth in history to appear in six Final Fours in a 12-year period. Only Duke and Kansas have longer consecutive NCAA tournament streaks than Michigan State (15).

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That's why Izzo is a film guy. It works. He loves it. He had to love it. Izzo got his start cutting up film for the great Jud Heathcote.

"When I started with him, that old bastard was still into 16 millimeter," Izzo said.

Heathcote is a lot of things to Izzo. Valued strength coach is not one of them.

"I was a GA [graduate assistant] then. I had to carry the projector. It weighed 8,000 pounds. After one year, this was 33 inches," Izzo said pointing to length of left arm.

"This [right arm] was 47 inches, honest to God."

Izzo, in fact, is not a circus freak. He is making his point with hyperbole. A further, salient point: By the time Michigan State takes the floor against Louisville on Thursday in a West Regional semifinal, the Spartans will have been through 10 or 12 film sessions since Sunday -- five or six in the final 36 hours.

"At some point, you're going, 'All right, I've seen enough video,'" forward Draymond Green said. "The first time you watch something you pick up some things, the next time you watch it you pick up more and more things."

It's like a film appreciation class, the Big Ten's Player of the Year suggested -- the more you view the movie, the more plot angles you pick up. At this time of year, with all that film and all the scouting, the Cardinals can expect the Spartans to become their body doubles.

It was Izzo who talked Heathcote into VHS (remember that format?). It was Izzo who convinced his boss to spend more than $50,000 on a then-state of the art technology being used by the Milwaukee Bucks. These days, video coordinator Jordan Ott has six DVRs pulling down games back home. Teams used to call Michigan State for film, which it would supply free, out of respect of the coaching brotherhood. Not so much now. Technology has taken care of that. There is at least one website now that any fan can subscribe to, to watch games.

Up to nine Michigan State managers can work on cutting up the "film," actually DVDs. On Wednesday, two of them sat in a corner of the Spartans' US Airways Center locker room already breaking down possible Elite Eight opponents Marquette and Florida.

"People say you're overdoing it," Ott said. "It's easy to say that, until you get here."

You might have noticed that Michigan State is the favorite in this loaded regional. Florida, Marquette, Louisville and Michigan State have combined for seven national championships. The coaches -- Izzo, Billy Donovan, Rick Pitino and Buzz Williams -- have been to a combined 14 Final Fours.

"The league I would be in is the Lone Star Conference," said Williams, the only one without a Final Four appearance. "I should be an assistant in that league. I don't belong. I don't compare."

Izzo savors being the guy who can outwork you. The Spartans are sharpened, refined by now. Remember, a couple of weeks ago when the coach called his shot after losing at home to Ohio State? The Spartans came right back and won the Big Ten tournament.

Here's further proof of what those body doubles produce: Michigan State is second in field-goal percentage defense and fourth in rebound margin. Forget the gold standard, Michigan State is the green standard this time of year.

"Because so much of the tournament is about staying away from mistakes," Garland said. "It's not that teams aren't good enough. They lose games. We don't want to lose, we want to get beat."

They seldom do at this stage. A stat for the ages remains intact for Izzo: Every one of his players who has stayed four years has played in a Final Four.

"We've never been excited about making it to Sweet 16s," Green said earlier this week. "It's just one of those bumps that you have to go through in order to make it to the final destination."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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