WASHINGTON -- They are friends, peers and competitors, and Hall of Famers who have impacted the college game at the highest level and yet one holds a striking advantage against the other when they clash on the court.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has an impressive record against most programs and many coaches, but few are quite as befuddling as his 11-1 record against Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. The lone Spartans victory came in 2005 in the NCAA Tournament, a No. 5 seed Michigan State team upsetting a No. 1-seeded Duke in the Sweet Sixteen before knocking off Kentucky to reach the Final Four in St. Louis.
Krzyzewski and Izzo meet for the 13th time Sunday in the East Regional final and some close to the Michigan State program believe the lopsided record is not indicative of any major edge in the coaching matchup. They'd point to the state of each team at the time of the meetings, noting that Duke has been a top-10 team every time that Coach K has faced off against Izzo and that fate and fortune haven't provided for the best Sparty teams to play Duke and vice versa: those Blue Devils teams that haven't been top-10 caliber squads in the 20 seasons since the coaching legends first met haven't ended up playing the Spartans.
Others may defend Izzo with this circumstantial evidence contrary to the narrative, but the Michigan State coach leans the other way. He guessed that not many coaches outside of the ACC have played Duke and Coach K as frequently as he has, even throwing in some subtle shade with the fact that the Spartans have played at Cameron Indoor Stadium and on neutral courts more frequently than at the Breslin Center.
"Hell, not many guys outside of their league are playing them 11 times," Izzo said. "I figure that we've played them a lot. Played them down there a lot. Played them in different events and we've knocked on the door. It hasn't opened yet. One of these days it's going to open."
Mike Krzyzewski vs. Tom Izzo
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is 11-1 against Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, including 3-1 in the NCAA Tournament
|December 2, 1998||Duke 73, Michigan State 67||Great Eight|
|March 27, 1999||Duke 68, Michigan State 62||Final Four|
|December 3, 2003||Duke 72, Michigan State 50||East Lansing, Mich.|
|November 30, 2004||Duke 81, Michigan State 74||Durham, N.C.|
|March 25, 2005||Michigan State 78, Duke 68||Sweet 16|
|December 1, 2010||Duke 84, Michigan State 79||Durham, N.C.|
|November 15, 2011||Duke 74, Michigan State 69||Champions Classic|
|March 29, 2013||Duke 71, Michigan State 61||Sweet 16|
|November 18, 2014||Duke 81, Michigan State 71||Champions Classic|
|April 4, 2015||Duke 81, Michigan State 61||Final Four|
|November 29, 2016||Duke 78, Michigan State 69||Durham, N.C.|
|November 14, 2017||Duke 88, Michigan State 81||Champions Classic|
Though it's an easier position to take on the winning side of the rivalry, Krzyzewski does not put much stock in the record.
"I'm not a big believer in coaches' records against one another," the Duke coach said Saturday. "It's not like you have the same team, the same circumstance; somebody might have been injured. It's a time where your team wasn't functioning as well. Just like I'm not a big guy on records on Tuesdays or Fridays or Saturdays or whatever. You play the team that you're going to play against right now. And they're capable of handing us a defeat. It doesn't make any difference what's happened in the past, really."
Izzo has bigger goals than just beating Duke to make that 1-11 turn to 2-11. He wants to win on Sunday afternoon because that win means the Spartans are going back to the Final Four. It would be intellectually dishonest to suggest that Michigan State is in any period of drought, but there is a thirst for postseason success that hasn't been quenched since Izzo ran off six Final Fours between 1999 and 2010, including the 2000 national championship.
Michigan State has been to the Final Four just once since then, in 2015 -- a Final Four run that while worth celebrating did end with one of those 11 losses to Coach K and the Blue Devils. In fact this is the first year since 2015 that Michigan State has made it out of the first round, and it's come with a team that doesn't have nearly the NBA talent and hasn't enjoyed anything close to a season of good injury luck. There were points this season where Izzo figured that he'd already be on vacation at this point in the calendar, but here he is with a chance to snap some streaks that continue to nag amid otherwise championship-level success.