Michigan State's impressive win against Louisville gives Tom Izzo a chance at the ultimate prize: Coaching at Kentucky.
OK, there's a little sarcasm in there.
Izzo's going to be focused beating Connecticut and trying to win a second NCA tournament title. But rest assured you'll hear Izzo's name mentioned as possibly the next coach in Lexington more than once this week.
Billy Gillispie's ouster in Lexington has the rumor mill in full swing. Nearly every big-name coach – except for Billy Donovan – seems to be a candidate. Izzo, Villanova's Jay Wright, Pitt's Jamie Dixon, Texas' Rick Barnes and Memphis' John Calipari are chief among them.
It makes sense. If you're a hoops coach, few jobs are better than Kentucky. In terms of tradition, fan base and resources, it's tough to match the 'Cats. North Carolina, UCLA, Kansas, Duke, maybe Indiana. That's the short list.
Any time one of those positions opens up, the game's best coaches are going to be floated as possible replacements.
It even affects coaches like Rick Pitino. He's re-built Louisville into a powerhouse, yet his name is being floated as the next possible coach at Arizona. If you're thinking that Arizona is a lateral move for Pitino, you're probably right. But it doesn't prevent all the chatter (though Pitino is a master at not addressing rumors; others could take tips).
If it seems disingenuous to be talking about Izzo or Wright in Kentucky – two coaches who are still vying for a title – too bad. College hoops has been all about business for some time. If a coach can't prepare his team and cope with rumors at the same time, he's probably not gonna make it in Lexington.
Besides, Izzo hasn't exactly shot down any Kentucky rumors. Check out this quote:
"I don't think there's a guy on this planet that would ever say he's not going anywhere, not doing anything,'' Izzo said during a Midwest Regional press conference. "I don't think there's anybody on this planet that would ever say, 'I'm here to stay. I'm this. I'm that.' I don't think me, you or anyone else. So I would never do that because I think it would be insulting to you and me.''
Spartans fans are a little miffed right now. Why would Izzo leave a program he's taken to five Final Fours since 1999? Well, he probably wouldn't, but it's complicated.
This story from Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press is a good example. Izzo isn't likely to leave East Lansing, but he'd like potential recruits to know he's good enough to be Kentucky's prime candidate. And if there's ever a time when not denying rumors can help recruiting, this is it.
Izzo's never lacked for top talent, but it sounds like he's never had an easy time convincing them to come to East Lansing. Rosenberg uses two local players as an example:
[Izzo] recruited Detroit's DeShawn Sims hard. Sims went to Michigan, which had not been relevant on the national scene for years. Izzo recruited Cleveland's Delvon Roe like crazy, and Roe clearly loved Michigan State more than any other school, and he ultimately signed with the Spartans -- but I think Izzo felt that landing Roe should have been easier.
Fair enough. Roy Williams usually had the same complaint while at Kansas, and doesn't have any trouble stocking North Carolina with McDonald's All-Americans. The Heels have nine on their roster. (Bill Self has plenty of NBA-caliber players at Kansas, so read into that what you will.)
Bottom line: Coaches like Izzo and Wright – who says he's happy at Villanova – will never get to fully enjoy a Final Four week when a prime program like Kentucky has an opening.
But don't feel sorry for them. They're smart enough to turn rumors to their advantage, whether it's added exposure to recruits or more money from their current school. It's all part of the game.