As Tom Izzo stepped onto the dais to accept the Midwest Regional trophy on Sunday in St. Louis, the Michigan State coach paused to scan the young faces scattered before him. The sight was precisely what he'd envisioned for this group: exhaustion and euphoria, but decorated with snippets of nylon net. "This is their reward," Izzo would say later, bowing his head in appreciation. "That's what my program's all about. I love my managers."
Yes, his managers. The Spartans' NCAA tournament success—six Final Four berths in 12 years—owes a great deal to what could be college basketball's most intricate scouting system. "The Monster, we call it," the team's video coordinator, Jordan Ott, says of the database. "It just builds and builds." While Tennessee, for instance, employs a video crew of up to seven and Baylor has a staff of four, 13 student managers work alongside Ott and three assistant coaches at Michigan State. "And I mean work," Ott adds. "You're staying up all night. For March Madness you're putting in more than 40 hours a week." And they get paid almost nothing.
As developed by Izzo—who, not coincidentally, started as a video guy in 1983 under then Spartans coach Jud Heathcote—the Monster starts feeding every November. It will grow to incorporate digital footage of every televised Division I game, more than 1,800 in a season. ("We prepare to play any one of 340 teams," director of basketball operations Kevin Pauga explains.) Within 72 hours of Selection Sunday all the relevant clips for MSU's potential opponents were tagged with every possible label: out-of-bounds plays, free throw situations, jump balls and so on. Says assistant Dwayne Stephens, "I guarantee we had more video, more stats, more everything on every opponent than anybody."
The system gives Izzo a huge advantage in preparing for the next team, especially for the second game of a tournament weekend when there is only one day to get ready. Izzo is 16--3 in those games. By the time the Spartans returned to their hotel after defeating Northern Iowa last Friday, hand-picked clips of the Volunteers, whom they would face on Sunday, were already waiting. "If you get better instead of fading come March, that's a tribute to your preparation," says former video coordinator Paul Rivers, now the Oklahoma City Thunder's director of basketball administration and technology.
April 4, 2010
Izzo and the Spartans are hoping to get better right up to the title game on April 5. "Butler's going to be fun," Ott said of Michigan State's semifinal opponent on Saturday, with no hint of sarcasm in his voice. "We're going to be up all night."