Photo: Mark Dantonio joins Tom Izzo on the bench before a basketball game at the Breslin Center.
We’ve always known Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo work well together, but the 2014-15 school year took Dantonio-Izzo teamwork and the Big Ten to another level.
Michigan State’s continued success in both programs marked the first time a school overlapped four straight football bowl victories with four consecutive NCAA basketball Sweet Sixteen trips. And that fact doesn’t highlight a Rose Bowl victory in the 2013 season and a Final Four trip in 2014-15.
It got me to wondering which school had the best football-basketball season?
Let’s match up the final post-season Associated Press Top 25 football poll and final USA Today/Coaches basketball poll (AP didn’t conduct a final basketball poll after the NCAA tournament).
Michigan State comes out on top with the football team tied for No. 5 and the basketball team No. 7. The Spartans were the only school with two teams in the Top 10. Only two other football teams in the Top 10 also featured a ranked basketball squad, Baylor and Oregon. But their basketball teams were at the bottom of the hoop rankings: No. 21 Baylor and No. 25 Oregon. In all, there were seven schools posting a unique double.
The most impressive combined football-basketball rankings were compiled by two Big Ten schools – Michigan State and Wisconsin.
Here’s how the numbers add up if you assign points to the football ranking and basketball ranking and add the total:
- Michigan State, 12 points: No. 5 football, No. 7 basketball.
- Wisconsin, 14 points: No. 12 football, No. 2 basketball.
- Arizona, 23 points: No. 19 football, No. 4 basketball.
- Oregon, 27 points: No. 2 football, No. 25 basketball.
- Baylor, 28 points: No. 7 football, No. 21 basketball.
- Louisville, 34 points: No. 24 football, No. 10 basketball.
- Utah, 36 points: No. 21 football, No. 15 basketball.
The nation’s Big Ten bashers, widespread and ever-lasting since Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler combined for a 1-9 Rose Bowl record from 1970 to 1979, turning the conference into a punch line outside Big Ten territory with their Neanderthal offenses, won’t like recognizing such a ranking.
The ACC won’t want to admit its top football-basketball school is newcomer Louisville. Similarly in the Big 12, Baylor overshadows the conference's haughty names. Pac-12 national football power USC and national basketball power UCLA should be embarrassed they aren't one of the three Pac-12 schools that doubled up.
And this is interesting to point out: Do you see any Southeastern Conference schools?
Actually, it’s no surprise the SEC and Big 12 heavyweights aren’t represented. At the same time the NCAA tournament was unfolding, football powers Alabama of the SEC and Texas of the Big 12 hunted for new basketball coaches to replace the ones they fired.
Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart were considered leading candidates. But both well-paid coaches from a mid-major with a Final Four on their resume were advised by basketball experts on various cable TV shows not to take a job at a football school. They were told basketball would be overshadowed more than they can imagine no matter what Alabama football coach Nick Saban and Texas football coach Charlie Strong said about providing support. The fan bases at such schools, where football is religion, doesn’t respond to basketball success with comparable football passion.
As we know now, Marshall stayed put and Smart took the Texas job. We’ll know better in a few years if both or one or the other made the right decision.
But it’s more than on-field performance. Izzo, who coaches with a football mindset, is one reason the sports works so well together, but another is athletic director Mark Hollis. He has strong relationships with both coaches, which isn’t as common as you might assume.
Izzo's support between the programs includes his bank account. Dantonio holds his media conferences in the Tom & Lupe Izzo Family Media Center, a 3,600-square foot luxury. Izzo donated $500,000 to the multi-faceted $24.5 million Spartan Stadium north end zone renovation project.
Name another basketball coach donating a half-million to a football program?
Izzo's football support is nothing new and his 20 years as the Spartans' head coach spans four coaches: Saban, Bobby Williams, John L. Smith and Dantonio. Even during a downturn in 2001, when the Spartans salvaged a 7-5 season with a win over Fresno State at the lower-tier Silicon Valley Classic, Izzo and his players were on the field at San Jose State's minor-league Spartan stadium with the football team. They attended even though Michigan State had lost the night before in the Bay Area in the Pete Newell Classic at the Oakland Arena.
The connection extends to this year when Izzo and the Spartans returned from their NCAA East Regional championship at Syracuse that punched a ticket to the Final Four. Dantonio was among the fans at the Breslin Center to greet them.
This is what Saban couldn’t achieve when he failed to recruit successfully sharing the state spotlight with Michigan. He wanted to coach at the state school and left for LSU.
This is what Izzo preserved when he wisely turned down NBA jobs with the Atlanta Hawks in 2000 and the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 (and whatever else in between).
On Thursday, Dantonio opened a spring football teleconference call with this comment about the four straight bowl victories and four Sweet Sixteen trips:
“Pretty amazing what's being done here,” he said. “Not just in basketball and football, but in all sports. Once again, congratulations.”
But Izzo summed it up best on a sports radio appearance earlier in the week:
“Don't take it for granted,” he said. “It is a golden age right now when you look at what's going on in our athletic department. Our athletic director is phenomenal; you've got some great people; we're working for you and with you.”
MICHIGAN STATE NO. 1 BACK TO BACK
It’s never too late for an addendum, so I acted upon a suggestion that Michigan State might have also finished No. 1 in combined rankings with the 2014 Rose Bowl (2013 season) championship and 2013-14 NCAA Elite Eight as part of the four straight Sweet Sixteen seasons.
The Spartans did indeed. They also finished No. 1 by a larger margin two years ago than last season. Michigan State totaled 11 points (No. 3 football, No. 8 basketball) for a 13-point margin over No. 2 Louisville with 24 (9, 15). Michigan State was only No. 1 over Wisconsin by three points in 2014-15.
Working backward, Michigan State has finished No. 1 two years in a row and the Big Ten 1-2 in 2014-15 and 1-3 in 2013-14. Both finishes are better than any conference in the nation.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 were the only conferences with multiple teams. Duke led the ACC in 2013-14; Louisville was still a Big East school in 2013-14. Baylor again was the only Big 12 school. The SEC didn’t have a representative either year.
Coincidentally, seven schools pulled off the ranking double both years:
- Michigan State, 11 points: No. 3 football, No. 8 basketball.
- Louisville, 24 points: No. 15 football, No. 9 basketball.
- Wisconsin, 25 points: No. 21 football, No. 4 basketball.
- Baylor, 31 points: No. 13 football, No. 18 basketball.
- UCLA, 31 points: No. 16 football, No. 15 basketball.
- Stanford, 34 points: No. 10 football, No. 24 basketball.
- Duke, 38 points: No. 22 football, No. 16 basketball.