Lon Kruger has led four different programs to the Sweet 16, including Oklahoma. In fact, he led the Sooners to the Sweet 16 this season for the first time since 2009.
Oklahoma, however, lost to Michigan State, 62-58, last weekend.
The Spartans, who were 15-8 in February, have won 12 of their last 15 games, including eight of their last nine. The only loss? An overtime defeat against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship.
There are those calling this the best coaching job of Tom Izzo’s career – and perhaps the best coaching job of any college basketball coach in recent memory.
It’s hard to argue with either of those statements.
“Tom does a good job all year long,” Kruger said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “This year, his club maybe didn’t win early in the year like they usually do. But (Travis) Trice and (Branden) Dawson and (Denzel) Valentine are really key guys and (have) other really good players around them. But his clubs are always very sound. They don’t give away buckets. They make you earn everything. They rebound the ball very well. They’re very good in transition. If they don’t get transition, they’re very good in the half-court execution. His clubs give attention to detail.”
The Spartans had hiccups early and often this season. Some of them – like losses to Duke, Kansas and Notre Dame – were understandable. Others – like a home loss to Texas Southern in overtime – were not.
And yet, here the Spartans are, back in the Final Four for the seventh time in Izzo’s illustrious career.
“This club has played as well as anyone the last month of the season – maybe shy of Kentucky,” Kruger said. “But they’re on a hot roll right now. They’ve got that swagger in March and they expect to win.”
Kruger’s team probably expected to win, too. The No. 3 Sooners were favorites against the No. 7 Spartans and even led by four points at halftime. Michigan State, however, outscored Oklahoma 35-27 in the second half to advance to the Elite Eight.
Now the Sooners must endure a long offseason – and a long season – before they can hopefully get back to where they were this year.
“March Madness is such a great event, and yet it’s a cruel event,” Kruger said. “You work all year, you get there, and then all of a sudden at the end of the game, one team’s celebrating and the other team’s in total turmoil and dismay. And then there’s a time of depression that you go through. Then with time, you kind of start working again. You’ve been through it. It’s a process. Every year, it’s kind of Groundhog Day a little bit. You go through it and you try to build up to it and you try to get there – and it’s over. Then you go through it all again.
“But in the college level, you do it with different people,” Kruger continued. “You infuse the freshmen, the transfers – whatever – each year. So it’s a different group in a way. But in a way, it’s the same thing year after year. Still a great event.”