Coaching success brings more pressure
Virginia Tech had a pair of wins over North Carolina and one at Duke but that hardly settled coach Seth Greenberg's stomach.
The Hokies lost three of their last four games, including two in a row, making Greenberg feel the immense pressure of making the NCAA Tournament, even though it appears that the Hokies are a lock.
"It's overwhelming," Greenberg said. "It's suffocating. So much of it is out of your control."
So, if you think Greenberg is feeling the heat to get the Hokies to the Big Dance for the first time in his four seasons in Blacksburg, Va., and a first for the school since 1996 then imagine what was going on with two established, national championship and potential Hall of Fame coaches, Gary Williams of Maryland and Tom Izzo of Michigan State.
Maryland missed the past two NCAA Tournaments. And, regardless of Maryland winning the 2002 title, going without a tourney berth is essentially blasphemous.
Williams has been obsessed with returning the Terps to the Dance. He said he felt the pressure, self-imposed more than any other.
"It's how college basketball is right now," Williams said. "It's an interesting thing that if you asked who finished second in the ACC last year no one would know but everyone knows about the NCAA Tournament.
"We all know it's not the best 64 teams, even though you might be good enough, you might not get picked if you're not an automatic qualifier," Williams said. "Once you win the national championship, the bar changes. Everyone thinks you should be there every year."
Williams is emotional. So, it shouldn't come as a shock that he was worked up and rightfully so when the Terps beat North Carolina and completed the season sweep of Duke in February.
Prior to that, Maryland had six ACC losses, the sixth coming on Feb. 6 at home against Virginia. At that point, with seven more games in the regular season, the Terps seemed to be heading to the NIT. They haven't lost since.
Maryland has become a lock. Finishing 10-6 in the ACC is a fine achievement, but that still doesn't alleviate the stress that Williams endured.
"I'm not sure you can compete for the title every year since there are too many good teams," Williams said. "Everybody wants to win at a high level. Our fans want that.
"If you struggle then everyone says what's wrong," Williams said. "Last year I talked to [Connecticut coach] Jim Calhoun and after the season they had, 30-4, he was asked what was wrong. That's a pretty good record."
Izzo was emotional when the Spartans beat Wisconsin. That victory was probably the one that put the Spartans back in position to get a bid. The win over the Badgers came in the third of four straight home games after the Spartans lost four straight games, three of which were on the road and two were against Ohio State.
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Spartans after Shannon Brown left early for the NBA draft. Still, Izzo wasn't about to let a cherished streak come to an end.
Izzo, who led the Spartans to the 2000 national title, is going for his 10th straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
"I did put pressure on myself," Izzo said. "This has been one of the most rewarding years for me. We've had so many obstacles."
Like Williams, there wasn't outside pressure on Izzo. All of the heat was brought on by his desire to get back to the Dance.
"When you go to a Final Four, you're not allowed to have a down year, to miss the tournament," Izzo said. "I felt if we could get in with this group that would be good.
"There was no panic," Izzo said. "After you win a national championship there isn't a lot left for you to hang your hat on. Keeping the streak [of berths] going was something I could."
Neither Williams nor Izzo was being swallowed up by the pressure, or at least feeling squeezed the way Greenberg described. But don't think for a second that Izzo and Williams didn't feel the heat to get their teams on the doorstep of the Dance.
Michigan State might still sweat a bunch this week as the Spartans probably need to beat Northwestern on Thursday in the Big Ten tournament to secure a tourney spot.
But, assuming the Spartans get in, then the self-induced pressure, the grief these coaches gave themselves, all will be worth it as they get into the tourney that they're supposed to have a date with every season.
That's why both of them are feeling for Calhoun. The Huskies are expected to get into the Dance every season and when they don't, which appears to be the case this season, there is immediately a question if there is something seriously wrong.
Williams dealt with that for two seasons. He wasn't about to be bothered with it for a third. He wanted in.
So, if a coach like Seth Greenberg is feeling the hot lamp overhead, just think what any higher-profile coach is feeling this week if he hasn't secured a bid.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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