Michigan State coach Tom Izzo knows the anguish North Carolina’s Roy Williams is feeling.
Izzo understands the uncertainty of losing a point guard after the second game of the NCAA tournament.
He can comprehend more than most the need to adjust on the fly and hope the moves you make work well enough to still get to the Final Four and compete for a national title.
The No. 5 seed Spartans were a legit candidate for the Indianapolis Final Four in 2010. But then Kalin Lucas, Izzo’s starting point guard and unquestioned leader, suffered a torn Achilles in a second-round victory over Maryland.
“It’s a killer,” Izzo told ESPN.com Sunday night upon learning of North Carolina guard Kendall Marshall's fractured right wrist, suffered in a fall during the Tar Heels’ win over Creighton earlier Sunday in Greensboro, N.C.
“It’s tough,’’ said Izzo. “When it’s a point guard, it’s a different animal. They’re already missing [Dexter] Strickland.’’
Lucas’ backup at the position, Korie Lucious, stepped in for him and buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat Maryland and send the Spartans to the 2010 Sweet 16.
Michigan State caught a break in that the next game as the Spartans played 9-seed Northern Iowa instead of top seed Kansas. The Panthers had upset the Jayhawks in the second round.
“It helped us a bit,’’ Izzo said. “Lucious got his feet wet [in the Maryland game]. We were fortunate.’’
This season, Ohio is more than formidable after the No. 13 Bobcats knocked off No. 4 Michigan in the second round and then No. 12 South Florida on Sunday to get to the Sweet 16 matchup against North Carolina on Friday in St. Louis.
In 2010, the Spartans beat the Panthers by seven but had to survive a one-point game to beat Tennessee in the Elite Eight. Michigan State then lost by two to Butler in the national semifinal.
If Lucas doesn’t get hurt do the Spartans beat Butler and topple Duke for the national title?
“I remember saying in the locker room [after the Maryland game] that we’ve got to find a way to get it done,’’ Izzo said. “We knew Kalin was done. What you’ve got to do is get your team to believe that you still have a chance. We made it to the Final Four. I didn’t think it was a reach that we could win [the title]. It was one of those Final Four years where anything could have happened.’’
Lucas was done the moment he tore his Achilles. It is still unknown if Marshall could return at any point during this tournament.
Izzo said that knowing he had Lucious as a backup to Lucas at least lessened some of the blow. The Tar Heels are already without Strickland, who suffered a torn ACL in January. Shooting shouldn’t be a problem with Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston. But leading the Carolina break and setting up big men like Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes may fall to seldom-used playmakers Stilman White and Justin Watts.
“I’ll guarantee that Carolina has better people than we did,’’ Izzo said. “They’ll have good enough people to rally. But the problem is that the backup point guard isn’t there.’’
The Spartans played the Tar Heels to start the season on the USS Carl Vinson off Coronado, Calif., on Nov. 11. North Carolina won 67-55.
Izzo can see the Tar Heels playing differently if they opt for a change.
“They can play another way,’’ Izzo said. “[Marshall] ran their break and that’s what they’ll miss the most, at least that’s what I see from afar. But there were times when they would throw it inside where they were more effective.’’
Not having Lucas in 2010 meant the Spartans didn’t run as much.
“We had to pound it in more,’’ Izzo said. “We didn’t run as much. We had to walk it up because we didn’t have the depth. We had to adjust.’’
Assuming Carolina can beat Ohio even without Marshall would be a mistake. Predicting who the Tar Heels would meet in the Elite Eight is foolish, too.
“I told my guys on Selection Sunday, ‘Don’t start looking at the bracket because down the road, it will change,’’’ Izzo said. “There is going to be something, an injury, an upset, something is going to happen.’’