Tom Izzo officially acquired his gorilla stat on Tuesday night.
What’s a gorilla stat? A gorilla stat is a negatively slanted fact, figure, streak or statistic that’s referenced so frequently — to the point of cliché or triteness — that it clings to a person or team until the proverbial gorilla can be removed with a positive outcome.
Famous examples of gorilla stats:
- Chris Paul has never gotten out of the second round of the NBA Playoffs;
- Sean Miller’s “the best coach not to get to the Final Four”;
- The Bills have the longest playoff drought of any NFL team (1999);
- Clemson has never won at North Carolina in men’s basketball (0-58);
- This Browns QB jersey meme.
Infamous previous gorilla stats include:
- The Cubs not winning a World Series between 1908-2016;
- The 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs as the only 0-16 NFL team (until Detroit did in 2008);
- Phil Mickelson not winning The Masters (he “finally” did it in 2004);
- Golden State’s 32-game losing streak at San Antonio that lasted from 1997-2016.
Mike Krzyzewski has pinned a gorilla stat to Tom Izzo. With top-ranked Duke‘s 88-81 win over No. 2 Michigan State on Tuesday night, Izzo dropped to 1-11 lifetime against Coach K. It’s a staggering stat, considering both men are in the Naismith Hall of Fame and have had dominant programs for most of the past 22 years Izzo has been at Michigan State.
Yet K has his number. You could owe that to Duke being a top-10 team in the AP poll every time it has faced MSU under Izzo, but Michigan State has been ranked most times as well. Somewhat surprisingly, Michigan State has only been ranked higher than Duke once, in 2003, when MSU lost 72-50 at home to a Duke team led by Chris Duhon and Shelden Williams.
“It doesn’t sit very well with me,” Izzo told the media Monday, and admitted that “every day” he’s bothered by the record vs. K.
Duke now has taken seven straight vs. Sparty. Here’s the chronological history of K’s command over Izzo, with one exception in 2005.
Dec. 2, 1998: Duke 74, Michigan State 67
Duke ranked fourth, MSU ranked ninth. Probably the best Duke team to not win a national title. The Blue Devils had Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, William Avery, Shane Battier, Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell. Went 37-2 that season. MSU had Morris Peterson, Mateen Cleaves and Charlie Bell a year before they won it all. This was the first of two meetings that season.
March 27, 1999: Duke 68, Michigan State 62
Duke makes it to the title game behind 18 and 15 from Brand. Remember, Izzo is only in his fourth season at the time. With Duke winning this game, most think the Blue Devils will trounce UConn and give K his third national championship. Khalid El-Amin and Ricky Moore had other ideas.
Dec. 3, 2003: Duke 72, Michigan State 50
Notable because it’s the only game in this streak where Duke played at Michigan State. The win was so dominant, Krzyzewski pulled a Costanza and went out on a high note, never to return again, apparently. Paul Davis, Mo Ager and Shannon Brown were on this MSU team.
Nov. 30, 2004: Duke 81, Michigan State 74
Duke was ranked 10th, MSU 11th. This one took place at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke had J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams as juniors, and Daniel Ewing as a senior (which shocks me; it feels like Ewing was playing college hoops seven or eight years ago). This was the first of two clashes that season.
March 25, 2005: Michigan State 78, Duke 68
Izzo’s only win over K came in the Sweet 16 in Austin, Texas. This game is forgotten by most, but that’s in part because it came before MSU played that two-OT epic (with Patrick Sparks 3-pointer) to beat Kentucky and reach the Final Four.
Dec. 1, 2010: Duke 84, Michigan State 79
Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers were seniors for MSU. Draymond Green and Korie Lucious were juniors. An ACC/Big Ten Challenge game in Durham. Kyrie Irving was largely a rumor for Duke that season, but he played in this game and went for 31 points, six rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Nov. 15, 2011: Duke 74, Michigan State 69
The first Champions Classic, held at Madison Square Garden, and the site of K’s 903rd victory. That made him the winningest coach in Div. I men’s basketball history, surpassing Bob Knight, who was there as part of the cable broadcasting team. Keith Appling had 22 in the loss, while Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry combined for 46 points.
March 29, 2013: Duke 71, Michigan State 61
MSU’s season ends in the Sweet 16. Seth Curry puts up a game-high 29. Freshman Gary Harris, currently a really good Denver Nugget, manages six points in 35 minutes.
Nov. 18, 2014: Duke 81, Michigan State 71
Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Sparty was supposed to be really good that season, but went 27-12. Izzo deployed seniors Branden Dawson and Travis Trice, and juniors Denzel Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello. Duke won because Justise Winslow, Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook all scored between 15 and 19 points. It would be the first of two meetings that season.
April 4, 2015: Duke 81, Michigan State 61
Also in Indianapolis, as Duke wins at Lucas Oil Stadium in the Final Four. This preceded Duke’s defeat of Wisconsin in the title game. Grayson Allen had nine points off the bench. Justise Winslow had 19 points and nine boards.
Nov. 29, 2016: Duke 78, Michigan State 69
Grayson Allen wasn’t yet setting fire to the Internet with his tripping incidents, so he went for 24 points. Luke Kennard had 20. This was at Duke for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Miles Bridges had 11 points and nine boards. Duke was ranked fifth, MSU was out of the polls when this one tipped.
Nov. 14, 2017: Duke 88, Michigan State 81
Grayson Allen drops a career-high 37 points on Michigan State’s head. Miles Bridges doesn’t match Allen’s level, but Jaren Jackson shows early signs of what could be a monster freshman season. Duke gets its done despite Marvin Bagley III leaving the game 10 minutes in with an eye injury. It will be fascinating to see how these teams splinter off from here.
As it stands now, Duke and Michigan State are not technically scheduled to meet again in the regular season in the immediate future. But the reality is the Champions Classic is such a big event, it will almost certainly get renewed and played again come 2020, when the cycle will force Sparty and the Blue Devils to face off. It’s also possible the Big Ten/ACC Challenge could induce a meeting in 2018 or 2019. Even still, the NCAA Tournament always looms.
Izzo might dread facing K, but you know he’s going to count the days until he gets another chance to toss get his gorilla gone.