Wisconsin (11-3 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) and No. 15 Michigan State (10-2, 2-0) play another important conference game today, with a nationally televised tip-off scheduled for 12:36 p.m. at the Kohl Center here.
Just do not whisper the ‘r' word – rivalry – around the Badgers.
"What difference does it make what you call it? You guys [reporters] call it that," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "I'm calling it ‘the next game.' It's not going to change the way we prepare, or what we do."
"We are treating it just like another game," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "We haven't prepared any differently, we haven't thought about it any differently."
Wisconsin is 5-0 versus Michigan State since Ryan became the Badgers' coach prior to the 2001-02 season. Three of those games were decided by four points or less. The Badgers' average margin of victory in the five games is a mere 6.2 points, the lowest average point differential for any conference opponent during Ryan's tenure.
"I think Michigan/Michigan State is a rivalry," Ryan said. "I don't know what we are. We are Wisconsin…. trying to fight for top spots in the Big Ten. They're doing the same thing. I guess anybody you play is a rival in the Big Ten because you play them every year."
Wisconsin and Michigan State, however, are established along with Illinois as the Big Ten's power programs. But Ryan refuses to consider Michigan State a rival in the conventional sense of the term because he refuses to single out any opponent for special consideration.
"In coaching if you do the song and dance, you do a Broadway act for one particular opponent, what do you do for the next one?" Ryan said. "Players, that gets old with them."
"That's not the way you live your life either," Ryan said. "You don't just all of a sudden wake up this morning and go out and say, ‘I'm going to beat the world' and run around and have high energy one day. OK, what are you going to do the next day? Can you have that high energy every day?
"What you do is you try to live your life at a high level every day… You don't just pick one day."
The Spartans hopes today is their day to beat the Badgers. No player on the Spartans' roster has ever won a game versus Wisconsin. Before Ryan's tenure began at UW, Michigan State had won 12 of 13 matchups with the Badgers.
"I think the one thing our players have been is a pretty mature group," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "And they know what we're up against."
Wisconsin beat MSU three times last year, including a 68-64 overtime win in East Lansing, which kept the Spartans from unfurling the Big Ten Championship banners adorning the Breslin Center's ceiling.
Three years ago Wisconsin snapped Michigan State's 53-game home winning streak after Spartan guard Kelvin Torbert's last-second shot was properly disallowed, preserving a 64-63 Badger win.
Today Michigan State will try to snap Wisconsin's nation-best 37-game home winning streak.
"We have a rivalry with almost every Big Ten school," Wilkinson said. "Every school comes here ready to play hard and trying to win. We're always trying to win too. We've just happened to have some closer games with them over the past few years. Every time we play anybody in this conference, it is always hard fought. You've got to come ready to play."
Michigan State may be a big deal to his team's fans, Ryan acknowledged, but the name on the opponent's jersey does not change the Badgers' pregame preparations.
Said Ryan: "I just think that all that other conversation about streaks, who's playing what school and where they're playing them, I just think that if you get caught up in all that with your players it just takes away from what you are trying to do."