UW, MSU to renew acquaintances

Izzo and Ryan say their relationship is respectful

MADISON – Prior to Wisconsin's home game with Michigan State Jan. 16, Spartan coach Tom Izzo told Badger coach Bo Ryan that they might as well get straight to fighting.

"I told Bo before the game we should have just brought boxing gloves out and boxed and had a good time," Izzo said after UW's dramatic 62-59 win.

Izzo was playfully referencing the often discussed rivalry between himself and Ryan, a rivalry that Izzo said, "gets blown out of proportion over one incident," during a conference call Monday.

The ‘incident' occurred two seasons ago, when Wisconsin beat Michigan State 64-53 at the Kohl Center. With 1.5 seconds remaining in that game, Devin Harris lofted an unnecessary alley-oop to Alando Tucker, punctuating the win for UW and raising Izzo's ire.

After the game, Izzo said to Ryan, "I'll remember that." Ryan and Harris agreed the play was unnecessary, but Ryan later called Izzo's anger simple "gamesmanship."

Monday, Izzo said the whole episode had been blown out of proportion, though he clearly had not forgotten it.

"Maybe I overreacted," Izzo said. "If people think that that's fine with me. I did what I thought was right; I did what I thought I saw in this league for 20 years and I said something about it. Really that's all there is to it. Some of it has been a mountain out of molehill…."

Izzo and Ryan said they have not discussed the particulars of that game two years ago.

"No, we've never hashed it out," Izzo said. "Never talked about it one time. I've seen Bo and I've talked to him and I have no problem talking to him. I think a little bit of it has been over blown. This is not a hatred thing over one thing. It gets over blown because of the rivalry. Because both teams have been involved in the winning of the Big Ten Championship for a couple years."

"I don't know what there was to hash out," Ryan said. "It's two teams competing and in competition there's things that happen that happen and you can't change them. You just get ready for the next game. The thing that's most important about what we do is what we're doing for our players. As coaches we prepare for our next game. I don't know why anybody would look at it any differently."

Izzo said he understood where the notion of a rivalry came from. Wisconsin is 6-0 versus Michigan State in Ryan's four years at UW, making the Spartans the only Big Ten team that has not beaten the Ryan-coached Badgers. Prior to Ryan's arrival, however, Wisconsin had lost 12 of 13 games to MSU, including all four in the 1999-2000 season, which included a Final Four matchup in the NCAA Tournament.

Recently, though, UW has been the thorn in MSU's side keeping the Spartans from winning a Big Ten title.

Last year, the Badgers kept the Spartans from winning a Big Ten regular season title with a 68-64 overtime win at the Breslin Center. Had the infamous UW victory two years ago gone in MSU's favor, the Badgers would have finished in a three-way tie for first with MSU and Illinois, rather than winning the title outright. Three years ago Wisconsin snapped Michigan State's 53-game home winning streak. The Badgers finished that season, Ryan's first at their helm, in a four-way tie for first place, one game ahead of MSU.

On Jan. 16 of this year UW used an 11-0 run over the final two minutes to hand the Spartans one of their two conference losses this season.

"I don't think their fans enjoyed us either when we beat them four times in one year, including the game that went to the… national championship game," Izzo said. "I think the rivalry is two-fold and everybody says, ‘well, you were mad at him over one thing.' That's ridiculous. Their fans don't like us. Our fans don't like them because that's what happens in sports. It's a normal rivalry."

"Michigan, Ohio State, do they get along in football?" Izzo said rhetorically. "No, because they've both been good. We've both been good the last four years….Believe me… we don't walk around at meetings and not talk to each other and growl at each other or anything. It's not like that at all."

Ryan, who regularly dismisses talk of rivalries, and Izzo expressed a mutual respect for one another.

"There have been some good games, every game but one has been right down to the wire," Izzo said. "They've won them and I give them credit for that. I consider my relationship respectful and I understand he's a good coach. I have all the respect in the world for him in that way."

Ryan was the head coach at Division III UW-Platteville for 15 years before breaking into the Division I ranks, first with UW-Milwaukee. Ryan also played guard for Division III Wilkes, in Pennsylvania.

Izzo played for Division II Northern Michigan from 1973-77 and was an assistant there from 1979-83.

"I have great respect, in fact about as much respect for him because he was a Division III guy like I was a Division II guy," Izzo said. "So I can appreciate how he came up and what he did."

"It's very professional," Ryan said of his relationship with Izzo. "Tom obviously is a guy [who] came up through the ranks working for one of the greatest guys that ever coached – [former MSU coach] Judd Heathcote. He's a Division II guy, I'm a Division III guy from the standpoint of playing and coaching. In our meetings, talking, everything else, there is absolutely nothing but respect that I have. That's how I look at this profession. I think it's all about things for the players and for the development of our programs and our schools and sometimes I think people try to make it about the coaches. The relationship is fine."

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