The Coaching Rivalry Resumes

Wisconsin head coach Bo Byan and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo have an interesting history, with Ryan blocking more championship from Izzo and having plenty of icy handshakes in between.

MADISON – Sitting down on Monday morning for his weekly media conference, Tom Izzo was in a pretty good mood. Two blowout wins, in which Michigan State turned the ball over a combined 12 times, put the Spartans back on track.

When the topic of conversation quickly turned to Wisconsin, Izzo's mood was no longer jolly.

"They've been a thorn in my side," he said bluntly. "They've earned it. They haven't cheated their way through it, they've earned it. So now we've got to try to (turn it around)."

After winning seven consecutive games against Wisconsin from February 1999 to February 2001, Izzo has gone 0-for-5 in Madison and is just 3-9 in his last 12 against Wisconsin.

Ironically, Izzo's Wisconsin demise started when Bo Ryan first came to Madison.

"The series is much more competitive than it has been," said assistant coach Gary Close. "I can't remember one game where the game has gotten really out of hand. They've all been big games with Big Ten title implications or tournament implications. The stakes are always going to be higher."

Over the past seven years, Michigan State has lost more than Wisconsin has.

In 2002, UW ended MSU's 53-game home winning streak when officials waved off a Kelvin Torbert tip-in at the buzzer. Wisconsin won a share of the title and the Spartans end up one game out in the Big Ten standings.

In 2003, Michigan State was picked to win the conference and needed to win in Madison to stay in the race. Wisconsin has the game well in hand and punctuates the game when Devin Harris throws a lob to Alando Tucker, who dunks right before the buzzer. The play angers Izzo, who swears at Ryan, who in turn shrugs it off.

Wisconsin wins its second straight Big Ten championship while the Spartans finish third.

"We've had a bunch of really good games," Close said. "A lot of games really stick out, especially (2004)."

That year was one of the defining moments in the rivalry. Wisconsin had already beaten the Spartans by 13 in Madison but when they met in East Lansing two months later, a Michigan State win would have clinched the Big Ten regular season championship.

With the Spartans feeling confident and already having their Big Ten title banner rolled up in the rafters, Wisconsin's coaches and players used MSU's cockiness as motivation. In what will be remembered as the "Banner Game," Paul Davis and his 26 points misses the last seven minutes because of cramps, UW's Clayton Hanson makes a big three and Wisconsin wins in overtime, keeping the banner rolled up forever.

Michigan State got some revenge last year when they knocked off the Badgers, who were fresh off assuming the No. 1 spot in the polls for the first time in school history, by nine, costing UW a chance to share the conference title.

"I have never really looked at one team being better than the other," Ryan said. "I just look at what Michigan State has now. I don't change the way I practice because we've had some close games. There have been some games that have come down to (the wire)."

Tonight's contest between the two teams should be another chapter into that rivalry, although the roles have drastically shifted over the past two months. The Spartans, picked to finish first in the Big Ten, have fallen on hard times away from East Lansing, where they have gone 8-0 in conference.

Michigan State's 2-4 road conference record is the main reason the Spartans sit in fourth-place finish. Juxtapose to Wisconsin's 7-1 road record and it's no surprise that the Badgers are in a three-way tie for first place.

With such talented players as sophomore Raymar Morgan (15.2 ppg) and the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year Drew Neitzel still on the floor, the Spartans are still a very talented ball club.

"They were a point away from beating Iowa and we were a shot away from beating Purdue," Close said. "That's the way this league is, a couple more bounces and they would be right there."

While their may or may not be a feud between the two biggest-name coaches in the conference, the success the two programs have had in conference since the beginning of the 2001 season is stellar. With Wisconsin winning 73 percent of its games (81-30) and Michigan State third with 64 percent (71-39), the Badgers and Spartans always put on a good performance.

"It is two very good programs that have had very good games against each other," assistant coach Greg Gard said. "Coach Izzo and Coach Ryan are a lot more alike than people and the media perceive them to be. Both coaches have both worked hard for a long time in this profession and done a lot of good things for the game of basketball and the kids that they coached.

"It's always been Wisconsin against Michigan State," he added. "It hasn't been one player vs. another or Coach Ryan vs. Coach Izzo. It's about two very good programs that have sustained their success."

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