Michigan State's Tom Izzo has a Division 1 National Championship, five Final Four appearances and 353 victories. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has four Division 3 National Championships and is the second fastest coach in Big Ten history to reach 100 wins, besting Izzo by three games.
That's not the only statistic that Ryan is better than Izzo at. Wisconsin is 11-5 against the Spartans under Ryan, a mark that includes his first victory over MSU that ended the Spartans 53-game home winning streak, another road victory that kept the Spartans from unveiling a Big Ten Championship banner and a home victory where UW scores the last 11 points to win by three.
Izzo has had his moments, as well, beating No.1 Wisconsin in 2007 and closing the game on a 32-9 run with 1979 National Championship team to win by 11. While the games, and some of the comments from the Michigan State sideline, would spark an extra-special rivalry between the two schools, Ryan isn't buying into the hype.
"I think we have a rivalry with a lot of teams (and) I don't look at Michigan State as being any more than a rival than a whole list of schools that I can list for you," Ryan said. "I think it became that because they had beaten Wisconsin so many times, or a great percentage of a time for awhile. Then we broke their 53-game streak and some other things … I don't look at it as being talked about a lot more than others."
Tuesday's game is shaping up to another outstanding chapter in the normal rivalry. Michigan State comes in ranked fifth in the country and undefeated in Big Ten Conference play, having won its last four games against middle-of-the-road conference teams by a combined 18 points.
Spartans junior point guard Kalin Lucas is part of the reason Michigan State is escaping tough venues. The Big Ten's 2009 Player of the Year and this season's Preseason Player of the Year, Lucas is leading the team in scoring (16 ppg), assists (4 apg) and hit a couple of game-winning shots that helped his squad earn one-point road victories at Minnesota and Michigan.
"They won the close ones," Ryan said. "When we've won the championship, take a look at the ones that we were able to get and Michigan State is on track to do that by the ones that they ended up getting on a last possession or two. That's what it takes in every league."
Lucas is also following in the steps of Goron Suton. After Suton told reported Wisconsin "plays dirty" a year early, Lucas commented that Wisconsin is a dirty team. Throwing more fuel on the fire that at halftime of the team's first match-up this season, Izzo angrily proclaims in a halftime interview that, "If you breathe on 'em, they fall over. You know that, don't you?" Michigan State was able to out rebound Wisconsin by 14 and ended up winning, 54-47, on January 6.
When asked if ‘flopping' is a defensive tactic, Ryan shrugged off the statement.
"If small minds want to get into small things, feel free," Ryan said. "If people are going to talk about stuff like that … I don't know why people say things that they do. I can only coach one team. That's all I ever try to do."
Nankivil Picking up the Slack
After averaging 2.9 points and 1.8 rebounds per game last season, junior Keaton Nankivil is starting to find his niche in the Wisconsin offense. Averaging 8.7 points and 4.9 rebounds per game this season, Nankivil has scored in double figures seven times, including the last three games, where he is averaging 17.3 points per game.
Against Purdue, Nankivil scored a career-high 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, including tying a program-high with seven three-pointers.
"He's staying aggressive," Ryan said. "If people are going to defensively do certain things to shut off other players on the team or actions within the offense, that enables a big to get the looks he's getting. Defensively, he just gets better because he is learning things that do not come naturally to him.
"Keaton is just one of those guys that we spend every day, and he does, in the learning process … Keaton has had a pretty good three years here. I think he has represented himself well. He improves because he listens. He's a guy that wants to get better, but he still has a ways to go, too. He gets better everyday, he really does."
Ryan wouldn't address the return timetable for injured junior Jon Leuer or know how quickly he would be able to get back into game-playing shape, but the head coach did say Leuer is pushing himself cardiovascular wise and working on drills with his shooting hand.
"Hopefully, it won't take him very long at all once he gets back," Ryan said.
Sources originally indicated that Leuer would miss 4-to-6 weeks. Leuer last played a game on January 9 in a win over Purdue.
"That's not the only thing I am second to Bobby Knight in. Does anybody know the other one? I'm second, along with about 2,000 other college coaches, in number of chairs thrown during a game. I couldn't wait to get that one."
- Ryan on being second behind Knight on the list of fewest games to reach 100 career wins. Knight needed only 131 games.