January 6, 2010

Badgers and Spartans set to renew rivalry

Usually when you spell the word rivalry, there are no UW's or MSU's involved in the lettering process.

But when you start talking about some of the better rivalries in the Big Ten, one could spell out those two schools like they were engaged in a game of Scrabble and the inherent rivalry between them would probably be recognized.

For the 126th time, Wisconsin and Michigan State will meet on the hardwood when the Badgers take to the Breslin Center court later this evening. The contest will entertain the faithful followers to two schools with ambitions of contending for the Big Ten title as the season progresses.

With that being said, the game will also feature a couple of teams that know a little bit about the rivalry while also shedding light on what the feelings are inside of it.

"There are a couple of guys back from Ohio on their team," UW sophomore Rob Wilson, an Ohio native, said. "I used to be good friends with them. But once we step to the line, I don't know those guys."

Don't let those words fool you though. This is a game and rivalry that sees two programs with a lot of success and respect engaging in a 40-minute matchup on the court.

It's become such a rivalry only because both teams have won their respective games both in and outside of the rivalry and both have had success within the conference and on a national scale.

Since Bo Ryan took over, the Badgers have won three Big Ten titles and two Big Ten Tournament championships. They have reached an Elite Eight and a couple of Sweet Sixteen's while never failing to reach the NCAA tournament.

Michigan State, under Tom Izzo, has won a national championship within the past 10 years, made another national title game and a couple of Final Fours. In fact, no four-year player under Izzo has failed to reach the Final Four at least once during their career.

It would be tough to find a program in America that wouldn't trade in their current success rate for that of either Wisconsin or Michigan State.

So that's what makes this game, one where two teams compete at a high level in hopes of positioning themselves in the conference pecking order, so fun to watch. It's a healthy rivalry with two exceptional teams that compete on a year-to-year basis without much of a sign of a setback or rebuilding year.

"It's going to be high intensity," UW junior Keaton Nankivil said. "They're a very good team. They're confident after last year. Just from watching them play I think they think they can make it back. That's a team with experience and depth that has a lot going for them.

"We're going to have to be firing on all cylinders."

In a game where UW will likely serve as the underdog much like it has for the entirety of the season, there is one area the Badgers have a distinct advantage.

When it comes to defense, Wisconsin has been one of the best in the country. And as a direct result of that tenacious defense, the Badgers have forced teams into committing a lot of turnovers.

When they meet up with the Spartans later today, they will face a squad that commits nearly 15 turnovers a game. When you throw in a top-five nationally ranked defense like Wisconsin, it becomes obvious that the turnover department could probably be one of the more important facets of this game, even though Ryan didn't seem too concerned with that statistic.

"I'm not so much looking at the stat sheet," Ryan said. "I go with what I see on the DVD's that we have. Mainly I deal with what we do and then we throw in what Michigan State does."

Some of what Michigan State does well is in regards to the way they spread the rock around. Five players average double-digit scoring for the Spartans, including the dynamic and veteran point guard Kalin Lucas.

"It's like we have 'Pop' (Trevon Hughes) and J-Bo (Jason Bohannon)," Nankivil said. "They have that kind of general that keeps them organized and all of that, as well as a guy like Durrell Summers who can do the same thing out of a different position. Even Delvon Roe, for a sophomore, does a lot of stuff for them.

"They have a ton of weapons and a ton of people that just have a good basketball head."

But looking at the Wisconsin roster, much of the same can be said. And that is what makes this rivalry one of the more fun ones to engage with.

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