Spartans’ road gets tougher
The fifth-ranked Spartans (19-3, 9-0) are off to a perfect start in the Big Ten that has given them a three-game cushion over four teams, and they play three of them this week. After playing No. 16 Wisconsin (16-5, 6-3) tonight at the Kohl Center, they’re at Illinois on Saturday and host Purdue next week.
“I can’t think of a tougher three-game stretch,” Izzo said. “We could play awfully well and lose all three and, all of a sudden, it’s a different story.”
The Badgers are 12-0 at home this season and have won 17 straight in Madison.
But Wisconsin will need senior guard Trevon Hughes to bounce back after struggling in a 60-57 loss at Purdue last week. Hughes scored just nine points and missed all five of his three-point shots.
“He doesn’t rattle,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said of Hughes on Monday. “We’re playing the two teams that were by far and away picked to be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten in Purdue and Michigan State here in back-to-back games.
“What’s his history of recovering? It’s been pretty good, and hopefully it’s going to be pretty good for tomorrow night because we’re going to need it.”
Keaton Nankivil has been a bright spot for the Badgers. He scored 25 points on 7-of-8 shooting from three-point range at Purdue.
“If people are defensively going to do certain things to shut off other players on the team or other actions within our offense, that enables a big to get the looks he’s been getting,” Ryan said. “Defensively he just gets better. ...”
That may take some pressure off Hughes for open looks as the Badgers try to topple their third team ranked in the top six at home this season after wins against Duke and Purdue.
Ryan pointed out the series with Michigan State was one-sided in the Spartans’ favor until recently, and he insisted there is no particular rivalry there.
Ryan is building a legacy in his own right. He became the second-fastest coach to reach 100 Big Ten wins, tying Indiana coach Branch McCracken at 140 and trailing only Indiana’s Bob Knight (131).
“That’s not the only thing I’m second to Bobby Knight in,” the coach joked. “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 in, because I’m at zero and a lot of other guys are at zero.”
Ryan said it was more important to focus on the squads that he, Knight and McCracken had, instead of their personalities.
“I’m hoping that people ... think about those games and those players and those teams and what they did,” Ryan said. “And that, to me, is still what it should always be about.”