Not only has Wisconsin been a model of consistency during Bo Ryan’s tenure – it’s also posted unrivaled success against conference powerhouse Michigan State.
The 12th-ranked Badgers look to advance to a second straight Big Ten tournament title game with a semifinal win Saturday over the No. 22 Spartans in Indianapolis.
The second-seeded Badgers (26-6) are making a third straight semifinal appearance following an 83-57 quarterfinal win over Minnesota on Friday for their ninth victory in 10 games. After letting Nebraska shoot 52.0 percent in a 77-68 road loss Sunday, Wisconsin held the Golden Gophers to 32.8 percent shooting for Ryan’s 700th career victory. Ben Brust scored a career-high 29 and hit four 3-pointers as the Badgers were 10 of 24 from beyond the arc.
Wisconsin and Michigan State have split six previous matchups in this event, with the Spartans ending a three-game series slide in a 2012 semifinal victory en route to its last tournament title.
Though Michigan State has claimed eight of the last 11 overall meetings, the Badgers are 14-11 against the Spartans since Ryan took over in 2001-02. They’re the only Big Ten squad above .500 against Tom Izzo during that span.
Ryan, who has never finished worse than fourth in the conference’s regular-season standings, was less than enthusiastic when asked about the NCAA tournament seeding implications these contests may hold. Wisconsin may still have a chance at a top seed in the NCAA tournament if it can capture a third Big Ten tournament title, particularly after No. 10 Kansas lost to No. 16 Iowa State in a Big 12 semifinal matchup on Friday.
"I never answer anything about seeds," Ryan said. "Really, I’ve never answered any of those questions because I really wouldn’t know what to say."
Wisconsin claimed a 60-58 home victory over then-No. 9 Michigan State on Feb. 9 with Traevon Jackson hitting a jumper with 2.1 seconds left despite tight defense from Gary Harris.
Harris – the Big Ten’s third-leading scorer with 17.5 points per game – was 3 of 20 from the floor with six points in the last matchup. Nigel Hayes scored 14 off the bench for the Badgers while the Spartans’ reserves totaled six points.
Third-seeded Michigan State (24-8) is making its fourth straight semifinal appearance following a 67-51 victory over 11th-seeded Northwestern on Friday. The Spartans, who had lost three of their last four regular-season games, got 16 points from Branden Dawson and 13 from Harris.
For the third straight contest, they were able to use the same starting lineup from their first two league games – Harris, Dawson, Denzel Valentine, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne. The school’s preseason No. 2 ranking was largely due to that group’s experience, but Michigan State has struggled to develop consistency due to a barrage of injuries.
Dawson, in his fourth game back since missing nine with a broken right hand, had totaled 20 points over his previous three contests on 8-of-19 shooting. He was 8 of 12 on Friday with nine rebounds.
"Let’s not kid ourselves," Izzo said. "We are going to be a work in progress every game we play. Are we making progress? Yeah, we are. But tomorrow will be a good test to see where we are."
Harris, who was 0 for 7 from 3-point range last month versus Wisconsin, has since gone 22 of 51 (43.1 percent). However, he’s just 10 of 37 from the field and 2 of 12 from deep with 23 points in three career matchups with the Badgers.
Brust was 2 of 9 with five points in the last meeting and is shooting only 23.1 percent from beyond the arc in seven games versus Michigan State.