MADISON, Wis. — Peruse the list of college basketball players that have recorded at least five double-doubles this season, and you’ll mostly find bruising 6-foot-8 power forwards or colossal 7-foot centers.
What you won’t find is many off guards that stand just 6-1. In fact, Wisconsin guard Ben Brust is one of just two players among the top 150 to own five double-doubles at such a compact height. Southern Illinois guard Jeff Early, also 6-1, is the other.
“He’s tired of hearing it all his life,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said of Brust’s height on Monday. “Guys with a little chip on their shoulder, they always figure they’ve got something to prove.
“If you were always told that you weren’t very handsome, some guys would start to not go very many places, wear disguises if they weren’t handsome and hide. Ben, a lot of people didn’t think he’d play in college. And Big Ten? You’ve got to be kidding me. There are people that said, ‘Ben Brust in the Big Ten?’ In life, that’s not bad to have that edge. He’s got the edge.”
Brust recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 15 points and 11 rebounds during Wisconsin’s 71-49 victory against Ohio State at the Kohl Center on Sunday. It marked his first double-double since the non-conference season, when he was playing teams with less talent and size.
Brust’s other double-doubles came against Southeastern Louisiana, Cornell, Presbyterian and Nebraska-Omaha.
“I was just going to give credit to these guys,” Brust said of his teammates following Sunday’s victory. “There’s times where they clear out their guys. I’ve got to make sure my guy is not going into the boards first. They box out their guy and the ball bounces around. I just try and get to it as soon as possible to secure it.”
Ryan praised Brust on Sunday for doing the dirty work despite the perception that Brust is a so-called “country clubber.” Brust came from the Chicago suburbs in Hawthorn Woods, Ill., and played at Mundelein High School.
“He’s tenacious,” Ryan said Sunday. “Even though he’s what I call a country clubber because his folks do belong to a country club, he doesn’t play like a country clubber.
“I used to use that term in a way because of the way I grew up. Some of the people I met when I was in college that were country club members were not real aggressive or physical people. I was so wrong.”
Added Brust: “Coach Ryan jokes with me when we order Jimmy John’s that there’s an option for the country club sub, and I usually end up getting that one.”
Whatever the label, Wisconsin (18-8, 9-4 in the Big Ten) certainly will take Brust’s production.
Ranking well: With its victory against Ohio State, Wisconsin improved to 5-4 against ranked teams this season, including a 5-2 mark against ranked Big Ten teams. That matches Indiana and Georgetown for the most top-25 wins of any team in the country this season.
Wisconsin moved up a spot in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll to No. 19. The Badgers are No. 17 in the coaches poll.
Ryan, not surprisingly, doesn’t spend much time concerning himself with team rankings.
“As far as rankings or anything during the year, that really for me, maybe other people put more into it, but I really don’t put a lot into it,” Ryan said. “Individual awards, things like that, I don’t fill out my ballot. I let my assistants do it at the end of the year. Individual awards to me mean absolutely nothing. That’s why I coach a team sport.”
Ryan may not look, but Wisconsin’s performance certainly will earn praise when the NCAA Tournament selection committee makes its seeding decisions next month. The Badgers’ strength of schedule ranks eighth nationally, and their RPI is No. 26.
Top-4 finish: At 9-4, Wisconsin is tied for third in the Big Ten with Michigan, two full games behind Indiana and Michigan State. Barring a late-season collapse, the Badgers are primed to finish in the top four of the conference for the 12th time in Ryan’s 12 seasons with the team.
Although Ryan doesn’t talk about a top-four finish with his players, that type of success is a source of pride for him.
“We never bring it up,” Ryan said. “It’s not anything in any discussions. There have been times in the past where I mentioned there’s been a lot of sweat dropped on this floor by a lot of guys before you. You might want to think about ever taking a possession off. You represent more than just yourself when you play here. But I’ve never mentioned numbers, championships, where we want to position ourselves or we need to be up at this level. I’ve never done that. …
“When I hear from people outside the area, that is the one thing about our guys that they comment on his how consistent they’ve been. So I think they should take that as a pretty good compliment and hopefully that spurs guys on to say, ‘Hey we want to finish higher than average.’
“In this league, you finish higher than average, you tend to get a chance to play some more, and you know what these guys want to do at the end of the year. That’s never been a secret. Hopefully they can keep that going.”