Badgers a model of Big Ten consistency, competitiveness under Ryan
With a 71-66 victory against Penn State on Sunday, Wisconsin clinched a spot in the top four of the Big Ten and an opening-round bye in the conference tournament for the 13th time in coach Bo Ryan's 13 seasons.
MADISON, Wis. — If memory serves Bo Ryan correctly, one of the first questions he was asked after taking over as Wisconsin’s basketball coach in 2001 was about his goals for the program.
Well, the gist of his answer went, the goal was to win as many games as possible. And though such a response may sound simple, the fact is the increasingly high level of competition across both college basketball and the Big Ten has made achieving that objective more difficult.
"We’ve all been raised with the idea of don’t be a flash in the pan as a person," Ryan said Monday during his weekly news conference. "And as a team, we don’t want Wisconsin to be a flash in the pan. We’d like them to be consistently competitive at a high level."
During 13 years in charge at Wisconsin, Ryan’s teams have proven to be a model of consistency. So for some, his latest achievement may not mean much. Most, however, should see the value here: With a 71-66 victory against Penn State on Sunday, Wisconsin clinched a spot in the top four of the Big Ten and an opening-round bye in the conference tournament for the 13th time in Ryan’s 13 seasons.
The only other Big Ten team to attain 13 consecutive top-four finishes was Purdue — from 1920-32.
"The thing that our guys have always tried to do is go into every game trying to make sure the other team, if they’re going to be on the left-hand side, that they have to take it from you," Ryan said. "You’re not going to give it to them, so to speak.
"So try to do the little things well. I think it speaks volume to the players that have played here during this streak that you call it of finishing in the upper level of the Big Ten. I’ve always thought that any coach that comes into the Big Ten, shouldn’t that be your goal? . . . Usually, that means that you’ve got some rewards at the end of the year for your team. You get to play more."
Wisconsin improved to 24-5 overall and 11-5 in the Big Ten with the victory against Penn State. And with two regular season games remaining, the Badgers have an opportunity to earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament by winning out. Wisconsin holds the tiebreaker against Michigan State, also 11-5, by virtue of a 60-58 victory against the Spartans at the Kohl Center earlier this season.
The Badgers have reached this point by winning seven consecutive games down the stretch. Wisconsin began the season 16-0 — the best start in program history — and attained a national ranking of No. 3. UW then lost five of six conference games to fall out of the top 25 entirely.
Ryan’s even-keeled approach at practice and in the film room regardless of the outcomes played a key role in the turnaround.
"First of all, you have to ask what would frustration do?" he said. "Tell me what it’s ever solved. Tell me what it’s ever done. So it’s not even a question I can answer because I don’t go there. I don’t get frustrated that way because there’s another practice coming, there’s another chance.
"The toughest time is at the end of the year. There’s only one team that doesn’t get a little frustrated because everybody else is knocked out. Most are knocked out before the tournament even starts. So frustration is not something I have time for."
Ryan’s record in Big Ten games is now 155-65. His .705 winning percentage is the highest in Big Ten history.
Bo on Brust: Badgers guard Ben Brust is one of three seniors that will be honored as part of senior day festivities during Wisconsin’s home finale Tuesday night against Purdue, along with forward Zach Bohannon and center Evan Anderson. Brust recently became the 12th player during Ryan’s tenure to eclipse the 1,000-point mark for his career.
But defense, Ryan said, has also proven to be a vital component to the 6-foot-1 Hawthorn Woods, Ill., native seeing time on the floor.
"You’ve been on a picnic before," Ryan said. "You’ve been camping. You’ve been outdoors. How big is a mosquito? Not very big. But, boy, can it be a nuisance. So what you do is — this is kind of what I was taught by the coach I played for because he would put me on 6-foot guards, and he’d put me on 6-8, 6-9 guys. Try to be an annoyance, try to be a pest, try to get into guys a little bit, take them out of their game.
"So that’s pretty much what Ben does. If he happens to be on a bigger guy, he’s trying to pester them as much as he can. I know he’s a real nice, fine, young man, but when he wants to pester someone, he can."
This season, Brust is averaging 12.6 points, ranks third on the team in rebounds (4.8) and is tied for first on the team in total steals (26).
Climbing the ranks: Wisconsin improved five spots in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll, from No. 14 to No. 9. It marks the first time the Badgers have been ranked in the top 10 this season since checking in at No. 9 for the Jan. 20 poll six weeks ago.
ESPN.com’s Joe Lunardi has Wisconsin as a No. 2 seed playing No. 15 UC Irvine in Milwaukee for the opening round of the NCAA tournament. In fact, every major bracket projection currently lists Wisconsin as a No. 2 seed playing in Milwaukee.