I don’t have to dig too far to re-use this storyline: On Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers have their biggest test of the season as undefeated and #1 ranked Ohio State invades Madison.
Just four months ago that backdrop worked pretty well for Bret Bielema’s football squad, which defeated the Buckeyes and eventually won a share of the Big Ten crown, earning a trip to the Rose Bowl.
Could Bo Ryan’s bunch end up following in the recent footsteps of UW football and the Green Bay Packers to spoil the Wisconsin sporting faithful even more?
While the Super Bowl buildup was just beginning last Sunday, the Badgers served notice as a force to be reckoned with come March, with a nationally televised 82-56 beatdown of Michigan State.
That the Spartans had been slumping and are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament seemed of little matter; any time a team manages to completely embarrass a Tom Izzo coached team, it raises eyebrows.
Yes, Bo Ryan is a pretty darn good coach – who may now finally admit on camera that Ohio State is indeed on the schedule after surviving an ugly trap game at Iowa Wednesday night.
I’m still wondering how it took 15 years for a D-1 program to finally pry the Paulie Walnuts double out of the Southwestern Wisconsin outback known as UW-Platteville — where Ryan was 353-76 with four Division 3 Championships – and two years after that for Wisconsin to finally come to their senses and hire him; and only after the school failed to land Rick Majerus. Coach Rick can now be found near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 conference with a current 8-15 record at Saint Louis.
Often Bo-Ball is not pretty, as evidenced Wednesday by the Badgers failing to hit the broadside of a frigid Iowa barn (6-33 from the field in the first half), before waking just in time to defeat the Hawkeyes in overtime.
But what Wisconsin teams do right are fundamentals. What would you expect from a team led by a man who has written three books, one titled ‘The Swing Offense’ and another ‘Passing and Catching – The Lost Art’? This is a program that looks at the jab step as a lethal offensive weapon. Ryan has managed to win, and win big, in 12 years in Madison without elite athletic talent — the only notable exception currently in the NBA being Devin Harris.
But basketball is not a sport where the winner is determined by judges or style points. It is judged simply by scoring more than the opposition, and Ryan’s resume in Madison speaks volumes…
- Two outright conference regular season titles (and a share of a third)
- Two Big Ten Tournament Championships
- Three trips to the Sweet 16, and an Elite Eight appearance. Predecessor Dick Bennett helped lay some of that groundwork with an unexpected trip to the Final Four in 2000.
- A 149-11 record at home, including an incredible 75-6 mark in conference play.
- The 2010-11 Badgers are on pace to have one of the highest team free throw percentages in history. Currently Wisconsin is shooting an astounding 82.9% from the stripe (none of the other 300+ D1 teams is above 79.5%.) Not surprisingly, the team does not go to the line much, with the sixth fewest attempts of all D1 teams.
Bo Ryan no doubt will lead the Badgers to a tenth consecutive NCAA appearance, which will be 12 straight years for Wisconsin dating to the Dick Bennett days.
The younger generation should be reminded that there was an era when Wisconsin was a Big Ten bottom-feeder in basketball. And a very long one at that.
From 1948 through 1993 the program did not get one NCAA post-season invite. Where Indiana has been residing in the Big Ten standings while rebuilding the past couple years is where the Badgers literally spent decades, usually battling Northwestern for ninth place. Growing up, the winning seasons and national rankings and post-season tournament runs were always reserved for Al McGuire and Marquette 90 minutes to the east – or for UW hockey which was long considered the #2 sport on campus, and even today can be considered #2A.
Stu Jackson helped to finally change the culture of Badgers basketball in the mid-1990s, and the turnaround was enhanced by the arrival of Dick Bennett, and finally Ryan, as well as finally moving out of the out-dated UW Fieldhouse to the Kohl Center.
We will find out much more about the current Wisconsin team in the next few days, as following the game with the Buckeyes the Badgers travel to take on #12 Purdue. The Big Ten tournament will also be a good barometer to where this team may truly be headed. Although there are no easy touches in the Big Ten, a deep run be needed for the Badgers to get a top NCAA seed with only three ranked teams currently in the conference.
What is known is come Big Dance time, the Badgers will as usual, be labeled as the team that no one wants to face. That is because winning ugly is not fashionable, except in Madison.