Bo Ryan has made Wisconsin basketball team the most consistent team in the Big Ten
Wisconsin plays basketball much like it plays football - steady, not flashy. The Badgers feature an all-substance, little-style swing system that wins.
Wisconsin has been the most consistent team in the Big Ten since Bo Ryan took over the team for the 2001-02 season.
The Badgers have never finished worse than fourth in the Big Ten Conference under Ryan, something no other league team can claim in that time. The Badgers have reached the NCAA tournament each year and lost in the first round just once.
Ryan is 228-85 at Wisconsin, including 108-44 in the Big Ten. His teams are 143-11 at home, where the Michigan basketball team will travel Wednesday (8:30 p.m., Big Ten Network). Both teams enter the game 11-3 overall, 1-1 in the Big Ten.
“We all expect when you put on the Wisconsin jersey, you do expect to win and expect to win a lot,” junior guard Jordan Taylor said. “We would never go into a game thinking we’re going to lose this one or maybe have a chance to win. We think we’re going to win every game we play.
“We never go into a year thinking, ‘God, we’re going to have a bad year.’ We expect to be in the NCAA tournament and expect to try and make a run in March and win a Big Ten title as well.”
Ryan is an intense, detail-oriented coach. And the consistency and creating tough-minded players started early on in Ryan’s tenure.
During his first season as Wisconsin’s coach, it didn’t start out well. Wisconsin lost at UNLV in his opener, beat Hawaii-Hilo and then dropped games to Weber State and Hawaii.
Then came losing a 20-point lead in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge against Georgia Tech and dropping the game, 62-61. It was in that game, though, where things changed. Where the players, most of whom Ryan didn’t bring in, began to believe. They had gone through the practices many deemed harder than games. They had beaten each other up.
And the payoff arrived. Even though Wisconsin lost, the Badgers built a lead and saw Ryan’s swing offense could work. His ability to concentrate on the small things wasn’t a gimmick but a way of life.
“That was the game where that was the turning point,” said former Wisconsin guard Freddie Owens, now an assistant at Montana. “Where it was like, ‘We’ve got a chance to do some things here,’ and we ended up sharing a piece of the Big Ten title that year.”
Since the beginning, Ryan has tried to instill focusing on the small things, such as limiting turnovers and on finding the best shot possible.
Or, as former assistant Rob Jeter described it as, find guys who are willing to sacrifice a little of personal glory to win.
“It’s just a bunch of hard-working young men who commit to the basics,” Ryan said. “Just try to get guys who understand that if there are certain things that are kept in mind when you play and don’t let those get away from you, you’ll always have a chance.”
Much of that belief comes from Ryan, who current star Jon Leuer says “sees everything” in practice.
It means players continually try hard, rarely take even a practice possession to relax and have bought into Ryan’s all-too-typical one game at a time mantra.
ClichÃ© and coach-speak, yes. But it has worked to unbelievable levels in Madison.
“Every coach says that,” said Jeter, who is now the head coach at Milwaukee. “But it is absolutely true with Bo, his staff and the players. They do not look past what’s in front of them.”
Part of Ryan’s success has been the consistency that surrounds him. His associate head coach, Greg Gard, has been with him for 17 years from Wisconsin-Platteville to Milwaukee and then to Wisconsin. Gary Close, another assistant, has been at Wisconsin eight years.
Jeter played for and coached with Ryan at Platteville and then coached with him at Milwaukee and Wisconsin before becoming a head coach.
Each year, that staff gets their players to believe in Ryan. Jeter said it’s because he treats players fairly, is well prepared and keeps things simple.
So when his teams learn, they understand because the staff is comfortable with each other.
Then the system they implement, which is more of a slow-down style than a full-court pressing attack Jeter said he ran at Platteville. Since coming to Wisconsin, Jeter said, Ryan has embraced the swing offense attack along with tough defense.
“The style of play is definitely one of the strengths of our success,” Leuer said. “Doing things like taking care of the ball and taking pride in defense and rebounding and doing all the little things, that all adds up at the end of the games.
“And that’s why we’ve been able to pile up so many wins over the years.”
It is why Wisconsin has become a constant presence in both the Big Ten and the NCAA tournament — sometimes to the surprise of everyone else.
“You lose (Jason) Bohannon and (Trevon) Hughes,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “Two of the better guards in the league and seasoned veterans, and you think there’s no way they can be as good this year.
“And then, in a way, they might be even better.”