This is the same Bo Ryan that you’ve seen patrolling the sidelines in Madison, WI for the past decade. He runs the same offensive sets, uses the same drills and emphasizes the same defensive principles that he’s always run. Somehow, he’s getting better results than ever.
The longer that people stay in one position, the more comfortable and predictable they become. Opposing teams and coaches know exactly what the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers are going to do. Casual fans know what the Badgers are going to do. It’s become a boring sermon: Wisconsin is going to play tough defense without fouling, contest shots and wear down offenses — while treating the ball like a newborn baby on offense until NCAA requirements force them to shoot the ball.
The reason that Wisconsin is better than it has ever been under Ryan is simple: he has a system in place that has allowed him to win multiple conference championships with average-at-best players. Recently, Ryan has replaced his average players with very good players while even snagging a few elite in-state recruits. Those recruits have set their egos aside and endured Ryan’s tough-love style when they could have been coddled elsewhere.
As a result, the entire unit has laid waste to all comers.
Chemistry and athleticism are fine and dandy, but they won’t win games. They sure can help, though, and their presence is magnified at a place like Wisconsin. The Badgers have always taken extreme measures to avoid turning the ball over on offense because they haven’t had players that could create their own shots. Wisconsin needed to maximize every possession in order to score enough points to win games.
This team is no different than past editions — the Badgers currently lead the nation in fewest turnovers per game (8.5) — but they have multiple players that can create their own shots. That’s why Wisconsin is scoring about seven points per game more than it ever has under Ryan. When you don’t turn the ball over and you have efficient scorers, you will score points.
Tonight’s game is a perfect example of how Wisconsin’s style has remained the same, but the results have improved. The Badgers had 50 points at halftime against the No. 23 Illinois Fighting Illini, who came into the game allowing 62 points per game. Wisconsin shot over 50 percent and hit 14-17 free throws — a direct result of more athletic players being able to beat their defenders and get into the lane — while turning the ball over just two times.
The second verse was the same as the first. Wisconsin finished the game with just five turnovers while five players scored in double figures. The Badgers also hit the 90-point mark in a Big Ten Conference game for the first time since 2001-02, which was Ryan’s first year. Remember, they did all of this against a top-25 team that was 13-2 entering the game.
Wisconsin still would have won a game like this last year, but the contest would have been much closer and therefore more physically and emotionally draining. This year, the Badgers are putting away strong teams by halftime, which allows the players to stay fresh and upbeat. It all comes back to a system that thrives on discipline and hard work. When that system is supplemented with talent, the results go from really good to truly great.