Ryan putting forth a masterful season on sidelines

first_imgFor the second year in a row, Bo Ryan’s Badgers are back in the Sweet 16.This year, more than any other, I’ve pressured myself into asking how this man continues to pull out such results.Following the Wisconsin men’s basketball team’s 60-57 win Saturday, I took a step back and looked at the season as a whole. Speaking as a Wisconsinite who’s witnessed Ryan’s entire career at UW, I couldn’t help but stand aghast at what the team has accomplished so far this year.This has nothing to do with the fact that the team has forced me to take a knife and fork to my words prior to the tournament. I picked it to lose to Vanderbilt in the second round and publicly called it a team that’s “not made for tournaments.”Dine, Elliot! Dine!All year, when I considered how good this team was, I compared it to the year before and concluded it fell shy of that usual standard.The statistical differences seem negligible. The 2010-11 Badgers shot .441 from the field and .374 from three-point land, compared to .425 and .362 this year. The 2010-11 Badgers scored 67.8 points per game, while the current squad scores 64.But it’s been painfully obvious in several games that the team missed Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. Last year, Wisconsin had two players – Leuer and Jordan Taylor – average just over 18 points a game. Nankivil backed them up with 9.7. Put it all together and you have 46.1 points coming from three players alone.The offense was smooth. Taylor was unbelievable. And the team couldn’t be bothered to win consistently at home or play well on the road.Remove Leuer and Nankivil and nobody averages more than 14.7 (Taylor) points per game on this year’s team. And beyond that, there’s Ryan Evans (11.1) and Jared Berggren (10.3) combining for 36.1 points.With Leuer and Nankivil gone, the onus to score fell hard on Taylor. Scoring droughts lasted nigh of half a period of play. Near team-wide timidity left Wisconsin playing hot potato until someone – usually Taylor – was forced into an ugly shot as the shot clock expired.I’ve grown up watching Wisconsin’s slower-paced brand of basketball, but watching the team play when those syndromes kicked in gave me real anxiety. It’s not easy to watch. This team had three first-time starters on its roster and acted like it.And yet Ryan still ushered them to a kind of success that last year’s time didn’t have. This year’s squad has won away from the Kohl Center (on Selection Sunday, Ryan said the win at Purdue convinced him he had an NCAA tournament team on his hands), it won a game in the Big Ten Tournament (a first since 2008) and so far it has matched the Sweet 16 run that last year’s team closed out the season with.Ryan’s teams have varied in talent ever since he arrived in Madison, but every year it’s the same old drill – at least a fourth-place finish in conference and a date at the Big Dance.But this has to be one of his best performances yet as a coach. Last year’s team truly lived and died by its shooting, but the 2011-12 team, which has not shot as well as it did last year, has the 11th-best opponent shooting percentage in the nation, and the Badgers have won even when shots were not falling.I don’t believe Ryan is in the upper-echelon of college basketball coaches. He’s certainly one of the best in the country, but Tom Izzo, Mike Krzyzewski, or Rick Pitino et al, guys that have made a career out Final Four appearances, have clearly separated themselves from Ryan.And I don’t think a Final Four appearance this season would bump Ryan up – although it certainly would be quite a vindication of sorts for him. The upper echelon of college basketball coaches, as I mean it here, is more exclusive than that. You need multiple trips to the finals to join that club.But watch two specific YouTube videos of Ryan in the locker room with his team. One, right after a particularly strong defensive effort in a road win against Ohio State features a deadpan-faced Ryan addressing his team by mimicking a defensive slide drill, while saying “Let’s get on the bus.”He looks a little silly when he does it and doesn’t act particularly excited. But his team erupts in cheers and mobs him.The other features the team, fresh off the win against Vanderbilt, and Ryan looks at Taylor and Rob Wilson – the two seniors on the team – and says, with a hint of a crack in his voice: “There’s no way you and me are done, or you. No way.”We may have been watching a team overachieve all season, but all along the way we’ve been watching a master at work on the sidelines.Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism. What kind of legacy does Bo Ryan have? Let him know by emailing ehughes@badgerherald.com or tweeting @BHeraldSports.last_img

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