Bo Ryan has No. 4 Wisconsin basketball on a roll
BY HERB GOULD For Sun-Times Media January 6, 2014 10:35PM
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan watches his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern in Evanston, Ill., on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. Wisconsin won 76-49. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Updated: February 8, 2014 6:29AM
Bo Ryan can be tight. After Wisconsin blew a nine-point first-half lead against Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game in March, he curtly told sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson what happened: “They made some shots.’’ And what adjustments were needed: “Try to keep them from making shots.’’
The Badgers coach also can be light. After a rout at Northwestern last week, he joked about standing at a podium for his postgame briefing by riffing about legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas: “All we’re missing is that little lady in the front row who asks the first question.’’
A bit later, after adeptly catching a tape recorder that he had inadvertently knocked off the podium, he said, “Coach always put me on the toughest guy. These hands are registered.’’
Light Bo. Tight Bo. Don’t be fooled. What Ryan really can do is coach.
Illinois coach John Groce knows what danger lies ahead when the No. 23 Illini put their newly acquired
top-25 ranking on the line at No. 4 Wisconsin on Wednesday (8 p.m, BTN).
“They really play the game the right way,’’ Groce said. “They play together and they do not beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over. They make free throws late. They make the extra pass. All the little discipline and detail things, they do well.’’
With his record of never finishing lower than fourth in the Big Ten seemingly in danger in his 13th year, Ryan has guided another unheralded squad to a 15-0 start, the best in school history.
“I don’t even look at who Bo has in recruiting,’’ Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It doesn’t matter. Who cares who he’s got? He’s going to win, anyway. That’s a really big compliment.’’
Whether they were underrated or simply have blossomed in Madison, Ryan certainly seems to have some solid talent this year.
The biggest surprise might be Frank Kaminsky, the 7-footer from Benet, who scored a school-record 43 points against North Dakota in November.
Josh Gasser, the glue guy who missed last season with a torn ACL, teams with three-point ace Ben Brust, a Mundelein product, and always improving Traevon Jackson to give Wisconsin a formidable perimeter.
Leading scorer Sam Dekker, the Badgers’ best all-around player, is off to an All-Big Ten start. And the key reserve, 6-7 freshman Nigel Hayes, is threatening to give Ryan the kind of athletic presence he has not often had.
“This is an amazing group to this point,’’ Ryan said. “They’ve found ways. They’ve been resilient. They’ve responded to hard teaching points, to criticism, to compliments. They listen.’’
They lead the nation with just 8.5 turnovers a game. They’re second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (60.5), just ahead of No. 3 Illinois (61.5). But they also lead the Big Ten with 39.6 percent three-point shooting; Illinois is 11th (32 percent).
“It’s always a great challenge to play up there,’’ Groce said. “We love challenges, though. There’s a reason they’re in the top five in the country. But you learn a lot about yourself when you play teams that require you to be that challenged.’’
Ryan, 190-18 at home as Wisconsin coach, including 92-11 against Big Ten opponents, isn’t taking anything for granted. Never does.
“[The Illini] are playing well together,’’ Ryan said. “They found another scorer in [Rayvonte] Rice. There’s a lot of talent on that team, and coach Groce has them playing. We know what we’re in store for. Whether we can answer all their challenges remains to be seen. They’re one of the better teams in the league.’’