Wisconsin getting too good for Bo Ryan’s folksy charm
BY STEVE GREENBERG Staff Reporter April 4, 2014 9:58PM
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan runs a drill during practice for an NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball semifinal game Friday, April 4, 2014, in Dallas. Wisconsin plays Kentucky on Saturday, April 5, 2014. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Updated: May 6, 2014 6:16AM
ARLINGTON, Texas — It took Bo Ryan about two minutes into a large meeting with the media before he was charming his way into the hearts of everyone who hadn’t heard his routine before — and deeper into the hearts of those who had.
Self-deprecating, hilarious, completely disarming and relatable — that’s Ryan’s default setting. Or is it his shtick? Actually, it’s both. Over the course of 13 seasons at Wisconsin, during which the Badgers have been good enough to stay on the radar of the national media, Ryan has become as well-liked a coach as there is in college basketball.
His take on Kentucky and its lineup of freshman stars, whom the Badgers will face Saturday night in a national semifinal, was vintage.
‘‘When somebody asks me about ‘one-and-done,’ ’’ Ryan said, ‘‘all I remember is when my mom would give me a pork chop or a piece of meatloaf and I would ask for another piece and she would say, ‘No — one and done.’ ”
Gotta love the guy, do you not?
And yet the 66-year-old Ryan has a serious problem on his hands, or at least his shtick does. Call this Final Four the final, glorious ride for that shtick. Wisconsin has gotten so good, Ryan’s days of charmingly portraying the Badgers as a bunch of regular Joes are numbered.
Next season, it’s just plain not going to work.
Let’s pause a moment to appreciate Ryan’s achievements in Madison. Thirteen years on the job, 13 top-four finishes in the Big Ten, 13 NCAA tourneys. Already, that’s enormously impressive.
The Badgers have been ranked no higher than No. 9 in the preseason under Ryan; that was heading into the 2006-07 campaign, when they eventually rose to No. 1. In seven preseason Top 25s — including this past one — the Badgers have been unranked, yet they’ve gone on to reach at least the Sweet 16 four of those times.
It’s easy to understand why Wisconsin fans are so crazy about a coach whose teams seem to always outpace the expectations.
But as much as Ryan has seen in a brilliant career that includes four Division III national championships and now, at last, a Final Four, he never has been confronted with the sort of expectations that’ll await the Badgers next season.
A No. 2 seed reaches the Final Four and — who knows? — maybe wins the whole thing.
Its three most talented players — Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes — stay in school, as expected, along with returning starters Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser, plus young guard Bronson Koenig, who chose Wisconsin over offers from, among many others, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina.
You do the math and see if you don’t agree that this team is going to be ranked higher — much higher — than ninth in the preseason.
Fifth? Third? First?
The difference isn’t Ryan, whose performance in building and maintaining the program has been steadily magnificent. The difference? It’s talent.
No more lumbering, plucky, overachieving Badgers.
‘‘There are a lot of guys on this team who can do a lot of things I can’t do, I’ll tell you that,’’ said senior Ben Brust, the school’s all-time three-point leader. ‘‘We know what we have in our room. We know the athleticism we have.’’
Before his team practiced Friday, Ryan shared another of his stories. It took place the day before one of those national title games when he was at UW-Platteville, with Ryan alone at a Krispy Kreme enjoying a doughnut and a diet pop while going completely unrecognized.
‘‘I haven’t had a cream-filled doughnut today. I haven’t had a diet pop. You get to answer a lot of questions that you don’t get to answer in Division III,’’ he said, drawing plenty of laughs.
A question he’s never had to answer: Why didn’t you do better, Bo?
He’ll hear that one, sooner or later.