MADISON - Although he’s been around his team virtually every day since early November, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is still learning new things about his team. While some of the UW teams in his tenure have had their identity established by the time the middle of February rolls around, Ryan isn’t shy to say that his team is still evolving on a daily basis.
“It’s still evolving because people can’t figure us out,” Ryan said during his Monday news conference. “We knew it was going to be a little different this year and it’s not the first time we’ve said that.”
The struggles of Wisconsin’s offense are well documented – the Badgers are ninth in the conference with a 1.02 points per possession in Big Ten play. Still, Wisconsin has continued to rack up wins by what it’s done defensively. As of Monday, Wisconsin – which jumped six spots in the AP poll to No.15 in the country - is first in the NCAA in points allowed per game (50.3) and is the third in the conference in efficiency margin - 0.95 points per possession.
It’s a reason Wisconsin (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten) has a chance to compete for a piece of the Big Ten championship, an opportunity that seemed ludicrous after it started 1-3 in league play for the first time under Ryan, including 0-2 at home. A 7-1 tear through the middle of its conference slate – with the only loss coming by six to No.3 Ohio State – has sent the Badgers from the NCAA bubble to NCAA lock for a 13th straight year.
With six games left, Wisconsin ranks 24th in the RPI, has played the 25th hardest schedule in the country, has a 5-5 record against the RPI top 50 and only one bad loss (against RPI No.130 Iowa) on its resume.
When the Badgers play at No.7 Michigan State Thursday night, it has an opportunity to move up in the Big Ten standings once again, as UW trails Michigan State and Ohio State by one game in the league standings.
Michigan State did Wisconsin – and the rest of the Big Ten title chasers - a favor by beating the Buckeyes, 58-48, in Columbus on Saturday, meaning four teams are within one game of first place in the conference. But with his team having six games left, Ryan scoffed at the notion that he has to tell his players of the opportunities that lie in front of them.
“When you compete in a sport and you have to talk to guys about winning, that’s a sad state of affairs,” said Ryan. “The only thing that is important is the next one that we have control over and prepare for.
“If the juices aren’t flowing for what we’ve got coming, you need help. We’ve got quite a stretch coming up here.”
After Wisconsin plays at Michigan State and hosts Penn State Sunday, the Badgers head to Iowa on Feb.23 and No.6 Ohio State on Feb.26 before closing the regular season with home games against Minnesota and Illinois.
Fear the Deer
While Wisconsin took a couple days off over the weekend, Ryan made a recruiting trip to Chicago and a personal trip to Milwaukee to check it with former player and NBA rookie Jon Leuer, who is averaging 5.4 points and three assists in a limited role for the Bucks through 25 games.
“He realizes it’s a job, that’s important for guys,” said Ryan. “He’s now trying to work into a rotation where he can get some meaningful minutes and he can contribute. I saw Jon briefly and said, ‘You remember what it was like your first year with us.’
“Of course, I did say if he redshirted he’d still be with us. He’ll be fine because of who he is, his standards, his work ethic (and) how his mind works. He’s competitive but won’t let not playing frustrated him to the point where he’ll forget what it’s going to take to play.”
Ryan on Chester H.S. (19-0) being ranked fourth in the country in the USA Today High School Poll
“This isn’t a rah-rah for my old high school but only three times in the history of Chester, which is like saying only three times in the history of Milwaukee Vincent or Janesville Craig when they had that long run, that there were three times when we were undefeated in the regular season before going into the state playoffs. Of course, my buddy had to tell me what the three years were and one of them was the 1964-65 season. That’s all I know. Only to go 25-1, it means you didn’t get (the title). A lot of those stories out there.”
Extra Points: Ryan wouldn’t comment when asked what his position was regarding the heated topic of whether he wanted the Kohl Center to host the WIAA Boys and Girls State Tournament … Ryan also declined to answer which team or player is the best in the conference. ‘Right now, we’re playing the best team coming up. After we play them, whoever is next, they’ll be the best team’ … Ryan did not watch the Michigan State-Ohio State game and said the game tape didn’t tell him anything new about the Spartans.