If there’s one thing we should have learned over the last 12 years of college basketball, it is this: Write off Bo Ryan at your own peril.
Ryan has been the head coach at Wisconsin since 2001 and the Badgers have been remarkably consistent in a sport where upheaval seems to be the order of the day.
Think about everything that has happened over the last decade-plus in the Big Ten Conference.
–The conference itself changed, going from 11 teams to 12 with the addition of Nebraska in 2011.
–Illinois had Bill Self as its coach, saw him leave for Kansas, hired Bruce Weber, saw him start a season 36-0 and lose the national title game. Weber was fired after last season.
–Michigan has been 10-22 and a conference regular-season co-champion.
–Indiana played in the national title game, had a six-win season, fired two coaches, went on probation for a spell and then began this season ranked No. 1 in the nation.
So, yeah, upheaval is the thing.
In the midst of that chaos, the Badgers under Ryan have never finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten.
But this was going to be the year. The Badgers were being written off all over the place and why not?
Jordan Taylor graduated. Point guard Josh Gasser blew out his knee before the season. Wisconsin lost four non-conference games, including one at home—where they never lose—to Virginia.
That, added to the fact that the Big Ten was loaded this year, with Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota all ranked in the top 10 heading into the conference regular season, with Ohio State, Michigan State and Illinois all being highly touted, and yeah, Ryan’s guys were in big trouble.
Sure they were.
Wisconsin won at No. 2 Indiana Tuesday night 64-59 and is now the last team unbeaten in conference play at 4-0.
That’s right—the Badgers are leading the Big Ten.
It’s early … very early, but the point is that Ryan knows how to grind out wins.
He recruits players who may not light up the recruiting rankings, but who fit into the system. He keeps most of them for four years.
Wisconsin hardly ever turns the ball over, the Badgers rebound like mad men and they defend. Man, do they defend.
Indiana went into Tuesday night averaging almost 90 points a game. Against Wisconsin, the Hoosiers mustered just 59.
It could have been an upset, a hiccup.
Or it could just be that Wisconsin is right there among the Big Ten’s best … still.