Getting to the Final Four the Wisconsin way

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 5, 2014 - 8:31 AM

An emphasis on fundamentals and finding players who fit has paid off with a Final Four berth.

Bo Ryan let the spray hit him full on. ¶ Minutes earlier, his Wisconsin men’s basketball team was staring down yet another NCAA tournament exit. The Badgers had a one-point lead with 2.3 seconds left in overtime, but Arizona had the ball and reason to be optimistic. All-America Nick Johnson’s shot didn’t beat the buzzer, however, and a swarm of red followed at midcourt.

“I can’t believe I’m gonna say it,” longtime Wisconsin play-by-play voice Matt Lepay shouted. “Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers have punched their ticket to Texas!”

Ryan was prepping for a postgame speech in the locker room at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., when his players, loops of net tied into their “West Regional champions” hats, twisted open the caps on their water bottles and attacked.

It wasn’t bubbly, but perhaps this shower was more appropriate for the blue-collar, workmanlike Badgers.

For the first time since 2000, the Badgers are back in the Final Four. They play Kentucky, hotter than Dallas on a summer afternoon, in Saturday’s second semifinal.

What Ryan has been methodically building over the past 13 seasons has finally come to fruition, and the result is his first Final Four and a Wisconsin team that is decidedly different from years past.

The program 250 miles southeast of the University of Minnesota is no stranger to success. Rather, Ryan has built a legacy in Madison, taking over a successful Badgers team establishing clockwork-like consistency. In each of his 13 years, he has finished in the top four in the Big Ten and brought the Badgers to the NCAA tournament.

“I just think that these guys that have done it for so long at a high level, that’s really what I’m impressed with, ” 31-year-old Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “Because for me, this is Year 2, and I think: Goodness.”

How has Ryan done it? How has he managed to maintain such heights in a way Wisconsin’s western neighbor has struggled to? How has he pushed this team just a little higher?

It starts with a system: a specific style of play, one that hasn’t changed much, even from his days of winning four NCAA Division III championships over 15 seasons at Wisconsin-Platteville. Season after season, Bo Ryan teams play strong fundamental defense, but without pressure. They shoot plenty of threes. And they are stacked with multifaceted players who can serve several roles.

“You look down their roster and all five guys on the floor at all times can pretty much post up, handle the ball, pass, knock down shots,” CBSSports.com college basketball writer Jeff Borzello said.

And that is no coincidence.

Ryan has molded his recruiting philosophy very closely to that objective, regardless of anything else. Wisconsin has not had a national top-25 recruiting class in at least a decade. By comparison, Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota have all had at least one class rise that high.

“When they have success, a lot of [coaches] start to try to get the highly touted, top-50 guys,” ESPN’s Jeff Goodman said. “Bo Ryan understands what fits his system and he doesn’t get away from that. He couldn’t care less about the rankings. … He doesn’t get caught up in the numbers at all, where a lot of the other coaches do.”

Ryan has managed to do most of that locally. This year, there is just one player on the roster who is not from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois or Ohio.

Rarely has Ryan plucked a highly touted prep star, but therein lies the second half of the Bo Ryan Process: the ripening. Only once in his Wisconsin career has a player (Devin Harris in 2004) left for the NBA early. The majority steadily develop and improve over four years. Ben Brust, Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson have all taken significant steps and fit together like a puzzle. Center Frank Kaminsky has transformed from role-player to game-changer this season; Dick Vitale calls him the nation’s most improved player. The Badgers have a debilitating matchup problem with most opponents in Kaminsky, who can battle in the paint or step out on the perimeter. He can dribble, he can shoot, he can distribute.

“For other teams it’s so hard to try to stop him,” Goodman said. “How many big guys like that can play post defense and perimeter defense? Not many. You run Kaminsky in a pick-and-roll and it’s like, what do you do?”

Just as player development is a staple of Ryan’s teams, so too are strong upperclassmen. The difference now is that he has secured a couple of instant impact guys in sophomore Sam Dekker and steady freshman Nigel Hayes. The blend has taken the Badgers over the top.

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Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 33 FINAL
Dallas 10
Seattle 19 FINAL
San Francisco 3
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 0 FINAL(OT)
Nashville 1
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 88 FINAL
Indiana State 62
Cal State Fullerton 67 FINAL
Wright State 62
Western Ky 62 FINAL
Saint Josephs 59
Michigan State 77 FINAL
Rider 45
UCLA 56 FINAL
North Carolina 78
Long Beach State 73 FINAL
Western Mich 55
Marquette 72 FINAL
Georgia Tech 70
Stephen F Austin 73 FINAL
Prairie View 61
UAB 47 FINAL
Florida 56
Rice 71 FINAL
Mercer 77
San Jose St 56 FINAL
Washington 78
Washington St 28 2nd Half 7:30
UC Santa Barbara 56
Baylor 71 FINAL
Memphis 47
LSU 23 FINAL
Texas A&M 17
(6) TCU 48 FINAL
Texas 10
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 73 FINAL
BYU-Hawaii 52
Charlotte 58 FINAL
Montana 67
Illinois 77 FINAL
(9) Kentucky 71
Central Michigan 61 FINAL
Richmond 56
Oklahoma 68 FINAL
South Florida 83
Princeton 72 FINAL
Wake Forest 55
(19) Oregon State 85 FINAL
Butler 53

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