Souhan: It's basketball in slow motion but Badgers coach Ryan makes it work

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2013 - 6:11 AM

The Badgers embrace physical play and limited possessions because it suits them.

hide

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.

Photo: Andy Manis, Associated Press

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The Grinch Who Stole Fastbreaks is coming to Williams Arena on Thursday night. Someone needs to stop him from nailing peach baskets to the backboards.

Bo Ryan, who coaches deflated basketball at the University of Wisconsin, is the best thing ever to happen to his school's program. It's debatable whether he's the best or worst thing ever to happen to his sport.

Coaches like Ryan make college basketball fascinating. He takes unathletic players and melds them into an oversized Swiss watch, a small machine that works because of unseen mechanisms.

Coaches like Ryan mean college basketball can be unsightly. His philosophies mirror those of many of his peers who have devised strategies that turn what used to be the most exciting game in the land into a combination of wrestling and polka.

As talented players continue to leave early for pro ball, while rules and on-site officials allow the subtle muggings Ryan and his peers teach, college basketball has become a game of sideline control.

That's wonderful if you have tickets to the Kohl Center. That's not so wonderful if you believe basketball is meant to be a creative and free-flowing sport.

Coaches like Ryan know they can't win with an entertaining style, so they slow down the game. They decrease the number of possessions by discouraging their own players as well as the other team from running. They regard the first 20 seconds on the shot clock the way moviegoers regard previews.

Basketball has always featured coaches who believed in Ryan's philosophies. What's different these days is that defenders are allowed to get away with contact that wouldn't be allowed in an NFL secondary.

Next time you see two teams in the 20s in the second half of a big-time college basketball game, watch the defenders. They bump every offensive player who cuts into the lane. They use their chests and legs to bump and jostle. They play post defense the way many offensive lineman block, knowing officials aren't going to call holding on every play.

They turn what could be the most beautiful game in the world into mud wrestling. The strategy is as effective as it is ugly.

The game's legendary coaches emphasized strong defense, but believed they could achieve advantages with intricate offenses and fast breaks. Bobby Knight, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Boeheim, Dean Smith, Jim Calhoun and Eddie Sutton are among the modern coaches with more than 800 career victories who loved a well-executed fast break.

That's where Ryan is different. He knows he doesn't have the athletes to win by scoring 80, so he tries to keep opponents under 50. He does what great coaches do: Uses the written and unwritten rules of his sport to his advantage.

I can't stand his style of basketball, but let me make an admission: Geography matters. As someone who lives west of the St. Croix, I can't stand to watch basketball that looks like four-square. If Minnesota had hired Ryan, I'd be his biggest booster.

We care about style when we watch television. If Ryan were coaching at the Barn and finishing in the top four in the Big Ten every year -- and he's never finished lower at Wisconsin -- I'd recommend signing him to a lifetime contract.

Style matters from afar. Up close, winning is always entertaining.

Minnesotans learned that after the Wild fired Jacques Lemaire and promised to play a more aggressive, up-tempo style. Two coaches later, the Wild, which spent $196 million in free agency to upgrade talent, has scored one goal in regulation in each of the past six games.

If the Vikings won a Super Bowl by a score of 3-0, what fan would complain? The most thrilling game in Twins history produced one run in 10 innings. The Wolves were at their best when Kevin Garnett was the NBA's fiercest defender.

Tonight, when Ryan tries to lull Williams Arena to sleep, Minnesotans are entitled to jeer his style and envy his success.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. jsouhan@startribune.com

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Seattle
Portland 0 Postponed
Brooklyn 0
Sacramento 0 Postponed
New York 0
Philadelphia 74 FINAL
New Orleans 99
Minnesota 84 FINAL
Oklahoma City 92
Orlando 94 FINAL
Memphis 103
Boston 99 FINAL
Utah 90
Denver 98 FINAL
LA Clippers 102
Army 68 FINAL
American Univ 66
Wright State 64 FINAL
Detroit 53
Syracuse 83 FINAL
North Carolina 93
Cleveland State 56 FINAL
Oakland 59
Delaware State 54 FINAL
NC Central 55
High Point 63 FINAL
Presbyterian 54
Howard 45 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 42
Coppin State 84 FINAL
NC A&T 71
Nicholls 51 FINAL
Northwestern St 80
Hampton 56 FINAL
SC State 65
Gardner-Webb 59 FINAL
Campbell 78
MD-Eastern Shore 72 FINAL
Florida A&M 65
Stephen F Austin 82 FINAL
Lamar 65
Central Arkansas 67 FINAL
New Orleans 87
Norfolk State 70 FINAL
Savannah State 54
TX A&M-CC 70 FINAL
SE Louisiana 61
Sam Houston St 80 FINAL
Abilene Christian 63
McNeese State 84 FINAL
Incarnate Word 86
Milwaukee 48 FINAL
Valparaiso 73
Alcorn State 66 FINAL
Alabama A&M 78
Southern U 59 FINAL
Alabama State 63
Prairie View 68 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 105
Texas 86 FINAL
Iowa State 89
Texas Southern 85 FINAL
Miss Valley St 84
Long Island 85 FINAL
Bryant 88
Central Conn St 51 FINAL
St Francis-NY 49
Fairleigh Dickinson 0 Postponed
Sacred Heart 0
St Francis-PA 87 FINAL
Wagner 74
Delaware State 59 FINAL
NC Central 66
Howard 53 FINAL
Bethune-Cookman 61
Coppin State 49 FINAL
NC A&T 67
Hampton 88 FINAL
SC State 53
Norfolk State 54 FINAL
Savannah State 56
MD-Eastern Shore 54 FINAL
Florida A&M 64
Angelo State 55 FINAL
Abilene Christian 70
Samford 32 FINAL
(25) Chattanooga 49
Prairie View 83 FINAL
Ark-Pine Bluff 66
Alcorn State 58 FINAL
Alabama A&M 55
Southern U 53 FINAL
Alabama State 49
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
Miss Valley St 52
(12) Texas A&M 61 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 79
Robert Morris 68 FINAL
Mount St Marys 44
East Tenn St 72 FINAL
Mercer 70
Wofford 56 FINAL
Furman 58
Morehead St 64 FINAL
Tenn Tech 54
Illinois 57 FINAL
Michigan 70
Quinnipiac 0 Postponed
Manhattan 0
Saint Peters 0 Postponed
Rider 0
(18) Miss State 59 FINAL
Auburn 48
(15) Nebraska 72 FINAL
(20) Iowa 78
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Do you favor the plan for expanded athletic facilities at the U of M?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close