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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Minnesota 35 FINAL
Miami 37
Baltimore 13 FINAL
Houston 25
Detroit 20 FINAL
Chicago 14
Cleveland 13 FINAL
Carolina 17
Atlanta 30 FINAL
New Orleans 14
Green Bay 20 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Kansas City 12 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
New England 17 FINAL
NY Jets 16
NY Giants 37 FINAL
St. Louis 27
Buffalo 24 FINAL
Oakland 26
Indianapolis 7 FINAL
Dallas 42
Seattle 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 108 FINAL
Toronto 118
Memphis 91 FINAL
Cleveland 105
Boston 61 3rd Qtr 0:30
Miami 72
Detroit 78 4th Qtr 12:00
Brooklyn 83
LA Lakers 79 3rd Qtr 5:18
Sacramento 68
Philadelphia 64 4th Qtr
Orlando 60
Phoenix 77 3rd Qtr 1:30
Washington 66
Indiana 38 2nd Qtr 4:37
Minnesota 29
New Orleans 41 2nd Qtr 5:54
Oklahoma City 37
Colorado 0 3rd Prd
Detroit 0
Dallas 3 3rd Prd
Edmonton 5
Buffalo 0 2nd Prd
Boston 1
Carolina 0 2nd Prd
NY Rangers 1
Toronto 0 2nd Prd
Chicago 2
Philadelphia 8:00 PM
Winnipeg
Harvard 27 FINAL
Virginia 76
Maine 69 FINAL
Army 72
Ferris State 82 FINAL
Bowling Green 68
San Francisco 65 FINAL
Cleveland State 69
Oregon State 52 FINAL
Quinnipiac 60
Coastal Carolina 72 FINAL
Central Arkansas 55
Holy Cross 48 FINAL
Canisius 67
Southern Miss 55 FINAL
Georgia State 68
Western Carolina 66 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 62
Creighton 58 FINAL
North Texas 62
Maryland 73 FINAL
Oklahoma State 64
Cornell 61 FINAL
Radford 74
Vermont 55 FINAL
Saint Louis 58
Loyola-Maryland 52 FINAL
Stony Brook 67
Reinhardt 72 FINAL
Winthrop 100
Ark-Little Rock 46 FINAL
Green Bay 66
TX-Pan American 72 FINAL
Nebraska Omaha 77
Alabama State 63 FINAL
Evansville 81
FIU 69 FINAL
Hartford 82
Goshen 55 FINAL
Valparaiso 82
Bryant 48 FINAL
Denver 46
Austin Peay 63 FINAL
Lipscomb 69
Tennessee St 47 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 65
South Dakota 67 FINAL
Montana 62
ULM 50 FINAL
Samford 64
Coker 52 FINAL
South Carolina 78
USC 75 FINAL
Boston College 71
Northern Ariz 66 FINAL
Hampton 75
SD Christian 61 FINAL
San Diego 71
UC Irvine 55 FINAL
Bradley 47
Troy 65 FINAL
Nicholls 64
Seton Hall 38 2nd Half 4:21
Georgia 63
Appalachian St 42 2nd Half 13:26
Alabama 37
North Dakota St 21 2nd Half
Kent State 23
San Jose St 25 1st Half 2:35
Washington St 37
Alcorn State 8:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Sacramento St 9:00 PM
Seattle
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 21 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 6
(23) Utah 45 FINAL
Colorado State 10
Western Mich 24 FINAL
Air Force 38
South Alabama 28 FINAL
Bowling Green 33
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Illinois 12/26/14 12:00 PM
Louisiana Tech
Rutgers 12/26/14 3:30 PM
North Carolina
NC State 12/26/14 7:00 PM
UCF
Cincinnati 12/27/14 12:00 PM
Virginia Tech
Duke 12/27/14 1:10 PM
(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Cal-Irvine 55 FINAL
Denver 63
St Marys-CA 52 FINAL
George Washington 70
TX-San Antonio 49 FINAL
Nicholls 57
Portland State 71 FINAL
Columbia 66
Tenn Tech 62 FINAL
Morgan State 56
SMU 43 FINAL
Auburn 56
Quinnipiac 70 FINAL
Hartford 58
Hofstra 75 FINAL
Boston College 61
Eastern Washington 55 FINAL
Georgia Southern 42
Liberty 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 84
Fairleigh Dickinson 74 FINAL
Brown 79
Buffalo 73 FINAL
Long Island 79
Bucknell 74 FINAL
Mount St Marys 49
Stony Brook 70 FINAL
Wagner 76
FIU 83 FINAL
Wofford 75
Duquesne 56 FINAL
Providence 67
Maine 54 FINAL
William & Mary 51
Alabama State 43 FINAL
Samford 56
TX-Pan American 43 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 64
South Dakota St 64 FINAL
Marist 82
Saint Josephs 50 FINAL
(5) Notre Dame 64
Radford 60 FINAL
Virginia Tech 73
(3) Texas 67 FINAL
(4) Texas A&M 65
Rhode Island 60 FINAL
Bryant 56
South Florida 90 FINAL
Penn State 87
Sam Houston St 55 FINAL
TCU 79
Evansville 50 FINAL
IUPUI 62
(14) Maryland 110 FINAL
Coppin State 51
Mercer 59 FINAL
Coll of Charleston 72
NC A&T 43 FINAL
Chattanooga 58
Princeton 84 FINAL
Monmouth 53
Eastern Illinois 69 FINAL
Lehigh 72
Rider 67 FINAL
Binghamton 72
SC State 57 FINAL
Clemson 66
Fairfield 63 FINAL
Iowa State 76
Richmond 70 FINAL
Eastern Kentucky 56
Cleveland State 80 FINAL
Morehead St 72
Kent State 62 FINAL
Colgate 61
South Alabama 43 FINAL
UAB 73
Saint Peters 35 FINAL
Navy 71
Youngstown St 52 FINAL
Pittsburgh 78
NJIT 50 FINAL
Lafayette 66
Davidson 51 FINAL
Charlotte 86
Indiana State 73 FINAL
St Johns 67
Southern U 49 FINAL
Florida 78
Wright State 46 FINAL
Purdue 70
(19) Oklahoma St 66 FINAL
USC 62
Houston 54 FINAL
Texas Tech 60
Ark-Little Rock 66 FINAL
Tulsa 59
Dayton 71 FINAL
Vanderbilt 67
Northern Ariz 37 FINAL
New Mexico 56
UNC-Asheville 60 FINAL
USC Upstate 67
North Dakota 81 FINAL
South Dakota 86
Western Ill 57 FINAL
Marquette 65
Elon 67 FINAL
(6) North Carolina 85
Ball State 59 FINAL
Western Ky 84
(8) Kentucky 68 FINAL
(13) Duke 89
New Orleans 58 FINAL
Alabama 87
Chicago State 47 FINAL
Milwaukee 69
Bowling Green 61 FINAL
Bradley 47
Ill-Springfield 56 FINAL
SE Missouri St 73
Northern Ill 42 FINAL
Northern Iowa 51
(23) Iowa 100 FINAL
Drake 98
Central Michigan 64 FINAL
Minnesota 67
Western Carolina 45 FINAL
North Florida 62
Wyoming 71 FINAL
Colorado 76
Portland 58 FINAL
Boise State 94
Cal Poly 63 FINAL
Colorado State 65
No Dakota State 54 FINAL
Grand Canyon 69
Albany 71 FINAL
Cal State Fullerton 49
Oklahoma 64 FINAL
Arkansas 71
Idaho State 63 FINAL
Seattle 55
(18) Michigan State 89 FINAL
(19) Syracuse 76
Northwestern 75 FINAL
Arizona State 88
TX-Arlington 46 FINAL
North Texas 38
Fresno State 68 FINAL
Oregon 59
St Francis-PA 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 72
UNLV 71 FINAL
CS-Bakersfield 74
UCLA 50 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 86
(10) Louisville 70 FINAL
(24) California 57
Howard 50 2nd Half 2:35
Virginia 70
Miami-Ohio 18 2nd Half
(21) Miss State 31
Illinois-Chicago 8:30 PM
Old Dominion
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Gophers Football Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pmX34-24
Jan 1 - vs. Missouri noon

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