“Now that he’s getting these freshmen to go with the usual players he develops,” the Big Ten Network’s Brent Yarina said, “I think we’re about to see Wisconsin take a step forward and be a consistent national power.”
Could such a formula work with the Gophers, a program that has struggled to land headline recruits and get over the hump in the rugged Big Ten? It certainly won’t happen overnight. Ryan had the benefit of taking over a program that was left in good shape by former coach Dick Bennett. That Wisconsin and Ryan — a former Badgers assistant who returned in 2002 following only two seasons as a Division I coach, both at Wisconsin-Milwaukee — were established created optimism from those on the outside looking in. He could go after two- and three-star recruits without being scrutinized.
“If Pitino came in and said, ‘I don’t care, we’re going to get all two-star kids’ — what would the fan base say?” Borzello said. “They wouldn’t be happy with that. They’d go, ‘I don’t want that, I want a good kid, I want top-100 kids, I want four- and five-star players.’ So I think expectations play a factor.”
And as Ryan is finding out this year, even with the right pieces, intangibles such as team chemistry can be the difference. Back in December, before Wisconsin dispensed eventual ACC champion Virginia in Charlottesville, Goodman attended a couple of practices and had to shake his head.
“You see it sometimes written or said, but in this case it’s true — these guys genuinely like each other,” he said. “You watch Bo Ryan with this team and you can tell — he loves this group. They keep him loose. Bo is kind of tight generally, but with this group, he’s so loose. This group has changed Bo Ryan.”
This group is two victories from once again collecting their water weapons. If the Badgers get there, Ryan can again bask in the makeshift shower and enjoy the fruits of his labor. It’s what he has been building for more than a decade.