Ryan wins over Wisconsin fans
Wisconsin was No. 1 in the Associated Press poll for only two days before losing at Michigan State on Tuesday, but they’ve already named a basketball court after Coach Bo Ryan in the Badger State.
That’s not in Madison, but in Platteville, where Ryan won four NCAA Division III national championships as coach at Wisconsin Platteville during his 15 years at the school. The court was dedicated in his honor last month.
Those titles didn’t count for much in the minds of Wisconsin fans who were disappointed when Ryan was hired in 2001, a year after the Badgers played in the Final Four for Dick Bennett.
When Bennett resigned early in the 2000-01 season and acting coach Brad Soderberg -- the hand-picked successor -- didn’t get the job, many Wisconsin fans hoped Rick Majerus would return to his home state, or that the school might lure California Coach Ben Braun.
Instead, they got Ryan, who had gone 30-27 the previous two seasons at Wisconsin Milwaukee after leaving Platteville.
He has proved to be a fine pick, even if the Badgers’ first No. 1 ranking won’t last long.
Wisconsin has played in the NCAA tournament every season since Ryan arrived, reaching two Sweet 16s and an Elite Eight.
And now this season: Even after the loss, the Badgers are 26-3 and lead the nation in victories as they head into what is now a quirky lame-duck No. 1-vs.-No. 1 showdown Sunday with Ohio State -- which holds the top spot in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll.
Among the many coaches who appreciate Ryan’s ability is Washington State Coach Tony Bennett -- Dick Bennett’s son -- who spent two years as an assistant to Ryan and helped recruit Badgers star Alando Tucker.
It’s not only Ryan’s ballyhooed “swing” offense -- expect to hear about it in March -- but Ryan’s approach to the game that Bennett admires.
“Coach Ryan is a tremendous coach, a perfectionist in the right way,” Bennett said. “He has a picture in his mind of what he deems quality basketball, winning basketball, and he’s very consistent with it.
“What I like, and I learned a lot from him, is he doesn’t try to confuse the issue. He’s pretty straightforward and simple in what he teaches. And he just gets his players really good at that and conveys that to them, ‘This is what it takes to be high-level players and a high-level team.’ ”
The talk about the swing offense -- a patient approach that includes smaller players such as Tucker posting up and skilled bigger players such as Brian Butch stepping out to shoot the three -- sometimes obscures that Wisconsin is solid across the board, Bennett said.
“What goes unnoticed is how well they defend, how well they take care of the ball,” Bennett said. “They do the things that are going to help you win, and they don’t foul a lot.”
Wisconsin also knows itself, and recruits accordingly. Nine of 15 players on the roster are from Wisconsin, and three more are from neighboring Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota. Their abilities suit them to the Badgers’ style, and there’s a side benefit: With the exception of Devin Harris, no players have left early to turn pro under Ryan. So Wisconsin ends up with teams such as this one, which starts three seniors and two juniors.
Ryan, the son of a pipe-fitter from Chester, Pa., joked that he celebrated the No. 1 ranking by running around with a foam No. 1 finger and New Year’s Eve party favors. But he didn’t dwell on it with his team.
“You don’t get that ranking without having done something, but you can move from there, also, if you don’t keep doing things,” he said.
And it definitely took some doing for the Badgers to be No. 1, even if it didn’t last.
“I never said it couldn’t be done, but it isn’t something that probably a lot of people thought would ever happen,” Ryan said.
The one and what-next rule
Bob Knight’s complaint this week that the NBA age minimum “is the worst thing that’s happened to college basketball since I’ve been coaching” carried a little extra oomph because he said it as Texas Tech prepared to play Texas.
The first time they played, Texas freshman Kevin Durant -- who might have been in the NBA this season if not for the rule -- had 37 points and 23 rebounds.
It couldn’t help but sound like sour grapes. But Knight’s commitment to academic integrity is unquestioned.
He called the rule “ridiculous,” noting that “you can have a kid come to school for a year and play basketball and he doesn’t even have to go to class. He certainly doesn’t have to go to class the second semester. I’m not exactly positive about the first semester. But he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball.”
That concern has been voiced by others, including North Carolina Coach Roy Williams.
But what’s worth noting is we don’t know the true effect of the rule yet.
Does it create unmotivated students?
Durant reportedly had a 3.0 grade-point average after the fall semester and told school officials he would attend class the entire spring semester no matter what he decides about turning pro.
Ohio State’s Greg Oden -- who always insisted he would go to college even if rules allowed him to jump straight to the NBA -- also reportedly is a good student.
Will there be as many one-and-done players as people imagined?
Neither Oden nor Durant has said he definitely will leave after this season, though many expect them both to. More notably, other players seem likely to stay in school because a year in college has exposed them enough that their draft stock might not be what it once was.
Consider players such as Arizona’s Chase Budinger or Washington’s Spencer Hawes. They’re still NBA prospects, but it’s clear that they could benefit from more time in college.
Knight is right that the integrity of college sports seems at risk, but the NCAA can’t control the NBA’s rules.
Besides, did Knight ever think of this? Somewhere, some player might find out he likes going to class.
News that suspended Gonzaga center Josh Heytvelt is being charged with felony possession of a controlled substance after police said they found hallucinogenic mushrooms in his car Feb. 9 is bad for Gonzaga on every imaginable front.
The postseason prospects of this Gonzaga team seem insignificant compared with an offense carrying a potential prison sentence of up to five years, though a first-time offender typically serves six months or less and other plea agreements could be possible.
But if Gonzaga, which is 19-10 and in second place behind Santa Clara in the West Coast Conference, doesn’t win the WCC tournament, don’t figure on the NCAA selection committee granting a favor to a team with a No. 72 Rating Percentage Index rating and a starter suspended on drug charges -- even though the Bulldogs have wins over North Carolina, Texas and Stanford.
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The Times rankings
*--* Robyn Norwood’s college basketball top 25: Rk School (Rec.) Co mm en t 1 UCLA (23-3) He re ‘s wh y: No ot he r te am ha s si x wi ns ag ai ns t th e RP I’ s to p 25 . 2 FLORIDA (24-3) It wa s a da nd y da y fo r Va nd y, bu t do es n’ t hu rt th e Ga to rs mu ch . 3 WISCONSIN (26-3) Ba dg er s ar e ah ea d of Oh io St at e by a sl iv er af te r wi nn in g th e fi rs t ma tc hu p. 4 OHIO STATE (24-3) Th is ti me , th e Bu ck ey es fa ce th e Ba dg er s in Co lu mb us . 5 NORTH CAROLINA (23-4) Be at in g BC on th e ro ad he lp ed ma ke am en ds fo r th os e Vi rg in ia Te ch la ps es . 6 KANSAS (24-4) Th e Ja yh aw ks ha ve n’ t lo st at Ka ns as St at e si nc e 19 83 . 7 MEMPHIS (23-3) Ti ge rs an d Wi nt hr op ar e on ly Di vi si on I te am s st il l un de fe at ed in le ag ue pl ay . 8 TEXAS A&M; (22-4) Ag gi es ar e kn ow n fo r th ei r de fe ns e, bu t th ey al so sh oo t 50 % as a te am . 9 PITTSBURGH (24-4) Ce nt er Aa ro n Gr ay is te mp or ar il y ho bb le d by a sp ra in ed an kl e. 10 WASH. STATE (22-4) Un li ke mo st te am s ri gh t no w, th e Co ug ar s ar e we ll -r es te d. 11 GEORGETOWN (20-5) Ro y Hi bb er t, at 7- fo ot -2 , is Mr . Hi gh -P er ce nt ag e Sh ot at 70 % a ga me . 12 NEVADA (24-2) On ly tw o pl ay er s av er ag e at le as t 20 an d 10 : Ni ck Fa ze ka s, Ke vi n Du ra nt . 13 SO. ILLINOIS (23-5) Me mo to NC AA to ur na me nt op po ne nt s: Sa lu ki s ar e to ug h. 14 DUKE (20-7) So rr y to di sa pp oi nt Du ke -h at er s: Bl ue De vi ls ar e do wn , bu t no t ou t. 15 MICHIGAN STATE (20-8) Pr ob ab ly ma de th e NC AA to ur na me nt wi th it s up se t of Wi sc on si n. 16 VANDERBILT (18-8) Fi ne fo r st or mi ng of co ur t: $2 5, 00 0. Vi ct or y ov er Fl or id a: Pr ic el es s. 17 MARQUETTE (22-7) Go ld en Ea gl es re co ve re d ni ce ly wi th a bi g vi ct or y ov er Vi ll an ov a. 18 BUTLER (25-4) Ev en wi th A. J. Gr av es fe el in g il l, Bu tl er ma de So ut he rn Il li no is wo rk fo r wi n. 19 TEXAS (20-7) Kn ig ht sa id he wo ul dn ‘t ha ve re cr ui te d Du ra nt . Ma yb e he sh ou ld ha ve . 20 AIR FORCE (23-5) To ug h st re tc h in sc he du le wi th bi g ga me s ag ai ns t UN LV , BY U. 21 VIRGINIA (18-7) Ca va li er s ar e no w th e AC C’ s se co nd -p la ce te am . 22 NOTRE DAME (21-6) Up -a nd -d ow n Ir is h ar e ba ck th is we ek . 23 BRIGHAM YOUNG (20-6) BY U ha s qu ie tl y pu t to ge th er a go od re su me . 24 USC (19-8) Ca ut io n: Wi th an RP I of 60 , Tr oj an s do n’ t ha ve mu ch of a cu sh io n. 25 OREGON (20-7) Du ck s ha ve lo st fi ve of th ei r la st si x af te r a ro ug h st re tc h on th e ro ad .