Bo Ryan is the most consistent coach in the country this side of Bill Self.
He’s been at Wisconsin for 13 seasons. In each of those 13 seasons, the Badgers have finished, at worst, tied for fourth in the Big Ten standings. It’s a well-known fact for all sports fans, not just on college basketball message boards, that Wisconsin’s basketball team is always good. It doesn’t matter who they have and it doesn’t matter who they lose, they just win games.
But it may surprise you that the Badgers, who are a No. 2 seed in this year’s tournament, advanced to just their second Elite 8 under Ryan with Thursday night’s 69-52 win over No. 6 Baylor.
For comparison’s sake, Scott Drew, who is (somewhat unfairly) the butt of a running joke when it comes to coaching competence, would have gone to his third Elite 8 in the last five years had his Bears won.
It’s fairly incredible when you think about it. Ryan is widely considered one of the best — top 10-15 — coaches in the game, yet he’ll be playing for the chance to make his first Division I Final Four on Saturday evening when the Badgers take on the winner of tonight’s other West Regional semifinal between No. 1 Arizona and No. 4 San Diego State.
That’s not meant as a shot at Ryan, either, because his ability to identify prospects for and develop players in his system in unrivaled.
Frank Kaminsky is the perfect example of what I’m talking about. Kaminsky was an unknown for the first two seasons that he saw time with the Badgers, biding his time on the bench while working on his game in practice. This season, however, he’s become of the most versatile front court players in the country and the centerpiece of a Wisconsin attack that eviscerated a Baylor defense that completely shut down Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays just four days ago.
He finished with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting, forcing Baylor’s defense to collapse and opening up the perimeter for the never-ending string of shooters that Ryan has at his disposal. Wisconsin was just 6-for-16 from beyond the arc, but they did the majority of their damage from the perimeter while they built a first half lead that grew to double figures just 10 minutes into the game.
He also anchored a defense that stifled one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. He blocked six shots, a fairly impressive feat when you consider that Baylor’s front line has NBA-caliber size and athleticism. The Bears shot just 31.0% from the floor and 2-for-15 from three.
And if Wisconsin can put together one more performance like this, they’ll carry Ryan to his first Final Four in Madison.