The unofficial title of “best coach to never reach the Final Four” usually falls on three college hoops coaches: Jamie Dixon, Mark Few and Bo Ryan.
Few’s there by virtue of his gaudy record (he wins 79 percent of his games) and that he’s never missed the Big Dance in 12 years. Dixon’s record is no less impressive (78 percent), but he and Ryan deserve props for their teams’ excellence in efficiency margin.
(Seriously, look at this list from Dan Hanner. Only Coach K, Bill Self, Roy Williams and John Calipari boast a higher average efficiency margin in the last eight years. Final Four or no, that’s impressive.)
Few and Dixon will be listed there for another year after Gonzaga and Pitt were ousted in the second round of the NCAA tournament. (Dixon will undoubtedly hear about the Panthers’ loss for many, many months. Nevermind that the game was one of the craziest in NCAA tourney history.)
But Ryan’s Badgers are still kicking after beating Kansas State for a spot in the Sweet 16. Could he finally ditch that moniker?
“To be honest, that’s about as fired up as I’ve seen coach in a long time,” Keaton Nankivil told the Wisconsin State Journal. “You can just tell his energy is really high right now. It’s always high, but I think he is genuinely excited with this team bouncing back after the way this team played the last two weeks of the (regular) season.
“He knows we’ve got something special.”
There are many reasons why the Badgers are still playing, but foremost among them is that this is perhaps Ryan’s best mix of talent and experience he’s ever had at Wisconsin. The ’05 squad that reached the Elite Eight didn’t have the equal to Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer. I think ’07 was better overall, but that team didn’t have Brian Butch for the tournament, nor was it as good offensively. (Some prefer the ’08 roster, but I like having Alando Tucker around.)
Next up is Butler, a team that plays a similar style to the Badgers’ deliberate, highly efficient scheme. That matchup favors Wisconsin, who would then face the winner of the BYU-Florida game.
They’ll be favored to win each of those, making it look like this may finally be the year Ryan ditches any consideration for that “title.”
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