I was a bit surprised when I read about the Big Ten, because I kept reading through the predicted order of finish, and I wasn't seeing Wisconsin in the top four. Or top five. Or top six. Or top seven.
Looked at the capsule, and nothing happened that I hadn't heard about. Bo Ryan was still the coach.
Could people in the know really be counting the wizard down for the count? Apparently.
Ryan will have none of your doubts. He might be one of the more disliked opposing coaches in the Big Ten, but he's also one of the best. If not the best.
Hell, he might be the best coach in the country. While Roy Williams is floundering with highly-touted future NBA stars, Ryan continues to plug away with a future pro or two, but otherwise a fundamentally-sound, smart basketball team that wins games.
The job Ryan has done this season might be among the best he could ever pull off. Under the weight of virtually no expectations, Wisconsin started off a little inconsistent. The Badgers beat Duke, which was wonderful, and their win over Maryland in Maui looks more and more impressive every week.
However, Wisconsin also managed to lose at Wisconsin-Green Bay. No one really knew what they would do in Big Ten play.
Then junior forward and leading scorer/rebounder Jon Leuer broke his wrist in a win over Purdue. That only added to the questions.
No problem, Ryan says. Instead of panicking, the Badgers are playing well without Leuer, and they're small-balling people to death.
"They’ve gone to ‘small ball’ with three guards," said Illinois coach Bruce Weber, and he might have added that they sometimes go with four.
... "(Jordan) Taylor has been getting major minutes since Leuer was hurt, and this three-game lineup is hard to deal with," Weber said. "Trevon Hughes is playing exceptionally well as a senior. And Jason Bohannon, who came in as a catch-and-shoot guard, is now scoring on pull-ups and fades. All three of their guards can dribble and create. We have limitations on our team in that regard.
"You wonder if they might get hurt defensively but they pack in and compensate for their lack of size."
The Badgers are one of the best defensive teams in the country. They shoot well from the outside. Once Leuer is back, they'll be able to compete more effectively on the boards. It has some talking about Wisconsin being a potential Final Four team.
While that hype is a bit strong for this early in the season, it's worth noting that Leuer should return in time for the Big Ten Tournament, which should give him one or two games before the NCAAs (no more than three, given Wisconsin's current standing in the league). What remains to be seen is if Leuer's return actually sends Wisconsin into some odd Ewing Theory-triggered fall. Maybe they have gotten to the point where the return of even another inside presence could actually hurt their rhythm.
Don't bet on it with Ryan.
Rush The Court says it best.
Throw Bo Ryan’s name in there along with Jim Boeheim, John Calipari and Steve Alford for National Coach of the Year.
We all know Boeheim or Calipari will win. They're high-profile, needle-moving coaches having stupendous seasons with high-profile, needle-moving programs. Perfect combination for hardware.
Unless you're Brent Musberger, you're not moved by Wisconsin as a member of the voting public for these major awards. You probably don't know that Bo Ryan is 211-78 (.730) as Wisconsin's head coach. You wouldn't know Jon Leuer from Jon Heder.
You should, though. Ryan is the guy who will always be behind a contender. It's not because he changes teams like crazy, and it's not because he always has top recruits as his disposal. It's because he coaches his tail off, understands the game as well as virtually anyone, and puts his players in a system where they can succeed against virtually anyone.
Simply put, Ryan's had a hardware-winning kind of season, whether he wins it or not. He's proven himself as an elite coach in college basketball, and the best of this particular Wisconsin team may be yet to come.