Ryan is into his 10th season in Madison now. The previous nine ended in the NCAA Tournament. Given his track record and the return of all-action forward Jon Leuer, there’s no reason to think that this season will play out any different.
And, as has been pointed out ad nauseam by now, he does it in a very Bo Ryan-esque manner. Wisconsin under the slick-haired, hard-faced coach will simply play almost mistake-free basketball. The Badgers are always at or near the top of the Big Ten in turnover margin (third in 2010) and assist-to-turnover ratio (second). Their turnover percentage last year was an impeccable 14.9 percent, easily tops in the conference.
The Badgers also led the conference in scoring defense, allowing less than 57 points per game, a rather absurd number even in the nose-to-the-grindstone Big Ten.
The other thing that makes Ryan’s Wisconsin program so special is that it never wavers. A slew of solid players have passed through the program since Ryan took over in 2001, including Brian Butch, Trevon Hughes, Alando Tucker, Devin Harris and Kammron Taylor. Every time one departs, we assume his loss will somehow negatively impact the next season’s squad, and yet it rarely ever does.
Thus far this season, it’s Leuer and Jordan Taylor carrying the program on. Leuer was expected after a stellar if not injury-shortened season last year. Taylor was a back-up last year, but had solid stats, particularly in the assists category, something that’s translated to the beginning of this season.
The real revelation (and we’re talking just two games, but it’s still impressive) is freshman guard Josh Gasser. Officially listed as a point on his Rivals page, Gasser was an unranked three-star according to the recruiting service. Through the first two games of his college career, Gasser is averaging 14 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
Despite losing Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin does not look the worse for wear.
As it relates to Indiana, the Badgers ought to be a nice gauge by which the Hoosiers can measure their progress. Indiana is 0-4 against Wisconsin in the last two years, with an average margin of defeat greater than 25 points per game. Much of that was born of Wisconsin’s staunch defense and efficient offense, combined with an Indiana team that was too careless with the ball and struggled against the Badgers’ methodical offense.
The results in two meetings last season were two heavy, comprehensive defeats. Improved performances against the Badgers in 2011 would probably go a long way toward showing that the program is indeed turning that corner Indiana fans have been looking for.
The bottom line: Wisconsin is, once again, very good. The Badgers have obvious leadership in the form of guys groomed by the program, and Gasser could be a serious X-factor. Like usual, they are by no means the most talented team in the conference, but they will always be one of the best, so long as Ryan works their sideline. It’s probably safe to assume this is another season that finds the Badgers still playing in the second half of March.
Quotable (Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em edition):