“The best coach who hasn’t reached the Final Four.”
It’s a backhanded compliment that long applied to Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan. Ryan was the head coach whose teams excelled in the regular season, but weren’t built for March.
The Wisconsin Badgers’ methodical, if not plodding style made deep runs in the NCAA Tournament a challenge. Early exits in 2007 to UNLV and Ole Miss in 2013 underlined that Ryan-coached teams were ill-equipped to combat high-powered offenses.
Wisconsin’s 2014 Final Four run was the program’s first since Ryan’s predecessor, Dick Bennett, took the 2000 Badgers on a miracle run employing a similar style.
Ryan typically had better teams than Bennett’s 2000 squad, which entered the tournament 18-13. But the early exits, whether the aforementioned or 2009 and 2010 bow-outs vs. Xavier and Cornell, still haunted Ryan.
Bo Ryan is coaching in his second straight Final Four because Wisconsin’s adopted a more wide-open style. The Badgers are scoring with the highest efficiency in all of college basketball, per KenPom.com.
Frank Kaminsky has dominated each of the last two seasons, playing a style more reminiscent of last decade’s wave of face-up European imports than of the traditional, back-to-the-basket big man.
This year’s NCAA Tournament star, Sam Dekker, is the kind of versatile scorer who would have given past Bo Ryan teams fits.
But Ryan has also excelled without abandoning his roots. His rise from coaching junior high-schoolers, to appearing in the NCAA Tournament title game, is reflected in the construction of Wisconsin’s roster.
This Wisconsin team may have future NBA talent, like Dekker, Kaminsky and Nigel Hayes, but it’s also built on homegrown prospects, unheralded gems and breakout stars who trusted the system.
Dear Players:Kaminsky avg 2pts as a frosh. He didnt blame the coach, system and transfer. He got better& became Player of The Year #GrowUp
— LeVelle Moton (@LeVelleMoton) April 5, 2015
In buying into Ryan’s blueprint, the Badgers are one win away shy of giving their head coach his fifth national championship.
Of course, Bo Ryan claimed his four at Div. III Wisconsin-Platteville. Getting his fifth overall but first at the Div. I level means denying his opponent Championship No. 5.
Indeed, it’s only fitting Bo Ryan gets his shot at coaching immortality against Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, whose four national championships outpace all current head coaches and is second all-time behind only the legendary John Wooden.
A Duke win tonight would put Krzyzewski past Adolph Rupp.
A win for Bo Ryan tonight is, in its own small way, a win for the other best coach who hasn’t won __: coaches like Sean Miller, against whom Wisconsin has paved its past two roads to the Final Four.
Coaches like John Beilein, Bo Ryan’s Big Ten counterpart whose Michigan Wolverines were in the same shoes Wisconsin laces up tonight, but ultimately fell short of winning it all.
Bo Ryan is one win shy of going from the face of backhanded compliments to the best example of defying those labels.