Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bo Legacy

For anyone who has followed the Badger basketball program as long as I have (since the 1979-80 season), the complaining about Bo Ryan's supposed 'lack of post-season success' in the sports talk whine-o-sphere seems a bit unreal.

Badger hoops fans used to regard 'lack of post-season success' as the failure to reach the post-season. Steve Yoder's 1988-89 team actually ended the post-season drought by making it to the NIT. Making the NIT was a big deal around here at the time even though the NIT had long been put in the shade by the NCAA championship tournament. We were excited and actually paid money to buy tickets for NIT games at the Fieldhouse.

Stu Jackson's team cracked the NCAA bracket in 1994 with Rashard Griffith, Michael Finley, and Tracy Webster (not to mention Howard Moore!). Stu bolted after the 1994 season and the Badgers hired his odd-looking little assistant Stan Van Gundy (I remember when Stan the Van was first hired to coach an NBA team that I thought, "My god, there are two b-ball coaches named Stan Van Gundy?!"). Under Stanley, the Badgers finished at .500 and Stan got the heave-ho.

Dick Bennett came in and led the team to Final Four glory (I recall being on a plaza in Indianapolis and looking at the team flags: North Carolina, Michigan State, Florida - and, wha? Wisconsin? What are we doing here??). The national semi loss to MSU was an ugly one for the ages, but the Badgers still came closer to beating Sparty than Florida did. Bennett burned himself out and resigned early in the next season. The little-recalled Brad Soderberg took over and when they lost to Georgia State in the NCAAs, he was gone.

Enter Bo Ryan. From the Badgers' website: "The accomplishments during Ryan's first nine seasons are varied and impressive. He has led UW to the six winningest seasons in school history, including back-to-back school-records with 30 wins in 2006-07 and 31 victories in 2007-08. Prior to Ryan's arrival in Madison, Wisconsin had never won more than 22 games in a season. Ryan's teams have averaged 24.1 wins in his nine seasons." Add three regular-season Big Ten titles and two Big 10 tournament titles. And Bo beats Izzo.

This year's team was picked to finish 6th to 8th in the Big Ten, but now you routinely hear local sports talkers saying this is his "most talented team". Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor have become excellent college players; Taylor has emerged as an elite point guard. But beyond those two guys, where is this immense talent?

OK, right, but of course, he "lacks post-season success" at the UW. Well, except that under Bo the Badgers have made the NCAA field every year (ten and counting) and they have lost in the first round only once. In the nine years prior to this year, the Ryan Badgers have made the Sweet Sixteen twice and the Elite Eight once. So, in three years of nine, the Badgers have advanced to the second weekend.

What they have not done is make a Final Four. To which I say, "Yet".

They have been a little snake-bitten by injuries to star players, sometimes late in the season. Brian Butch's dislocated elbow (see it, if you can: ewww... and read about it) in 2007, derailed that 30-win team. Alando Tucker's broken nose hampered the 2005-2006 team. Marcus Landry & Jon Leuer also suffered injuries along the way. Will Brusewitz's injury be a factor tonight?

Anyway, the Badgers post-season record under Bo is actually pretty good; better than you would think if you judged by the carping. They are 13-9 (counting Thursday's win over Belmont). But pretty good isn't what Badger fans expect. They've lost to some teams fans thought they should have beaten, but after watching about 24 hours of hoops in the past two days, I can say that there are very few weak teams in the field anymore. If you aren't a #1 or #2 seed, you are subject to losing any game in any round and it's not an upset.

Take that, naysayers! Ha! Double ha!

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