By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) Never one to gloat, Bo Ryan had to stop himself from being too modest Saturday afternoon.
“I’ve got to be careful going much further,” he said. “Barry is here.”
Barry, of course, is Barry Alvarez, the legendary former football coach and current athletic director at Wisconsin. Minutes earlier, Alvarez was walking around the lower tunnels of the United Center trying to find his head basketball coach’s press conference after the Badgers beat Indiana 68-56 in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. He made it just in time.
“There are just things in this game where no matter how you try to explain them, they defy explanation or reason,” Ryan said when asked why some teams — such as Indiana — have a hard time beating the Badgers.
And that’s probably how most casual basketball fans — and even some Wisconsin fans — feel about the Badgers’ basketball program. Never flashy, rarely athletic, but always fundamentally sound, Bo Ryan’s teams have inexplicably made numerous doubters look foolish over the last 12 years.
And they did it again Saturday.
Even though it marked Wisconsin’s 12th straight win over Indiana — and improved Ryan’s record over Tom Crean to 15-3 — there was something about the Big Ten Tournament’s first semifinal game that didn’t quite make sense.
Not only was Wisconsin doing what it normally does — playing spectacular defense and patiently finding good quality shots — but it was also beating Indiana at it’s own game. At one point, the Badgers were running up and down the court and killing the Hoosiers in transition.
One could only imagine what Hoosiers fans in attendance were thinking while that was going on.
“Man, those boys are athletic,” Wisconsin forward Mike Bruesewitz sarcastically suggested.
No, Mike. They certainly weren’t thinking that about the Badgers.
But at this point, the Hoosiers have no choice but to respect Wisconsin. That much was evident in the postgame handshake when Crean — who hasn’t exactly gotten along with Bo Ryan since his days at Marquette — engaged Ryan in a conversation that qualified as significant, if only because their postgame handshakes usually resemble two F-14s playing chicken.
“They are an excellent team and have been for a long, long time,” Crean later said about Wisconsin. “As long as he’s the coach there, they will be.”
The Badgers know who they are. That’s why Bruesewitz isn’t afraid to joke around about their lack of athleticism. He’s even gone as far as to call himself and his teammates “ugly”.
But they win.
And while some might call Wisconsin’s style of play ugly too, Bo Ryan and his players certainly don’t care.
“When the guys come in, I take those little stars you lick, and I put four or five stars on each locker. ‘Hey, you’re a five star guy. You’re a four star guy,'” Ryan joked Friday when asked about the lack of “stars” on his team. “You know, it’s what that star shines like when you’re finished with your career.
“I don’t want to sell my players short, I’ve got good players who are much better as a result of playing together.”
That is Bo Ryan’s system. And it works. Style points don’t matter. Just ask Ryan Evans, who resorted to shooting jump-shot free throws when he was shooting less than 40 percent from the line.
And where did that ridiculous idea come from? Bo Ryan, of course.
“This man here, he gave me the courage to go up there and try something new,” Evans said.
Ryan explained that Evans was down to three options:
“It was A, B or C,” the head coach said. “A was the jumpshot, Hal Greer-style … B was Globetrotter, kick the ball in. Drop kick, you drop it down, you kick it up. And third was underhand. So it was A, B or C. (Evans) chose A. He’s OK with it. His numbers are up.”
And if the jump shot free throw isn’t the epitome of Bo Ryan basketball, then what is?
Anything to win, no matter what it looks like.
So what was Bo Ryan saying in his press conference that made him stop and acknowledge that Barry Alvarez was in the room?
“I’ve never out-coached anyone. I’ve never out-maneuvered anyone, I’ve never out-strategized anyone,” he said.
Sorry Bo, anyone who watched Saturday’s game against Indiana disagrees with you.
Just ask Tom Crean.
Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, Blackhawks, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.