Days away from playing in its second consecutive Sweet 16, Wisconsin men’s basketball team head coach Bo Ryan seemed relaxed and energetic at his Monday press conference. The Wisconsin Badgers (26-9, 12-6) will face off against an experienced Syracuse Orange team (33-2, 17-1) in a showdown Thursday in Boston.
Syracuse, an explosive team, will pose a challenge for the Badgers as they look to build on the momentum gained during the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament. Ryan discussed the difficulty of preparing for a team of Syracuse’s caliber.
“They are long and have so many talented players,” Ryan said. “They read and react well because they do it all the time. They can shoot the three, get rebounds and they have a lot of depth. If you’re not proficient in one area, you must be proficient in the other aspects (of the game) to beat them.”
Syracuse’s head coach, Jim Boeheim, and Bo Ryan are no strangers off the hardwood, as the two have crossed paths numerous times in the past. Both are active members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) board for college basketball.
In addition, with their involvement on the NABC board, they have worked together with similar goals for the direction in which college basketball should be headed.
“We both love the game and want to do stuff in the best interest of the game,” Ryan said. “We have the same opinions and want to express them. I am glad Jim is on the board because he has good information and expresses it in an intelligent way. Jim likes to tell it like it is.”
Their work, along with the work of others, has made life easier for not only the players in college basketball but also the assistants. For example, more recruiting restrictions that have come in recent years keep recruiters home with their families more often that they would have in the past. For a coach, the pressure is always there, but the efforts of the NABC board have made assistants’ life much easier, according to Ryan.
“I think the rules now for coaches and how long they’re gone from campus and how many days they can be out are so much better,” he said.
With that said, the Badgers’ play thus far in the tournament has been a reflection of their coach. UW has arguably played its best basketball at the most crucial point in the season with impressive wins over Montana and Vanderbilt in the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Wisconsin’s play has not gone unnoticed, however, as people around the country are taking note of the team’s toughness, and the Badgers’ tenacious play has proved to be critical to their success. Ryan spoke at length about the recognition his team is receiving after playing well during the first two rounds of the tournament.
“If you’re a Wisconsin fan, you can yell for another 40 minutes,” Ryan said. “It comes on you so fast, and if you take a bump you’re forgotten in a hurry. The longer you last is good because of all the establishments and all the places where people gather, especially for retired people who follow the Big Ten Network. It has really spiked a connection between the Big Ten.”
Although the Badgers do not play a flashy offensive system, their success thus far has been a result of playing team basketball and sticking to the principles of the swing offense and aggressive defense which landed them in the Sweet 16.
Thursday night’s matchup against Syracuse will be a battle as both teams look to advance further in the tournament and face the proposition of heading home earlier than hoped for. The Badgers are looking to build on the momentum they have built over the first two rounds as they look to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2005.
As a result, Wisconsin has the support of not just its own head coach but also that of many fans around the country.
“With what they’re doing, with the experience they had coming in, more people are pulling for this team; this team has come a long way and I am very proud of them,” Ryan said.