After winning the 2013 Cancun Challenge last week, the Wisconsin men’s basketball finds itself with an 8-0 record, the best start University of Wisconsin has ever had under head coach Bo Ryan.
While Ryan has never had a Wisconsin team win eight games in a row to start the season, he would not say that this team is the best team he’s ever had. During his press conference Monday, Ryan explained how it is impossible to say that any team he has ever coached is his best team, simply because every year is so different.
“I never compare teams, and you can’t do that because each year is different. Sometimes if you look at schedules, sometimes they play into your favor to a certain point and sometimes they don’t,” Ryan said. “But I thought we played good teams and we’ve played pretty well, but it’s early yet.”
The Badgers have played against solid competition through their first eight games, most recently with a win over Saint Louis in the semifinal and a 70-63 victory against West Virginia in the championship game in Cancun. However, the team hasn’t played a team as talented as their next opponent, Virginia (7-1). The Wednesday night game in Charlottesville, Va., will be a part of the always highly-anticipated Big Ten/ACC Challenge, and Ryan and the Badgers are looking forward to their first true road test with an atmosphere that isn’t decked out in cardinal red.
“It’s a true road game. At Green Bay, there were a lot of red jerseys. There was a lot of red coloring up at Green Bay. So it isn’t like what’s going to happen. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of red in Charlottesville,” Ryan said. “What’s in the stands, you have no control over. The only thing our guys can have control over is what happens on the court.”
In last year’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge, UW played Virginia and suffered a rare loss at the Kohl Center, falling 60-54 in the matchup. Entering this year’s game, Ryan is looking at this Virginia team led by senior shooting guard Joe Harris — who scored 22 points against the Badgers last year — as even better than last year’s squad.
“All you have to do is look at the fact that who are the starters, and are they still starting, that are still in the program? So they’ve improved. They had two players sitting out that were better than what they had on the court,” Ryan said. “I know Tony [Bennett] was just licking his chops knowing that, next year with Joe Harris healthy and the rest of the guys … a lot of people thought they were going to be a better team this year. So far they’ve proven that.”
While it is important for Wisconsin to shift much of their focus to Virginia, they must also focus on what they can do themselves to get better. Under Ryan, the Badgers have played some of the nation’s best defense year after year, but Ryan always thinks there is room for improvement on the defensive side of the ball, especially this season with the new hand-check rules at play.
“Well, they aren’t new rules. There’s emphasis. We haven’t been a ‘handsy’ team in the past, so we just need to keep working on our positioning and our footwork,” Ryan said. “Physically they’ve been able to improve. The thing is, we had a jump start in August, and I think that really helped us in these first eight games, and hopefully it will be the same for the rest of the games.”
Ryan also put an emphasis on the importance of rebounding, saying his team has plenty of work to do in this area. With strong rebounders Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz no longer on the team, it is important for this year’s squad to work even harder when crashing the boards.
“We’re not anywhere near where we need to be as a team,” Ryan said. “Because of rotations, because of the fact that guys can drive into you and you’re afraid to use your hands on initial contact, if a guy throws up a flipper, throws up a running one-hander, a lot of times, because you aren’t in the same position with your hands or the same balance, I think we can improve a lot on our block outs.”
Ryan and the Badgers will attempt to avenge last year’s loss to the Cavaliers Wednesday at 6 p.m. CT.