The Wisconsin men’s basketball team continued its hot streak to start the season after a successful week defeating Virginia and Marquette., jumping to No. 4 in the AP poll.
Although his team might be younger than usual, UW head coach Bo Ryan emphasized in his weekly press conference Monday that he believes his team knows how to handle the pressure of being one of the top-ranked teams in the nation.
“Because of the leadership we have, I think the right things are being said in the locker room and the right directions being given out on the court with the players, with the upperclassmen. Even though it’s not a real old group at all,” Ryan said. “They’ve knocked off in years past teams that were highly ranked. So they know highly ranked teams are just as vulnerable as anybody else.”
The last time the Badgers were ranked in the top five was during the 2006-2007 season. While that squad had a solid core of experienced, veteran players including All-American Alando Tucker, this year’s team has plenty of younger players in the rotation.
Among that group is freshman guard Bronson Koenig. Koenig was one of Wisconsin’s top recruits coming into this season and he has found himself to be a key part of UW’s rotation early in the season. Ryan has been impressed with Koenig’s progress since he suffered a hamstring injury early in the preseason, noting how Koenig has improved in every area of his game, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“It has really shown on the court in practice how he has moved ahead and done some really good things because he’s learned, well, I need to be here on defense. I need to rotate here, pinch here, sink there,” Ryan said. “He’s picked up in every area, and the game was probably a little quicker, a little stronger for him in the beginning when you’re looking at it, but he knows now that he can compete and he’s ready to get more.”
Ryan said that just like Koenig, the entire team is improving as their hot streak continues. Yet, even at 10-0, ranked fourth in the country, Ryan thinks there is room for more improvement and that we haven’t seen the best basketball this team can play. Right now, he believes the team is slightly ahead of the curve, attributing part of it to UW’s opportunity to play in Canada in August before the season started.
“You know, you have to be fair and look at the fact that we had the summer trip, which I’m glad we had the opportunity to do because, if anything, as I’ve said a hundred times, it gave the younger guys, ‘okay, these are the things that we’re going to need to work on,’” Ryan said. “Only time will tell what this group can do. We’ll give them a chance every day in practice to get better, just like everybody else is doing.”
Ryan explained how he has never paid much attention to rankings during the season in the past and doesn’t believe his team should either. Even amid the excitement of becoming a top-five team, Wisconsin must remain focused and shift their attention to their next opponent, in-state rival University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Ryan believes his team, despite being a younger squad, understands where their focus needs to be and what they need to do to beat UWM. The Badgers know being such a highly ranked team means they now have a larger target on their backs and every team is going to show up playing their best.
“This team’s attention will be on the clips from Saturday and the UWM scouting report. That’s all we’ll talk about. Now, what they talk about in the locker room and on campus or anything else, I just hope they understand that they’ve done some things that put them in this position, that they’ve been successful,” Ryan said. “But they understand it’s 40 minutes of basketball Wednesday night, or at least that’s how we’ll approach it.”
The Badgers will take on UWM at the Kohl Center at 7 p.m. Wednesday.