Think about evolution. It’s a pretty broad term. It can refer to a variety of changes, to the uplifting of mountains and the wandering of riverbeds and the creation of a new species.
To how Bo Ryan coaches basketball.
He will deny any such view, and when you have won 702 games and advanced your team to the NCAA Tournament 13 straight years and are about to play in the Sweet 16 for the third time in four seasons, your primary concern probably isn’t the process by which things develop and diversify over time.
“I’ll tell you, I can’t wait to grow up,” the 66-year-old Ryan said. “They tell me there are some really good things out there. Basically, I’m the same as I have always been. Try to get good shots on offense and try to not let the other team get good shots. Take care of the ball. Get to the free-throw line. Give yourself a chance. It’s the way I was taught growing up. Those are the absolutes. Do the things that give yourself the best chance. That’s how I coach.”
He has produced practice videos that are coveted by peers nationally, ways his Wisconsin program has remained so consistently good for so long.
But this isn’t your grandfather’s Wisconsin.
This isn’t your father’s idea of the swing offense.
It’s still four-out, one-in. It’s still an equal opportunity motion scheme with all sorts of options. It sill rotates all five players into the post and forces the defense to be well-rounded by guarding inside and out.
It’s just not a Big Wheel attack anymore. At times, it’s a Ferrari.
The Badgers have won games this season in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and even topped 100 points for the first time in the Ryan era, a fact Baylor must now prepare for when the teams meet in the first of two West Regional semifinals today at the Honda Center.
For so long, Wisconsin grinded its way to 20-win seasons and physically beat the snot out of teams along the way. Its players had shoulders the length of Lake Mead and necks thicker than a Michelin tire.
A lot of guys whose last name should have been Bunyan.
A lot of guys who wear tank tops two sizes too small with horizontal stripes and grunt when on the bench press at your local gym.
Now, the Badgers have forwards who look more track athletes than bruising plodders, players who have helped produce the best offense during Ryan’s time in Madison.
It’s the best (73.9 points per game and fifth nationally in offensive efficiency) in 19 years at the school.
“The more film you watch, the more you become impressed with how they get out in transition now,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “From afar, the thought process was Wisconsin would grind each possession out for 35 seconds and be really patient on the offensive end. They can still do that, but Coach Ryan also allows his players to use their skill and athleticism to make plays. He just adjusts to his personnel.
“Over 700 wins speaks for itself. Maybe it’s because I’m from a basketball family, but I know the history and understand what a great job Coach Ryan has done over the years.”
Don’t sleep on the part about athleticism.
Wisconsin hasn’t until now been built to reach a Final Four and compete for a national championship under Ryan. It has forever won during the regular season on the law of averages that the Badgers are going to take better shots over 40 minutes than their opponents and usually come out better for it. Wisconsin might run more practice drills without a ball than any other team in the country. It is that detailed, that precise with how things are done.
The Badgers run shell drills to ad nauseam.
They’re going to play extremely tough man-defense in the half court and not switch many screens and defend in a style that plays to tough Midwest values but wouldn’t be all that embraced out West. They’re going to take care of the ball.
But they have struggled beating truly great teams in March. Teams with pros. Kids who can make something out of nothing on pure skill.
Wisconsin has been great in the early going each year and consistent enough to have a winning record in the Big Ten Conference in each of Ryan’s seasons.
March has been its Achilles heel. This point in March. The point when 16 is dwindled to eight and then to four.
It could change now, though. It could be different for a team that has proven it can play at any pace and dictate any level of tempo.
“You know, you coach what you have,” Ryan said. “You recruit to it. People say you play a certain system. I’ve played so many different types of systems as far as an overall view.”
He doesn’t want to hear about evolving. It’s just basketball to him.
Like, for this season, never before.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.