Then and Now Preview: Wisconsin
WNUR’s Michael Stern (@MichaelJStern23) previews each of Northwestern’s opponents by looking at how each team did for the first few years under their current head coach. Today: Wisconsin and Bo Ryan.
Then: The Badgers reached the 2000 Final Four under legendary coach Dick Bennett (whose son, Tony, now coaches Virginia), but Bennett said he was burnt out and retired three games into the 2000-2001 season. Wisconsin hired Milwaukee head coach and former Badger assistant Bo Ryan as its new head coach before the 2001-2002 season. Ryan began winning and recruiting right away, as Wisconsin went 19-13, lost once to Northwestern, and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament in his first season. Ryan’s first Badger team got 12 points a game from freshman Devin Harris. The next year, Wisconsin began a stretch of extreme consistency, as the Badgers went 24-8 and reached the sweet 16 as freshman Alando Tucker joined Harris in Madison and both averaged 12 points a game. Wisconsin won 25 games in 2003-2004, as Harris averaged 19.5 points a game as a junior, and Tucker and junior Michael Wilkinson also averaged double digits. When Harris declared for the NBA draft, the 2004- 2005 Badgers were left without a star player, but that’s just the way Ryan likes it. Five players (led by Tucker and Wilkinson) averaged 7.5 points or more, the team won 25 games and reached the elite eight, and future key Badgers Brian Butch and Michael Flowers rode the bench.
Now: Since he arrived in Madison, Ryan has not stopped winning. He has never won less than 19 games in a season, and has seen a revolving door of tough, grind-it-out, slow-it-down players. Despite all this success, Ryan has yet to reach a Final Four with the Badgers, and this might be the year. They may not have the super-depth of Iowa, but Wisconsin might have the best starting five from top to bottom in the Big Ten. Ben Brust is the lone senior in the starting lineup, scores 12.8 points per game, and hit a just-past-half court shot to send a game against Michigan to overtime last season.
Juniors Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson join Brust in the backcourt. Jackson is the primary ball-handler, averaging just over 4 assists a game, while Gasser’s production varies from game to game. After going scoreless against Northwestern, Gasser scored 14 that weekend against Iowa. Sophomore forward Sam Dekker is the team’s leading scorer, at 14.2 points per game, and junior forward Frank Kaminsky, who made headlines when he dropped 43 against North Dakota, chips in 13.4 points a night. While not deep, the Badger bench contains two talented freshmen, Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig. Koenig plays big minutes but shoots sparingly, while Hayes made a name for himself by scoring 19 points when the Badgers thrashed Northwestern by 27 points in early January.