The moment things changed for good is hard to pinpoint, but the winning and the Big Ten titles became the new normal when Bo Ryan rode into town in 2001. Aside from a few occasional flashes in the pan, Wisconsin was middle of the pack in its best years, bobbing up and down the standings on a regular basis. The 90s proved to be a turning point for the Badgers prior to the Ryan era, but he created stability that has existed since.Mr Ryan built on the foundation established by Dick Bennett, a long-time high school coach at Eau Claire Memorial and university coach for Wisconsin-Green Bay. He might have come to Pat Richter's attention by regularly coming into Madison with the Phoenix and winning. And the first Wisconsin appearance in the Final Four in the 21st Century came the same season Wisconsin went to DeKalb and lost to Northern Illinois. You could look it up: 1999-2000, I was there for it. But rather than go for something different, when Mr Bennett retired, Wisconsin continued in the same way.
Ryan brought in his players, guys who weren't always flashy but they were always fundamentally sound. They bought into a system, he bought into them and between the two they created one of the most consistent forces in college basketball.Yes, we've been looking at that, and acknowledging that continued strong performance without the big prize brings its own kind of frustration. It is my position that soundness can overcome a lot of talent, and continued achievement is a way of bringing in more talent, filthy lures from the National Basketball Association or John Calipari notwithstanding. The learning curve, though, is gradual.
For Penn State, Wisconsin basketball is nothing more than proof that it is possible to take a losing program and turn it into a winner. It's proof that winning in the Big Ten isn't impossible to do, even as the program grows. One of Wisconsin's first Big Ten titles under Ryan came the same year the Badgers stumbled out of the gate losing to all kinds of poor teams. The success was profound but it wasn't without bumps in the road.True. But a hustler in the John Calipari mode could note the McDonald's all-Americans getting away out of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, or Camden or Cleveland to the one-and-done colleges, and propose a quicker turnaround that way, never mind how many wins might have to be vacated later.
At Wisconsin, I hope they're giving thought to continuing the current model.