With today’s win over Illinois, Bo Ryan is tied atop Wisconsin’s all-time win record with 265. Since taking over in 2001, the Badgers have won at least 19 games and made the Big Dance in each season. The Badgers have reached one Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen’s. In Big Ten play, the Badgers have won three regular season titles and two tournament championships. And the Badgers even achieved a #1 ranking during the ’06-’07 season. Overall, Bo Ryan sports a .728 winning percentage and has lost only 15 games at home during his tenure. Toss in a few coach of the year awards, and well, Bo Ryan has built quite a list of accomplishments during his short tenure at UW.
Yet, despite these accomplishments and accolades, Bo Ryan is the reason UW is not an elite college basketball program. Obviously, the numbers don’t lie. Bo Ryan is a helluva coach. Because of Ryan, UW is perennially ranked in the pre-season and even gets the benefit of the doubt from voters during the year (such as this year still being ranked after some bad losses to Iowa). Those are signs that UW is a very good, if not great, college basketball program. But, UW is not an elite program, and will not become one as long as Bo Ryan continues to recruit and build the program in the same manner.
Quick, name me a Bo Ryan UW player that has played in the NBA. I’ll give you time. You need more time perhaps? Well, spoiler alert: there’s not many. In fact, I can give you the short list here without wasting too much space: Alando Tucker, Devin Harris, Marcus Landry, Jon Leuer, Kirk Penny, and Greg Stiemsma. Yeah, a pretty motley crew indeed. Of that group, only three remain in the league. Devin Harris is the only one to accomplish anything in the pros, and the jury is still out on what type of career Leuer will have.
The point of that exercise is to show you how Bo Ryan is failing UW in his recruiting efforts. Bo Ryan does not recruit top-tier talent – the type of talent that a very good/great college basketball program should be able to get on campus. Instead, Bo Ryan recruits hard-nosed, under-talented, and hard-working system players. He’s made the likes of Joe Krabbenhoft, Mike Bruesewitz, Michael Flowers, and Mike Wilkinson relevant. Each of those players played a critical role in their teams respective success. But, none of those players is particularly talented, to say the least. They are simply Bo Ryan guys – guys that Ryan coaches up and work within his system. And Bo Ryan continues to use this formula to churn out competitive teams every single year.
This formula will allow UW to be a perennial Big Ten contender and make the Big Dance. But, like previous squads, this formula will never equate to anything bigger and better – i.e. a deep NCAA tournament run and a NCAA championship quality team. There’s a reason Bo Ryan squads regularly don’t get past the first weekend of the Big Dance. Once UW gets outside the friendly confines of Big Ten basketball (read: officials not allowing Big Ten football to be played on the hard court), UW suffers. Talent wins out and UW does not have the talent to match the elite programs.
Bo Ryan’s coaching success has allowed his poor recruiting record to go relatively unnoticed. And part of this is based on the fact that UW really has never had a legitimate basketball program. So, now that Bo Ryan has finally developed one, complacency sets in. Badgers alum, fans, and supporters are simply thrilled to have a program that can rival the likes of Sparty and OSU. This free pass needs to end soon.
UW has established itself as one of the better programs in the country by consistently winning each year. Combined with one of the best stadiums and practice facilities in the country, UW should be able to attract top-end talent. But Bo Ryan has failed to land the top-end talent that will allow the program to take the next step in its development – becoming an elite program that contends for NCAA championships.