On Friday the University of Wisconsin Badgers will play their first Final Four game in 14 years against John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. Bo Ryan will pace the sidelines for the Wisconsin Badgers just as he has since 2001. While recent NCAA recaps were filled with highlights from the game in which the Arizona Wildcats were thoroughly smacked around by West Regional Most Outstanding Player Frank Kaminsky Jr., very few prognosticators have mentioned how the coaching acumen of Ryan is perhaps the single biggest reason why the Badgers are a threat to win it all in the first place. Yes, even greater than the vastly improved Kaminsky. So, what do we know of the 13-year coach?
Despite having coached in the Cheese State for 30 years, Bo Ryan is a Pennsylvania guy at heart. His father Butch Ryan coached under-privileged kids in Chester, PA where son Bo would gain notoriety as a star point guard and high school quarterback.
We also know he is to college basketball in the state of Wisconsin what Tupac was to groupies back in the '90s. In other words, he gets around.
He was head coach at the NAIA-turned-Division III powerhouse University of Wisconsin-Platteville from 1984 to 1999. Then he segued over to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee from 1999 to 2001 before being offered the job at the big boy school in Madison, where he was also an assistant coach under Bill Cofield from 1976 to 1984. While at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville, Ryan amassed a record of 352-76. Just in case you weren’t paying attention, that’s an unheard of .820 winning percentage. He won four national championships in 1991, 1995, 1998 and 1999. A dynasty by any other name is still a dynasty. His 1997 squad set a D-III record for scoring defense with 47.5 points allowed per game.
Although everyone would like to believe that their favorite college coaches will stay at their respective alma maters until the end of time, chances are they’re only going to be as loyal as their next opportunity. Ryan would move to D-I at Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the 1999-2000 season, and lead the Panthers to their first back to back winning seasons in over 10 years. He clearly had the Midas touch, and the Badgers were certainly keeping their eye on him because of his demonstrated skill. They would snatch him up after former coach Dick Bennett retired after leading the University of Wisconsin to a Final Four run in 2000. The Badgers would win their first outright Big Ten regular season title in 56 years in 2001-2002. It was Ryan's first of five Big Ten championships to date.
He would win the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award in 2007 and he would lead his team to a school-record 31 wins a year later. As the son of an old school basketball coach, Ryan encompasses many of the attributes of his father in his coaching style and is a natural teacher of young men. When his team takes the court on Friday, it's a given that Bo Ryan will coach his heart out. He has exponentially changed the fortunes of whatever institute of higher learning he has ever coached at. There’s no reason to start sleeping on him now, but those who continue to snooze do so at their own risk.
The upstart Kentucky Wildcats are young, fast and athletic, however Wisconsin is more versatile on offense and they have the ability to pound it inside or pick up the pace and they lock in on defense. they also have a coach who can match wits with any of his powerhouse peers. A Wisconsin Badgers win over Kentucky is a real possibility. Those who disagree are in for a rude awakening, indeed.