In his first 11 years at Wisconsin, Ryan never missed the NCAA Tournament. The once-dormant program began to rise under Dick Bennett, and Ryan followed by creating a tradition of success.
When Bennett arrived in Madison before the 1995 season – replacing Stan Van Gundy – the team had reached the tournament three times in the past 97 years.
In three of his five full years as coach, the Badgers made the tournament. They went to the 2000 Final Four, but Bennett resigned early in the following season. Brad Soderberg took over on an interim basis, and Ryan was named head coach the following year. In retrospect, it was a superb hire.
Meanwhile, Bill Carmody came to Evanston the year before Ryan accepted the Wisconsin job. Though Carmody has never made the tournament, he understands longevity. Despite the academic obstacles he faces during recruiting, the Wildcats have been more than competitive in recent years. They challenge the best teams.
These two long-tenured coaches meet once again at Welsh-Ryan Arena on Wednesday. Heading into another difficult matchup, Carmody and his team know precisely where the focus lies. They need to set the pace.
NU experimented with changing the tempo on several occasions earlier this season. With a string of devastating injuries, the Cats adjusted to different rotations. After being blown out by Michigan on Jan. 3, they slowed the pace. But in later games – including the surprise win against then-No. 12 Minnesota – they opted to take shots earlier in the clock.
With this lineup, it seems that NU will need to slow the game down. Both teams are comfortable in the half-court offense. Carmody, though, suggested Wisconsin provides a wrinkle.
"They have some guys that can run," Carmody said. "It's a little different team than he's had in the past and they're playing well."
The Badgers struggled in non-conference play, losing most games against tough opponents. They entered the Big Ten season ready to contend, and upset then-No. 2 Indiana in their return to the national spotlight.
After a minor skid, Wisconsin has won five of its last six games. On Feb. 9, Ben Brust stunned then-No. 3 Michigan with an improbable three-pointer to send the game to overtime. The Badgers went on to win 65-62, and are hitting their stride.
The result of tomorrow's game may hinge on the basics, though. Reggie Hearn said both teams have similar motives: control the tempo.
"That's been the thing we try to do over the course of the year," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how that goes."
And of course, Ryan and his staff know how to approach the Princeton offense. Assistant coach Gary Close said his scout team focuses on giving his starters an accurate test during practice.
"They come ready to play," Close told Benjamin Worgull of Badger Nation. "… It's important to not go through the motions, and try to duplicate things to the best of their ability."
Like NU, the Badgers know how to stay composed. In order to settle into their preferred balanced tempo, they need to prevent easy baskets the other way. Dave Sobolewski said he expects Wisconsin to clamp down on back cuts. They're experienced with it.
The Wildcats – losers in five of their six last games – look to improve from their poor performance against Illinois on Sunday. The young team needs to capitalize whenever possible in hopes of stealing an upset. There's one major problem.
"They don't seem to make a lot of mistakes," Hearn said.
Disciplined basketball is a staple of Wisconsin basketball. Bo Ryan can only hope that the better team sets the pace.
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