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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Bo Ryan Goes For 200th Win At Wisconsin

Life is good for Bo Ryan's squad. The national media has done the expected about-face and are now gushing over the Wisconsin Badgers after their impressive win over Duke.

Step two was to avoid a letdown, which UW did by beating Grambling St. last Saturday in dominant fashion, 79-46. Trevon Hughes continued his stellar play and was rewarded by being named the Big Ten's Player of the Week. Perhaps more importantly, Jason Bohannon found his shooting touch and Jordan Taylor continued to emerge as a vital cog in the Badger machine (11 pts, 7 rebs, 5 assts). [box score]

Now comes step three: the first true road game. The Badgers might even get some assistance on this task. Thanks to blizzard-like conditions in the area, who knows how many fans will show up in Green Bay tonight at the Resch Center or whether it will amount to any type of home court atmosphere for the Phoenix.

The game will be the first of two important back-to-back contests versus in-state opponents. If the Badgers are successful tonight, Bo will have earned his 200th win as UW's head coach. In his nine seasons at Wisconsin, Bo has compiled a 199-74 record, with a Big Ten winning percentage (71.2) that is better than any other conference coach with at least five season under their belt. He is now approaching 600 wins overall as a collegiate head coach.

Then on Saturday, Wisconsin tries to snap a two-game losing streak to Marquette at the Kohl Center. The Badgers will need to handle possible changes in expectations, adapting from the hunter to the hunted once again. It is yet another chance for Wisconsin to show the nation that it's for real ... potential recruits included.

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Hughes' ascension as an All-Big Ten caliber player is obviously a huge reason the Badgers are back on the radar. In hindsight, Hughes probably deferred a too much to seniors Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry last year, which meant the Badgers lacked that alpha dog on the court. While Hughes has always made a splash in the non-conference schedule, I expect Hughes to play well against the in-state opponents and continue doing so for the rest of the season thanks to his own increased sense of ownership of this team.

When a player like Hughes has success under Bo on a national stage, it only strengthens Bo's credentials and can elevate the perception of the program, maybe even with recruits. Specifically I mention Hughes because he was unique: a highly-touted guard recruit; big city kid with a flashy style of play; starter from day one of his sophomore year. Bo has won with rosters full of guys much different than Hughes.

You could see the growing pains as the head coach broke down his point guard for three years, Bo often kept Hughes on a short leash and the Queens native struggled through a couple of roller coaster seasons. He was hesitant at times, out of control at others. Some folks, myself included, wondered if Bo hadn't hollowed out a talented player by removing his flashy instincts. Meanwhile, some of the better high school recruits in recent years avoided Madison as their basketball home, occasionally citing style of play or atmosphere.

Fast forward to today and the leash is off entirely. Hughes leads the 20th-ranked Badgers as they restake their claim as the premier Division 1 basketball program in the state. Now instead of pointing to Devin Harris, who is sooo five years ago, the coaching staff can show aspiring ballers another lead guard with an A-game. This ain't no fluke, it's a promise: You will win at Wisconsin, you will become the best you can be, and yeah, you can even look good doing it (cue the faux-hawk).

Bo Ryan has built a perennial winner and is working toward a great tradition and legacy. Two hundred wins will do that for you. Recruits beware.

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