We began giving you a look at the Final Four yesterday with reason No. 4 as to why the Badgers will win the national championship. Today it’s another reason to be optimistic about Wisconsin’s chances and that means we’re talking experience. I know, strange saying the words “Final Four,” “Wisconsin,” and “experience” in the same sentence, but hear me out on this one.
Pop Quiz – who’s the coach with the most national titles in this year’s Final Four? Clearly its not second year UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, nor is it one-time national champion John Calipari. It’s Bill Donovan at Florida, right? WRONG.
The guy who has hoisted the most national championship trophies sits on the Badger sideline and his name is Bo Ryan. Yes, that’s right…Bo Ryan and the words national champion used to go hand-in-hand. Ryan, who got his head coaching start at D-3 Wisconsin-Platteville, led the Pioneers to four national championships in five Final Four appearances at that level.
OK, so maybe its stretching it a little, but Bo Ryan doesn’t see it that way at all. In fact, he says other coaches have come to him for advice on playing for national titles in the past, telling the press gathered on Monday that exact thing:
I’ve had coaches come to me for advice because I was in five of these. Whether it’s Division III or Division I, you’re in five national tournaments. You’re trying to win the National Championship. I’ve had people ask me what it was like and for advice. This is a two-game tournament. Coaches that are going to go out and ask what question? Because it’s the final two games, it’s going to be different? Heck, no. You’ve got to win the 40 to get to 40. I don’t mean North Dallas Forty.
If there’s one thing we all should know about Bo, its that he isn’t afraid to tell you exactly what he’s thinking on any given topic. Is some of it to bolster the guys in the locker room from time to time? You bet, yet at the same time he isn’t the guy to go all “coach speak” on you just to hide something.
Ryan’s last national championship experience was in 1999, so things have changed since then. Yet, the basketball court is still the same dimensions, the rim is still 10 feet tall. About the only thing that has changed is the fact that it’s going to be in front of 77,000 fans in a football stadium rather than in front of 3,000 or so fans as it likely was back in Ryan’s D-3 days.
Have new or intimidating environments scared Wisconsin in the past? Not under Bo Ryan, that’s for sure—so don’t expect anything to change for him or UW come this weekend in Arlington, Texas.
“So it’s not like we think we have all the answers, but we know our team,” said Ryan. “We know what we have to do. We’re going to be ourselves. So I don’t know, if you’ve got any suggestions, you can throw them my way. I’m not going to do anything different.”
Let’s also not forget that Bo Ryan isn’t the only one of the Badgers who’ve won at the highest level they could.
Do we need to remind you of what Sam Dekker is capable of on the biggest stage? (Probably not, but it’s still amazing to watch)
He’s not the only one with state championship experience on UW’s roster though—as Jordan Smith, Jordan Hill, Bronson Koenig, Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon have all won state high school or prep school titles as well.
To be sure, the other three participants have players with experience taking in the event that is the Final Four, as well as the distractions that go with it. Yet, distractions aren’t what the Badgers are about.
Wisconsin may not seem to have an advantage in experience in getting to the Final Four, but as a collective there is plenty of championship experience to draw from. The question is, does Ryan’s championship experience and “40 for 40” attitude make up for the state UW will be playing on for the first time in 14 years?
The reality is, coaching experience may be the most important factor come this weekend. It’s not as if Kentucky and it’s roster full of freshman and sophomores were around for the 2010-2012 run, and those that were are bit players at best.
No one on Florida’s current roster was around for the 2007 trip to the Final Four and the reality is, only UConn’s Shabazz Napier can say he’s been around for one of these and will be starting come this weekend.
So, while the Badgers haven’t been to the Final Four, 99.9 percent of the players on the court this weekend are in the exact same boat as Wisconsin’s roster—inexperienced on the biggest stage.
Give me the coach that has been there and done it before, regardless of the level. Bo Ryan has proven that all he needs is to get there, his experience and team-first mentality will do the rest of the work for him.