The Big Ten got it right.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan earned his third Big Ten Coach of the Year for a remarkable coaching job in a thorny conference.
The coaches and voters could’ve taken the easy way out and chosen Indiana coach Tom Crean for its top honor based solely on the Hoosiers winning its first outright conference title in 20 years.
However, Crean had a couple of McDonald’s All-Americans in Cody Zeller and Yogi Ferrell and two NBA lottery picks next June in Zeller and Victor Oladipo.
Ryan was the correct pick for a team that was picked anywhere from fifth through eighth at the start of the season. Wisconsin had to deal with preseason injuries to Mike Bruesewitz, who lacerated his leg, and Josh Gasser who blew out his ACL, losing the starting point guard for the year.
An even bigger issue was losing Frank Kaminsky. With the Badgers’ frontcourt depth issues, Kaminsky got poked in the eye and suffered a cut iris causing Wisconsin to juggle minutes behind Jared Berggren.
On top of that, there were Ryan Evans’ free throw woes as he hovered around 40 percent and even made national headlines when he started taking jump shots from the charity stripe to get out of his funk.
And Ryan had to live with the growing pains of a point guard position that clearly wasn’t ready to handle the rigors of the Big Ten play right away. But he found a spark in Traevon Jackson and the lefty has finally given Ryan stability at the most important position in his swing offense.
This was a team that Ryan had to mold and guide. Usually his seniors are a vocal bunch that act as sergeants-at-arms but this team’s seniors were soft-spoken and led by actions. This team needed to be led and shown how to lead.
And that’s exactly why Ryan has his 12th straight top four conference finish. Ever since Ryan came to Wisconsin, his style has been criticized as to bland, too plain, too this or that. But all he has done is lead players that other teams gladly pass over year after year. He gets a dynamic point guard and big men that can shoot and combine that with an in-your-face defensive prowess and a junkyard dog mentality and you’ve got the most consistent coach in the conference.
This was easily the best conference in the nation. Yet, the Badgers beat No. 2 Indiana, No. 3 Michigan and No. 13 Ohio State to remain in contention for the regular season crown until the final week.
The Badgers aren’t as talented as Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. They don’t have any first-team all-conference selections but Ryan continues to get guys that play hard on both ends.
So no matter who is suited up for the Badgers, whether it’s Wisconsin’s first McDonald’s All-American since Brian Butch in 2003 or the do-everything type like Greg Stiemsma, Ryan is this team’s most valuable player.
You can’t say that about a lot of programs that recycle NBA talent like North Carolina.
Ryan has proven that you can win with less talented guys that want it more than the next guy — just make sure you share the ball and play defense.