Entering his 13th year as the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, Bo Ryan had done practically everything but reach the Final Four. You couldn't find many coaches with a resume that reads like his.
Conference championships? Check.
Annual trips to the NCAA Tournament? Never missed out.
Big Ten Coach of the Year awards? He has three.
But before this season, there was a conspicuously large absence among Ryan's accomplishments for someone with over a decade at a marquee program. Five Sweet Sixteens and one Elite Eight appearance is nice, but everyone in Madison was waiting for Ryan to get his team to college basketball's biggest stage.
Enter the 2013-14 Badgers. Enter Frank Kaminsky. And with an incredible, one-point victory over the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, Wisconsin danced its way into the Final Four for the first time in 14 years. By danced, I mean literally danced, too:
If you don't have a team to root for anymore, these guys are pretty swell.
Meet the Badgers
They may not boast any elite recruits biding their time before moving on the NBA, but few teams stick to their identity like Wisconsin. The Badgers know who they are -- a methodical, plodding team that grinds opponents with offensive efficiency -- and make sure you'll realize it, too.
Powered by Kaminsky and a talented group of perimeter shooters, including Sam Dekker and Ben Brust, Wisconsin moves the ball and finds open shooters like few other college teams. The Badgers have the No. 4 adjusted offense in the nation this year, per KenPom.com, despite facing the best opposing defenses of any team in college basketball.
That difficult schedule also helps to define what Wisconsin does. Many teams enter the NCAA Tournament unprepared for the kind of competition they'll receive, but the Badgers played one of the toughest slates in the country. They beat Florida, Virginia, Michigan and Michigan State, and are fresh off a one-point overtime win over Arizona.
Combine that experience with a group of players who have spent a lot of time in Ryan's system and you can see pretty easily why Wisconsin has proven to be so dangerous. American, a similar kind of team, simply never stood a chance, and the likes of Oregon and Baylor were outlasted by the Badgers' relentlessness. Then Kaminsky exploded against Arizona, and the rest is history.
In many ways, Wisconsin embodies the kind of big-time program that can still thrive in the modern college basketball scene, even without one-and-done superstars. Much of it can likely be attributed to the man below.
Meet Bo Ryan
College basketball is full of iconic coaches, but Ryan was never really that kind of figure. From the relatively unexciting style of his teams to the low-key way he goes about his business, you never got the sense that he cared about anything but winning basketball games at Wisconsin, however that might happen.
So when Ryan finally achieved one of his dreams Saturday, nobody should've been surprised that it was such a delightful moment. Under his leadership, the Badgers had been close so many times before -- there aren't a lot of coaches to accomplish as much as Ryan has without reaching at least one Final Four.
All of it makes the completion of this Wisconsin legend all the more appropriate. Over the past decade-plus, Ryan became synonymous with Badgers basketball, always on the sideline as the team has been a near-constant presence as a force on the national scene. Having someone else bring Wisconsin back to the promised land would've been weird, and a little sad.
Luckily, the Final Four need Bo. It always did:
Wisconsin hired Ryan after two years coaching the Milwaukee Panthers. He didn't thrive there, but Badgers officials surely weren't looking at that when they tabbed him for the gig. Instead, they probably looked at his 15 years at D-III Wisconsin-Platteville, where Ryan won four national championships, and his past stint as an assistant with the Badgers in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Badgers first hired Ryan as an assistant in 1976. He hasn't stopped coaching in the state since.
How They Got Here
Things started out with a blowout win over American. The game was never really that close, and it was to be expected. The Round of 32 game with Oregon was much closer, though, and an argument can be made the Ducks deserved to win. It was essentially a home game for the Badgers in Milwaukee, and Oregon succumbed to the pressures of March in the closing minutes as they killed their chances with turnovers and an inability to rebound on the defensive end.
After trailing by 12 points at halftime, the Badgers outscored Oregon 48-28 after the break to advance to the Sweet 16. Once they got there, Ryan's team showed just how good it is.
Wisconsin blew out Baylor in the Sweet 16. It's tough to beat Ryan when he has nearly five days to prepare for an opponent, and the Bears were completely outmatched in a 17-point loss. In the Elite Eight, the Badgers went up against Arizona, one of the biggest and most athletic teams in the country. Wisconsin played the Wildcats tough the entire way, and heroics in the second half from Kaminsky pushed the team to the Final Four.
Kaminsky scored 28 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the Badgers outlasted top-seeded Arizona in overtime, 64-63.
Now the Badgers move on to play Kentucky. The Wildcats brought in six McDonald's All-American recruits a year ago; Wisconsin doesn't have any on the roster. The two teams couldn't be more different in terms of how they were built, but the matchups on the court will make for a compelling game. After getting this far, there's no counting out Bo Ryan's team.