Ryan talks Bulldogs, Sweet 16

first_imgSenior Keaton Nankivil was just a freshman when the Badgers last reached the Sweet 16. Nankivil scored 10 points in UW\’s first two tournament games so far this year.[/media-credit]With a Sweet 16 appearance on tap for Thursday, every game earned for the Wisconsin men’s basketball team will continue to magnify on the national scene. However, head coach Bo Ryan doesn’t expect his team to get too carried away with the escalating stakes.As Wisconsin gets ready for eighth-seeded Butler in New Orleans Thursday, Ryan assured everyone the Badgers are not approaching the game any differently just because the stage is a bit more grand.“I think in New Orleans the temperature is going to be the same as it was in Tucson, so I’m not just going to warn them about staying away from the foods that are too spicy,” he said. “What goes on between those lines (on the basketball court), it’s not going to change. They have to stay focused on the task, and I’m sure they will.“There won’t be anything different.”Last Saturday, fourth-seeded Wisconsin earned its fourth Sweet 16 appearance since 2003 and first since the 2007-08 season after defeating fifth-seeded Kansas State, 70-65, in Tucson, Ariz.Wisconsin’s seniors were freshmen the last time UW experienced the Sweet 16, but only three of them – Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil and Tim Jarmusz – saw playing time in that game. And none of them played longer than a minute.In both of the two years since then, the Badgers suffered losses in the second round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.This year, they go up against a mid-major Bulldogs team that willed itself into the national title game one year ago, barely losing to Duke, 61-59.Three starters return from that “Cinderella” squad and have already begun a memorable march through the NCAA tournament once again.Butler defeated No. 9 Old Dominion in its first game on a buzzer-beating shot by Matt Howard and then upset No. 1 Pittsburgh after a bizarre series of fouls spurred the Bulldogs to a 71-70 victory.While Ryan couldn’t help but admit those experiences are beneficial to the Bulldogs, he said it’s the present, not the past, that matters most right now.“What happened last year definitely cannot hurt them,” Ryan said. “That’s a positive experience for them. But they’re also led by [Butler head coach Brad Stevens] who understands that that was last year, this is this year, and I’m sure they aren’t going to practice with the idea, ‘Oh, well, we’ve been further than the teams we’re playing.’”As a result, UW isn’t concentrating on Butler’s run a year ago, either.“When we get on that practice floor today and [associate head coach Greg Gard] does that scouting report, it’s all about right now, and it won’t ever change,” Ryan said.Ryan spoke highly of Stevens, who, at age 34, has achieved four regular season Horizon League titles and three conference titles in his four years as head coach. Ryan called him a “bright mind.”The UW head coach then related his experiences coaching fellow Horizon League school UW-Milwaukee from 1999-2001 to describe a possible source of Butler’s motivation.“I think they relish that part of being from a so-called mid-major conference, which, having coached at UW-M, we never thought of ourselves as mid-anything,” Ryan said. “But it’s all basketball, and that’s the culture that’s been developed there.”Motivation isn’t short on the Wisconsin end, either. After a disenchanting performance at the Big Ten Tournament, where the Badgers lost an ugly 36-33 game against Penn State, UW-Madison responded with encouraging performances in its first two NCAA games.In victories over Belmont and Kansas State, Wisconsin has shot a combined .456 from the field and .500 from the perimeter and has seen plenty of clutch plays from featured players and role players alike.“These guys were just bound and determined to do something, and they have,” Ryan said. “It’s a good group of young men who have come together for a purpose. But not just coming together now, they came together a while ago.”last_img

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