Madison men's basketball coach Bo Ryan slipped a promotional plug into his remarks after last Saturday's 65-56 win over Minnesota. He was talking about how, at one point during the game, Minnesota guard Lawrence McKenzie scored on a wide-open three-pointer after a Wisconsin miss at the other end.
"What happened was we tried to be aggressive on the offensive rebound," said Ryan, diagramming the defensive lapse with his fingers on the table in front of him. "We protected the rim in transition, but the player that worked under to try to get the offensive rebound was the third guy getting back."
Ryan went on for a bit, then announced: "There is a video just released on transition defense - I think it's $29.99 from Sysko's - and that'll answer all your questions."
Ryan added his own mock condemnation: "Shameless!"
Yes, Ryan has produced his own popular series of coaching videos, available online. Other titles (which likely help keep Ryan in hair gel and red jackets) include "Quick Striking Entries Into the Swing Offense" and "Defending Screens and Rebounding."
Saturday's win improved the Badgers' record to 21-4 (11-2, Big Ten), ensuring a 20-plus-win season for the fifth time in Ryan's seven-year tenure at Wisconsin. Fans have become accustomed to successful basketball seasons with Ryan at the helm, but this kinder, gentler approach to the media is relatively new.
While he was jokingly trying to sell videos, Ryan was generously sharing his insights into coaching. In previous years, he may have brusquely dismissed a question about how his teams end up making more foul shots than the opposing team attempts. But on Saturday, he was downright professorial.
Ryan explained that he coaches his teams not to be overly aggressive on defense, but to take advantage of teams that are.
"We're trying to get people out of position so they have to use their hands," he said. "So when we attack an open lane - a baseline, a lane line - if people put their hands on you, it's exposed to the officials. And if you touch the post with the ball [make an inside pass], you will shoot more free throws."
What makes a basketball team successful is not always easy to determine. Sometimes it's a couple of star players, or a particularly strong overall offense. That certainly helps, but Ryan's system is meant to succeed even when he has a team that isn't as fast or athletic as the opposition.
At the start of this season, many fans were worried about the loss of Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor to graduation, and with good reason. Starters Brian Butch, Michael Flowers and Marcus Landry are solid players, but Tucker and Taylor dominated. And sophomore point guard Trevon Hughes, now in charge of the offense, only played sparingly last season.
But the Badgers have weathered the transition. Instead of relying on one or two big scorers to carry the load, the team is finding success with balanced scoring. Against Minnesota, Landry led the way with 12 points, but Butch, Flowers, Hughes and sophomore shooting guard Jason Bohannon all had 11.
That's the kind of team effort Ryan was famous for producing during his career at UW-Platteville, where he won four NCAA Division III national championships in the 1990s. He says so himself.
"[This week] we are celebrating the '98 team in Platteville that had like nine guys between seven and 13 (points per game)," Ryan said Saturday. "It reminds me of that kind of team right there. There are some guys getting in foul trouble, other guys picking them up, everybody contributing in one way or another. It's fun when you have a group of guys like that."
Some might remember the last time Wisconsin fielded a solid team that lacked superstars and played unselfishly together. The 1999-2000 Badgers had only one player, Mark Vershaw, average over 10 points a game. The coach back then was Dick Bennett, who also enjoyed giving tutorials on the game. That team, of course, is fondly remembered for its unlikely run to the Final Four.