Midwest Matchup: Bo Ryan vs. Buzz Williams

Story by Frank F. Pellegrino

Bo Ryan
By Frank Pellegrino

When it comes to the question of which college basketball coach in Wisconsin I like most the answer is easy.

Bo Ryan.

Yes, I know his teams aren’t always the most exciting to watch for some people, but they are always competitive. And if you ask me, playing great defense and focusing on fundamentals is exciting to watch.

It seems like every year they start out unranked and creep their way all the way up to the top 10.

In his very first season as coach in 2001, Ryan led the Badgers to 19 wins and a conference title. Since then he has coached his team to two more Big 10 titles and two conference
tournament championships.

He is the all-time winningest coach in Big 10 history with a .713 winning percentage, even ahead of the legendary Bob Knight (you know, the guy with the most coaching wins … ever).
He is also tied as the second fastest coach to 100 wins in Big 10 history, trailing only Knight.

And for those of you who don’t know, Ryan was a legend himself at UW-Platteville even before moving on to Wisconsin (with a brief stint at UW-Milwaukee in between). In 15 seasons as coach at Platteville, he compiled a 352-76 record and earned eight WIAC titles. Oh yeah, and he won four national championships.

Since Ryan became coach of the Badgers in 2001, they have become a mainstay of the NCAA tournament and haven’t missed the Big Dance a single time.

Buzz William’s best season was with Tom Crean’s team (after he bailed for Indiana). That roster featured a lineup that would have had any college coach salivating, which is exactly why I think their 25-10 record was a bit of an underachievement.

Williams is a great young coach who still has a lot of proving to do and has benefited early from taking the reins of a historically successful program at Marquette.

Ryan just does what he does and could care less what anybody else thinks. Every year you know what to expect from his teams.

Twenty wins? Check.

NCAA Tournament? Check.

Buzz Williams
By Kris Kotlarik

Not every team can be like Virginia Military Institute. Because Buzz Williams’ coaching style is the closest to being psychotically fast-paced in the upper Midwest, I’m picking him.
Truth be told, I am mostly picking against the other two candidates (Tubby Smith and Bo Ryan).

Smith seems to have no control over his players. It seems as though every time I look at the Gophers’ page, there’s a news story about one of the players doing something stupid or complaining about something. Lack of discipline + underachieving players = perennial bubble team.

Bo Ryan is a great coach. He gets the most out of his players, and Wisconsin has emerged as a powerhouse. The problem is that Wisconsin’s pace on the court is laughably slow. So slow, in fact, that statistician extraordinaire Ken Pomeroy has calculated the Badgers as having the slowest tempo in the entire country.

This means 344 schools in Division I basketball, approximately 250 of which you have never heard of, play faster basketball than Wisconsin. And it shows: Watching Wisconsin play is less exciting than watching a split screen TV with a golf match and a NASCAR race running concurrently.

Buzz Williams’ Marquette squad is ranked 95th in this list. Sure, the pace isn’t blisteringly fast, but the random shouts of rage by Williams more than makes up for it.

Williams is starting to come out of his predecessor’s shadow. Tom Crean bolted Marquette in 2008 to coach at Indiana, and Marquette promoted Williams to head coach.

The Golden Eagles have made the NCAA tournament in both of Williams’ seasons as head coach, and has led his team to several marquee victories this season in their quest for another bid to the Big Dance.

In the seasons beyond, Williams will have Marquette poised to become the best basketball team in the upper-Midwest with his crazy style and off-the-wall demeanor.