Ed. note: This story was published on July 1, after Bo Ryan first said he would retire after the 2015-16 season. It remains unchanged, but we are choosing to repromote it in light of Tuesday's surprise announcement that Ryan was retiring effective immediately.
By any measure, Bo Ryan is the greatest coach in the history of Wisconsin basketball, with the possible exception of Walter "Doc" Meanwell, who built a powerhouse at UW in the early part of the 20th century. Bo won more games, more Big Ten games, more tournament games -- more whatever you can think of -- than anyone who preceded him.
And it's not close. Some representative numbers:
|Pre-Bo Ryan||Bo Ryan Era|
|Big Ten championships (since 1939)||2||4|
|Big Ten tournament championships||0||3|
A Big Ten legend
In the beginning we said, "What Bo Ryan is accomplishing is amazing, for Wisconsin."
In the end we say, "What Bo Ryan accomplished is amazing, for any program."
Between 1950 and 1992, Wisconsin basketball was essentially an embarrassment, one of the worst major-conference teams -- ever. At least we had Northwestern, but that's all we had:
Big Ten overall records, 1951-1992
Indiana: 779-363 (.682)
Illinois: 711-405 (.637)
Purdue: 689-426 (.618)
Iowa: 679-430 (.612)
Ohio State: 684-434 (.612)
Michigan: 671-453 (.597)
Minnesota: 612-466 (.568)
Michigan State: 592-481 (.552)
Wisconsin: 454-611 (.426)
Northwestern: 376-667 (.360)
Stu Jackson showed up in 1992, and things started looking up. This mini-bloom culminated in Dick Bennett's magical run to the Final Four in 2000, but even if you start the clock in 1992, Wisconsin was a resolutely mediocre program:
Big Ten overall records, 1992-2001
Michigan State: 227-92 (.712)
Indiana: 223-100 (.690)
Purdue: 224-101 (.689)
Michigan: 204-118 (.634)
Iowa: 196-116 (.628)
Illinois: 194-120 (.618)
Minnesota: 200-126 (.613)
Wisconsin: 167-136 (.551)
Ohio State: 158-140 (.530)
Northwestern: 92-191 (.325)
Now compare the 14 years of the Bo Ryan era:
Wisconsin: 357-125 (.741)
Ohio State: 354-133 (.727)
Michigan State: 347-146 (.704)
Illinois: 323-159 (.670)
Purdue: 268-189 (.586)
Michigan: 274-194 (.585)
Indiana: 261-196 (.571)
Minnesota: 262-202 (.565)
Iowa: 249-211 (.541)
Northwestern: 210-227 (.481)
Penn State: 184-255 (.419)
Under Bo, Wisconsin has more Big Ten wins over the last X years, where X equals 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14. In other words, all the Xs:
|Big Ten Wins Since...||Wisconsin||Michigan||Michigan State||Ohio State||Indiana||Illinois||Purdue|
The arch-mage of basketball efficiency
It is fitting that Bo's era at Wisconsin began in 2002, which is also when the records for Kenpom's "tempo-free era" begin. During that time, Bo's teams have consistently dominated in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Only Duke and Kansas have a better average efficiency rating in the tempo-free era:
|Team||Conference||Average OE||Rank||Average DE||Rank||Pyth. Calc.|
|Michigan State||Big Ten||111.9||13||93.5||9||0.8876|
|Ohio State||Big Ten||112.1||12||93.8||11||0.8868|
Among Big Ten teams, Bo's Badgers have, on average, had the best offense and the second-best defense (behind Illinois, strangely) in the conference:
|Team||Average OE||Rank||Average DE||Rank||Pyth. Calc.|
The 2015 Badgers had the best adjusted OE (127.9) of any team in the Kenpom era. The 2013 Badgers had the third-best defensive efficiency (85.6) of any team in the Kenpom era (only 2009 Memphis and 2012 Louisville had better seasons). To quote John Gasaway, "The man doesn't specialize in either offense or defense, just excellence."
Bo Ryan in the NCAA tournament: Really good
At some point, Bo developed a reputation as a choker in March. It was nice to see that reputation implode the last two seasons. All told, Bo's record in the NCAA tournament looks a lot like his overall record: a testament to excellence.
Let's start with the most basic metric: NCAA tournament appearances. Over the past 14 years, Bo has coached the Badgers into the Round-of-64 14 times, joining just four other coaches in that club:
This was not a matter of squeaking into the dance, as Bo’s teams earned a No. 5 seed or better in nine of the 14 seasons, including each of the last six:
In the tournament, Bo piled up the wins. Only eight coaches won more tournament games in this period:
Those wins resulted in seven trips to the second weekend of the tournament, or one every other year:
With the last two seasons' Final Fours, Bo put himself into a very select group of coaches who got to the sport's ultimate stage multiple times in this period:
Famously, Bo did all this with very few highly touted or exceptionally talented players. So far, only four of his players have been drafted in the first round of the NBA draft. His teams (the red dot below) stand out as a clear outlier from the general rule that it takes NBA talent to succeed in March:
There were a couple of disappointments -- most notably in 2007 and 2013 –- but on the whole Bo’s teams slightly overachieved in the tournament both in terms of wins against Kenpom expectations ("+/-" below) and Performance Against Seed Expectation (PASE):
|Year||Seed||Actual Ws||Exp. Ws||+/-||PASE|
Not done yet
From the start, Bo Ryan has always found ways to surprise us. Consider his first four seasons at UW:
First season: Unbelievable, out-of-nowhere share of the Big Ten title, the first since 1947.
Second season: Outright Big Ten champs (what?) and a Sweet 16.
Third season: Devin Harris Big Ten MVP and a Big Ten tournament championship.
Then, 2004-05: a surprise run to the Elite Eight, and a second-half lead against eventual champion North Carolina.
Next year's team, Bo's last, bears striking resemblance to the somewhat disappointing 2005-06 team (as I will get around to writing about one of these days). But even that team showed great promise before Marcus Landry and Greg Stiemsma had to sit out the second semester.
I've got a feeling Bo's got one more surprise for us.