January 13, 2014 at 1:34 am

Rod Beard

Big Ten report: This might be Bo Ryan's best team at Wisconsin

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan says his players have earned their 16-0 record. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

For years, Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan seemingly has flown under the radar, as he’s run one of the most consistent programs in the Big Ten.

Even in years where Ryan hasn’t had superior talent, he has guided the Badgers to the NCAA Tournament. His teams have won at least 19 games and reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his 12 seasons in Madison. Moreover, Wisconsin has never finished with a sub-.500 conference record.

In his 13th season, Ryan has not only continued the success, but might be on the road to doing one of his best coaching jobs with maybe his most talented team.

Wisconsin (16-0, 3-0 Big Ten) is off to the best start in school history, is holding onto a top-five ranking in both national polls, and is one of four remaining unbeaten teams. Last week, the Badgers had their toughest stretch of the season, squeaking by Iowa and trouncing Illinois — both ranked opponents — at the Kohl Center.

But don’t expect the stellar play to start going to Ryan’s head. Following the win over the Illini, he was asked about going 16-0. And in typical Bo Ryan fashion, he shrugged off any hint of cockiness.

“I’d have gone home, maybe had a beverage and eaten something and gone to bed, and it would never have been brought up until you just brought it up,” Ryan told reporters this week. “For the players, what they’ve accomplished, they’ve earned. They get the credit; they put the sweat on the floor. I’m certainly proud of them.

“But you start thinking about that too much and it can go the other way in a hurry. So I’m proud of the players, I’m proud of the team, I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished to this point.”

Because of the structure of the conference schedule, where teams play four opponents just once, the Badgers benefit from having to play Ohio State and Michigan State (ranked third and fifth, respectively, entering this week), just once.

Wisconsin has four players scoring in double figures, led by Sam Dekker (14.3). Frank Kaminsky (13.6) has been one of the most versatile big men in the conference. And the return of Josh Gasser, who missed all of last season, has been a boost to the backcourt.

Ryan’s demeanor has transferred to his players, who have taken to their new-found position as one of the nation’s under-rated teams.

“We’re not content, but we just have to keep getting better. We’re excited for what’s next. We can get so much better,” guard Traevon Jackson said. “I still think we haven’t played a full game yet to our maximum potential, so we have to go and practice, look at the film and go out against Indiana (on Tuesday) and try and do that.”

Wisconsin looks to extend its win streak this week at Indiana and at home against Michigan on Saturday.

Penn State close

Penn State is getting close. But close only counts in … well, you know the rest.

After double digit losses in its first two conference games, the Nittany Lions were on the verge of getting two big wins, but lost a pair of close games at home to Minnesota (68-65) and Indiana (79-76).

The Nittany Lions (9-8, 0-4) led in the second half of both games, but weren’t able to finish things off in the final minutes. Against Indiana on Saturday, they had a two-point lead after a pair of free throws by D.J. Newbill, but surrendered the lead and lost their second consecutive one-possession game.

“Yeah, we are one, maybe two stops away from winning these games. The biggest thing for our team is to stay confident,” said Newbill, who scored 24 points. “Don’t let the lows be too low. Keep fighting, stick together and just keep battling. That’s the only thing we can do right now.

Nice digs in Nebraska

Nebraska may not have the best basketball team in the Big Ten, but with its new $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena, it has one of the best venues in the conference.

The 15,000-seat, state-of-the-art facility dwarfs the Huskers’ former home, the Devaney Sports Center and features a metal-panel façade, an open-air roof deck in a 470,000 square-foot space. It’s part of a $344 million downtown development and has several new restaurants, bars and hotels within walking distance.

rod.beard@detroitnews.com
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