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February 8, 2012MADISON -- Before head coach Bo Ryan took over the program, Wisconsin had won 19 games in a season just four times in 103 years. With one more win this season, the Badgers will have reached that mark in each of Ryan's 11 seasons.
Because people love round numbers, the 20-win mark is often used to measure success. But 19 wins a year for 11 straight years is an impressive accomplishment in its own right.
Whether that 19th win comes Thursday night in Minneapolis, next week in East Lansing, or perhaps not until later this month at the Kohl Center, the Badgers are right in the heart of the Big Ten race as usual, and that's all that really matters to Ryan.
"Try to compete at the highest level in the Big Ten, and the rest will take care of itself, knowing that we're always going to play tough teams in the nonconference," Ryan said. "I think the main thing is you want your players concerned about how we're going to handle screening situations that Minnesota throws at teams today. That's all I want them thinking about, and, what, offensively, we need to do better."
As far as where the Badgers rank through 24 games this season, that depends on who you ask and what criteria you use.
Wisconsin ranks No. 4 according to Ken Pomeroy's analysis, based primarily on the merits of its defense. UW is second in defensive efficiency, with the gap closing to just two-tenths of a point per 100 possessions after Ohio State gave up 84 points Tuesday night in beating Purdue.
UW is third in 3-point percentage defense and fourth in 2-point percentage defense, combining to put the Badgers first in effective field goal percentage defense. They also rank second in the nation behind the Boilermakers in turnover percentage, giving the ball away just 14.8 percent of the time.
As far as RPI is concerned, Wisconsin is either 29th , 30th or 31st, depending on the source.
Current "bracketology" predictions have the Badgers landing anywhere from a No. 3 seed to a No. 8 seed, with the average being a No. 5.
And in the Big Ten, UW is third, two games behind Ohio State.
"We're in a better place this time this year than we were last year," Jordan Taylor said. "I think we were three games back this time last year, or two games back. If we win on Saturday -- unfortunately we couldn't get that done -- but if we'd have won on Saturday, we'd be right in first place."
'Average is over'
Last week, Ryan shared a New York times article, by Thomas Friedman that makes the case against being "average" in the world today.
Ryan agreed with the message, and thought it could be useful to share it with his players by relating it to athletics.
"Average is no longer good enough," Ryan said. "A lot of people could survive on average the past couple generations. You can't survive on average now. And it was referring to education, but it also, to me, referred to a lot of other areas of your life.
"Being average in athletics, is that going to get you a scholarship? Is that going to get you a chance to pick what school you'd like to go to?"
The decision to share the article had nothing to do with the Badgers' recent loss to the Buckeyes -- Ryan said he did it before the Penn State game -- but it wouldn't hurt for the Badgers to think that way after that loss.
If UW plays an average game Thursday at Williams Arena, then Minnesota will win. Same goes for Wisconsin's next game at Michigan State. And any of their other five remaining regular season games, and especially in the postseason.
With four of their next five games on the road, the Badgers are in a crucial stretch of the Big Ten schedule. Wins could propel them to the top of the conference standings, while losses could drop Wisconsin to the middle of the pack.
So, what exactly did the players take away from the article?
"Just how times have changed, and it's something you can't deny," said Ben Brust. "If you deny it, you're going to get caught, because the title kind of says it how it is. Average isn't good enough. And so, I think you've just got to keep working hard, whether it's right now or later. At all times, you've got to work hard and work harder than the person next to you."