"It doesn't take a good team like UNLV, who is going to cause a lot of problems for a lot of teams this year," Ryan said.
Wisconsin got everything it wanted out of its trip to Las Vegas, play a tough, competitive, veteran team on the road in a hostile environment to prepare them for the rugged conference slate. The Badgers got all that, except the victory.
Wisconsin (2-1) may have a veteran roster, but its core group of players, like sophomore Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans and freshman Ryan Evans, is still young and cutting their teeth on the weekly grind.
That's showing in the finishing department. Wisconsin led the nation a year ago in turnovers, turning the ball over an average of just 8.8 times per game, a number that broke the single-season school record of 10.0. Through three games this season, the Badgers are averaging 13.3 turnovers a game, a number that included a season-high 15 against the Running Rebels pressure defense.
The miscues came at costly times, too. With UW trailing by one in the final minute, junior guard Jordan Taylor, one of the NCAA leaders in assist-to-turnover ratio last year, simply lost his dribble and the ball caromed out of bounds. On three inbounds plays, Wisconsin committed turnovers, including one by Bruesewitz that was stolen with 6.7 seconds left.
With the Badgers shooting just 36.5 percent overall (19 of 52) and 30 percent (6 of 20) from three-point range, it was simply too much to overcome in a 68-65 setback Saturday.
"Finishing has always been tough," Ryan said. "I can remember a lot of coaches that had pretty good seasons and one of the things they always lamented was guys not finishing around the basket. That's universal. What looks easy to people who don't play isn't easy in a game."
Other than Taylor's one miscue, the junior guard has been the pacemaker through three games. Averaging 16.3 points per game, second on the team to senior Jon Leuer's 18.7 points average, Taylor shook off an illness to not only lead Wisconsin with 19 points and three assists in 37 minutes, he joined rare company of players to open UNLV coach Lon Kruger's eyes.
"Like Lon said afterwards," Ryan said, "he said, "Wow, we've had guards come in here where we just take them out of everything. That kid is one of the toughest kids I've ever seen.' And I said, ‘Yeah, you're right. He is.'"
Without question, Wisconsin's toughness will be tested this upcoming weekend, as the Badgers will play three games in four days, beginning with Manhattan (2-1) in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.
Much like the Badgers excursion to Maui last season, these tough tests will tell Ryan and the rest of Badger Nation about the makeup of this year's team.
Last season, Wisconsin went 2-1 in the competitive Maui Invitational, only losing to Gonzaga in the second round. The Badgers followed that up by winning nine of their next games, including back-to-back top 25 wins over Maryland and Duke, and competed feverishly in the Big Ten conference, only being held back by a Leuer wrist injury.
"You are playing games in a short period of time, so you have to be good at what you do because trying to do something different or react to another team … you have to get your guys to understand to do what we do well," Ryan said.