Since taking over the program in 2001, Wisconsin has finished in a tie for fourth place or better in the Big Ten each season, a run of success that has included three conference championships. That doesn't mean Ryan can't remind his players from time to time.
Stumbling on a Thomas Friedman article about being ‘better than average' when it comes to education, Ryan handed the piece out to his players prior to the Penn State game – but he applied it in a different way.
"Average is no longer good enough," Ryan said Monday. "A lot of people could survive on average the past couple of generations. You can't survive on average now."
Wisconsin – which dropped two spots to No.21 in the Associated Press poll – continues to show it's better than the norm. Sitting in a tie for third place in the Big Ten, 1.5 games behind front runner Ohio State, Wisconsin (18-6, 7-4 Big Ten) has won six of seven heading into Thursday's tilt at Minnesota, which has won five of seven.
Ryan has always been big on pushing academics, especially with the sport he coaches playing in two semesters that typically involves plenty of midweek travel. According to the UW school of admissions, the typical unweighted, academic GPAs among incoming freshmen are between a 3.5 and a 3.9, a class rank in the 85–96 percentile and a typical score between 27–29 on the ACT.
Far from average numbers, but the Badgers continue to push their academic envelope, having at least five Academic All-Big Ten selections for the last five seasons.
"Being average in athletics, is that going to get you a scholarship?" Ryan questioned. "Is that going to give you a chance to pick what school you'd like to go to? If you have better grades and you become a better player, you have more options to choose for your education.
"Parents, more and more that have children who are of high school age that are looking at colleges, when they come here and see us and they see the academic requirements to get in, parents always go, ‘I got into Wisconsin 25 years ago and I didn't have those kinds of grades.' Average isn't good enough anymore if you want certain things in life."
Average won't cut it either against the Gophers. Despite seeing star forward Trevor Mbakwe tear his right ACL seven games into the season, the Gophers have gotten replacement production in the form of junior guard Rodney Williams, who Wisconsin recruited out of Robbinsdale Cooper (MN). Williams leads the team in scoring with 10.5 points a game.
"They've got some good players," Ryan said. "They've got some guys who aren't trying to do too much ... defensively they can get after you because of how athletic they are, and they've got some depth worked into the lineup. It hasn't surprised any of us that they're doing well, especially in a league you just don't know."
Disparity home vs. road
Another notch in the ‘just don't know' category in the Badgers shooting disparity between the road and the Kohl Center, especially behind the arc.
In 15 home games, Wisconsin is shooting 43.5 percent from the floor and 32.9 percent from three-point range, numbers that have caused the Badgers to lose four home games in a season for the first time under Ryan.
In seven true road games, the Badgers are shooting 42.0 percent from the floor but 40.0 percent from three-point range, a reason why UW is 7-2 on the road and 5-2 in true road games.
"It's crazy and if there was an answer that was easily obtainable, I think we would have had it by now, as slow as I am," said Ryan. "Junior high, high school, Division III, UWM, here, I've never had a team get into those kinds of phases. You just keep working on your shooting drills in practice."
With 18 games in the Big Ten and the Big Ten Tournament, Ryan doesn't compare one game in the basketball season to a conference football game, meaning he doesn't hype Wisconsin's border battle any more or less than its matchup with Ohio State on Saturday.
Even so, Ryan appreciates playing in a venue like Minnesota's Williams Arena, which opened in 1928, because it reminds him of the Palestra, which opened in 1927, where he grew up going to games.
"(The fans) can all tell you, ‘Well, I remember Kevin McHale' or ‘Well, I remember Lou Hudson,'" Ryan said. "It has memories for everybody. For fans up there, (the building) has been spruced up but the floor hasn't changed. It just something you have to be aware of. College atmosphere is pretty good, pretty exciting."
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