"You come into the Big Ten, Michigan State's there at the top of the league," Ryan said. "How do you get them? How do you compete in this league? You have to take a look at the top teams year in and year out and say, ‘OK, what's it going to take?'"
Ryan and his staff made a similar assessment at their other coaching stops. Upon arriving at UW-Platteville in 1984, the target was Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe UW-Eau Claire, which won 11 league titles from 1970-82. At UW-Milwaukee from 1999-2001 the target was Midwestern Collegiate Conference power Butler, which won four straight conference titles from 2000-03.
Whether studying the WIAC, MCC or Big Ten, the resolutions have always been the same.
"Good teams getting things done in the crunch time," Ryan said. "Guys making smart decisions with the ball, aggressive on the boards, tough defensively. You always look and see if there is ever something that's out of the ordinary. There's never been anything."
Ryan has been a quick study. His Platteville teams ended up winning eight WIAC crowns and four NCAA Division III national titles. Since arriving at Wisconsin, Ryan's Badgers won back-to-back Big Ten regular season titles in his first two seasons, then won a Big Ten Tournament championship in his third.
"On the high school team I played on everybody zeroed in on us," said Ryan, who grew up in Chester, Pa. "Why is Chester so good? Why does Chester win all the time?
"I always hoped as a coach I'd have a team that other guys would be saying that about us. Finally at Platteville when we got it going it was like every team we played had their biggest crowd at their place and they always considered us a rival….What does that mean? You'd better get ready for everybody's best. That's all I knew."
Holding court at the Kohl Center
Only four games in Wisconsin's current 37-game home winning streak have been decided by fewer than 10 points, including the Badgers' 72-66 win over Ohio State Tuesday. Wisconsin's last loss at the Kohl Center was Dec. 4, 2002, a 90-80 defeat at hands of Wake Forest.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo compared UW's streak to his school's 53-game home winning streak, which the Badgers snapped three seasons ago.
"They have good support there," Izzo said. "Their fans I think stick behind them pretty well. I always said here, ‘You think we won 53 games straight just because we were good, you're crazy.' There were games that we were down that our fans won the games for us."
"I think their fans have done a phenomenal job in that respect," Izzo said. "But I think their team's been awfully good also in those years. So the combination of things makes it dynamite. I think that's what we had going here."
UW sophomore forward Alando Tucker, who injured his right foot in practice Jan. 9, is officially considered probable for today's game. Tucker was limited to shooting free throws in practice Friday and Saturday.
Tucker sat out the Badgers' win over Ohio State Tuesday. Junior forward Ray Nixon took his place in the starting lineup, contributing four assists with no turnovers in 15 minutes.