Although UW's three leading scorers are all starters averaging over 28 minutes, the bench's strength in numbers has been a welcomed lift in UW's first nine games.
The Badgers' bench is out scoring their opponents 151-to-123, possessing a 4-1 record when UW tips the scales in its favor. What makes UW's bench encouraging is that it's comprised almost entirely of freshman and sophomores, most of whom have already made a sterling impact.
Sophomore Jordan Taylor, Ryan's number one option off the bench, is averaging 7.2 points and 24.1 minutes per game, scored all 19 of UW's bench points against Gonzaga and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 30-to-9.
Freshman Mike Bruesewitz was instrumental in the Maui Invitational, playing a career-high 22 minutes and scoring six points when the Badgers were plagued with foul trouble against Arizona. The same goes for redshirt freshman Jared Berggren, who has been a key contributor filling in when UW's bigs are plagued by foul trouble.
"We're just working with them," UW coach Bo Ryan said Monday. "We're trying to get guys better. If a guy can get on the floor for two minutes or 20 minutes, we'll keep working with them and get them to learn. I am happy with the way they are working."
One guy Ryan is happy with is redshirt freshman Ryan Evans. Recruiting by Howard Moore out of Hamilton High in Phoenix, Evans was deemed a raw athlete who was a project, the main reason why he decided to redshirt last season to start polishing his game and refining his skills.
The one year seems to have paid dividends for Evans, who is averaging 4.6 points and 3.8 rebounds off the bench for Wisconsin and has been a key contributor against Green Bay (career-best 11 points on 5-of-5 shooting) and Duke (career-high eight rebounds and two blocks).
"A class young man that wanted to be a player that got better and never got discouraged because he was cut or he wasn't good enough yet," Ryan said of Evans. "Anytime you got people like that, you know you have an individual that wants to be a part of something special and that's what Ryan has always showed us in every conversation we've had with him."
Although he studies a lot of film and continues to work at his game, Evans still can show that he only has nine college games under his belt.
Against Marquette, a poor decision that caused a turnover, the wrath of Ryan, who said, ‘I had to tell him a few things about the pass he made when he still had his dribble,' and some prolonged time on the bench. Once back in, Evans grabbed two rebounds, including putting back an offensive rebound for two points and a steal in a two-minute span.
"I didn't lie to him, I didn't personally attack him (and) there's a reason guys play a certain way for certain people," Ryan said. "It was never nothing personal, but these are the things you've got to do. He was just licking his chops trying to get back on the floor."
Evans is the kind of player Ryan loves to coach – a thick-skinned, hard-working athlete that is always striving to get better – and is the kind of player Wisconsin tries to identify early in the recruiting process. Players like Berggren, Bruesewitz, Tayor and Evans, hard-working personas that are coachable, have been easily recognizable coming off the bench and producing in key moments for Wisconsin.
"We've always looked for that," Ryan said. "There are things we look for in everybody we recruit and 90 percent of the time, you are usually right. Why would you take a situation with a player where you know it will be a constant battle or he'll take away from the unity of the team? That's why we don't make outlandish promises in recruiting.
"It usually always works better when you get them here. Honest up front, they see it, we don't hide the hill or the rigors of what it takes to be a student athlete here. We are upfront with everybody in recruiting."
Although Wisconsin's 72-63 victory over Marquette gave the Badgers' bragging rights for a year, it didn't do enough to impress the poll voters after UW's 88-84 overtime loss to Green Bay Wednesday. Wisconsin (7-2), which entered last week No. 20 in The AP poll and No. 23 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, dropped out of both major polls a little over a week removed from beating back-to-back ranked teams.
Between the loss and the win, Ryan confidently admitted that the 16-member squad showed no signs of sulking or wavering preparing for who's next.
"You only get so many hours, the players do with us and we do with them, (to prepare) for what's next," Ryan said. "We've told them from day one about how basketball prepares you for life. People say, ‘Gosh, we've heard that so many times.' Yeah, but it's hard to hide the truth. It is a fact. There are going to be times where, ‘Hey, wasn't that really great?' and there's going to be things that happen that, ‘Boy, that was a bummer.' You still have to go to whatever your next plan is."
After faltering against Gonzaga, the Badgers next plan was a day later against a ranked Maryland team that UW led 90 percent of the way. After struggling in Green Bay, the Badgers next game was in-state rival Marquette, who UW led from start to finish.
Ryan also brought up the fact that proximately opponents will also give you their best effort, just like unranked Temple did in beating No.3 Villanova on Sunday. In a city like Philadelphia where schools Villanova, Temple, St. Joes, Drexel, Pennsylvania, La Salle constantly play each other, that's a rivalry, just like the one between Green Bay, Marquette, Milwaukee and Wisconsin.
"They are pretty intense," Ryan said. "Villanova is a very good team and for Temple to get them … so our guys understand. We go to Green Bay and they are going to give us their best shot and they give us their best shot here. OK, they got the best of us there. We got to go to our next game which happened to be Marquette. It could have been anybody but still when you hit the practice floor Thursday, you are ready to get better."